I Miss the Singing

Last night I was trying to remember the last song we sang on Christmas Day. Normally it’s nothing I would spend any time thinking about. Why would I? One season blends into another and one Sunday blends into another – and endless pattern of choosing hymns for the right church holiday, the rise and fall of the organ music always in the background. Music has always just kind of been there. Of course, there are songs I love and look forward to singing. Over the years I have so appreciated the skills and contributions of the musicians I have known. But I took music and singing together as a congregation for granted. It would always be there – like air, like the ground beneath me.

And then it was gone.

The last time I sang with my congregation was on Christmas Day 2019. I was supposed to lead worship on December 29th as well but there was a snowstorm that day and then I left for sabbatical on January 1st. By the time I returned from sabbatical, the world was already turned upside and our church had ceased in-person worship.

We are weathering the changes as well as any congregation. People check on each other, send cards, make phone calls, we create video worship services, hold zoom meetings, still participate in mission, and offerings are up. By most accounts, we are kicking butt at being the church in the pandemic.

But I miss the singing. It surprises me how deeply and truly and to my bones I miss the singing. I’m not a musician, I always had to rely on others to do song-leading – but if I could have anything back right now from life together as we knew it, it would be the singing. Hearing the voices beside me and behind me rising together. Some on key, some off. Singing the old hymns and the new. Singing the songs I used to sing when I would sit in church beside my mother and my grandmother. Singing the songs of faith I learned around a campfire by a Minnesota lake or surrounded by mountains in Montana. Singing ancient hymns I once sang and danced along to at a reggae beat on a New Year’s Eve service in Ghana. Rowdy Lutherans gathering at the Cormorant Pub to sing hymns and eat, drink, and be merry.

I miss the singing.

And to think we might not have that back for quite some time is hitting me hard. We church leaders keep getting reminders that experts say singing is a particularly dangerous activity because of the way it can spread particles in the air and spread illness. There’s no telling how long it might be before we can safely sing together again in our churches. And in quiet moments, especially for those of us with elderly congregations, it is sobering to consider that we may *never* again get to sing with some of our dear ones again. At least here on earth.

So I keep trying to remember the last song we sang together. I looked it up this morning and it was, “Good Christian Friends, Rejoice!” The final verse rings, “Good Christian Friends, rejoice, with heart and soul and voice; Now ye need not fear the grave, Jesus Christ was born to save! Calls you one and calls you all, to gain his everlasting hall. Christ was born to save! Christ was born to save!”

It’s a happy song – because everyone knows you end worship with an “up” song – a song that people might be glad to have in their memory the rest of the day. I didn’t know when we planned it six months ago that the closing notes of that hymn would be the ones that would need to echo in my memory for months and months, perhaps years. I didn’t know then that all the things I was looking forward to setting down briefly as I left for my time of rest on sabbatical would be literally scattered everywhere upon my return. Like puzzle pieces that no longer have a shape that really fits anywhere anymore. No more routine. No more greeting the same dear faces when they come by church for quilting or Bible study or worship. No more potlucks. No more confirmation kids roughousing in the youth room. No more little kiddos running about during the children’s message. Everything is different. Nothing the same. We are still a congregation but figuring out what that means now.

And like I said, we are doing great – all the zoom calls, all the video worships, all the staying connected with phone calls and cards and Facebook groups, oh my!

But oh, how I miss singing together.

What Does the Bible Say about Anxiety and Worry?

Anxiety and Worry…What does the Bible say?
“An anxious heart weighs a person down, but a kind word cheers” (Proverbs 12:25, NIV).
“I sought the LORD, and the Lord heard me, and delivered me from all my fears” (Psalm 34:4).
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).
“Then Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you
by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?’” (Luke 12:22-26, NIV). (Matthew 6:25-34)
“Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God” (Psalm 42:5).
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge the Lord, and the Lord will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones” (Proverbs 3:5-8).
“…the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And the One who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love God, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:26-28).
“And my God will meet all your needs according to God’s glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).
“I can do everything through God who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13).
“So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:6).
“…put your hope in the LORD both now and forevermore.” (Psalm 131:1)

There are many different causes of anxiety and fear. The reasons are as various and unique as each individual person. These are human emotions and completely normal. If you are in need of help, please talk to a counselor, spiritual director, a pastor, or a good friend. Don’t stay silent or isolated – especially in these times of Covid-19 that are so stressful for so many. Help is always just a phone call away. Never forget – you are not alone and you are loved. If you are struggling, text HOME to 741741 to connect with a Crisis Counselor.

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that God may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on God because God cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7)

The Man in the Brown Suit

I just finished reading this wonderful Agatha Christie book: The Man in the Brown Suit. Adventure-seeking Anne Beddingfeld is in London when she sees a stranger fall to his electrifying death in the Tube. A dreadful accident? If so, who is the man in the brown suit fleeing from the scene? Curiosity, and one cryptic clue, leads Anne aboard a cruise ship to Cape Town and into the confidence of Colonel Race, counterintelligence officer for MI5. Drawn into a dangerous conspiracy, Anne’s found the adventure she wanted. And as she’s chased across continents, all she must do now is survive it.

Agatha Christie (15 September 1890 – 12 January 1976) was an English writer of crime and romantic novels. She is best remembered for her detective stories including the two diverse characters of Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot. She is considered to be the best selling writer of all time. Only the Bible is known to have outstripped her collected sales of roughly four billion worldwide copies. Her works have been translated into more languages than any other individual writer.Agatha Christie was first published in 1920. Her first book was The Mysterious Affair at Styles, (1920) which featured the detective – Hercule Poirot, who at the time was portrayed as a Belgian refugee from the Great War. Poirot is one of the most recognised fictional characters in English with his mixture of personal pride, broken English and immaculate appearance and moustache. The book sold reasonably well and helped meet the public’s great appetite for detective novels. It was a genre that had been popularised through Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories at the turn of the century. In 1926, she made her big breakthrough with the publication of “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.” This became a best-seller and made Christie famous as a writer.The plot of Agatha Christies novels could be described as formulaic. Murders were committed by ingenious methods – often involving poison, which Agatha Christie had great knowledge of. After interrogating all the main suspects, the detective would bring all the participants into some drawing-room before explaining who was the murderer. Her writing was quite clear and it is easy to get absorbed in the flow of the story. It also gave readers the chance to try and work out who the murderer was before it was revealed at the end.Agatha Christie enjoyed writing. For her there was great satisfaction in creating plots and stories. She also wrote six novels in the genre of romance and suspense under a pseudonym – Mary Westmacott.During the Second World War, Christie worked in the pharmacy of the University College London, which gave her ideas for some of her murder methods. After the war, her books continued to grow in international popularity. In 1952, her play The Mousetrap was debuted at the Ambassador’s Theatre in London and has been performed without a break ever since. Her success led to her being honoured in the New Year’s honour list. In 1971 she was appointed Dame Commander of the British Empire.Agatha Christie loved embroidery, travelling and gardening – she won various horticultural prizes. She expressed a dislike of alcohol, smoking and the gramophone. She preferred to avoid the limelight and rarely gave public interviews. To some extent she hankered after the more idyllic days of Edwardian England she experienced in her childhood and was dubious about aspects of modern life.“The quality of agreeableness is not much stressed nowadays. People tend to ask if a man is clever, industrious, if he contributes to the well-being of the community, if he ‘counts’ in the scheme of things.” -A. Christie, Part I of Autobiography

You can get this book for only $0.99 on Kindle: https://www.amazon.com/Man-Brown-Suit-Large-Print-ebook/dp/B086BZS7BZ/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=the+man+in+the+brown+suit+agatha+christie+large+print&qid=1585267843&s=books&sr=1-1

#28 – Eat Ten Different Kinds of Ice Cream

#28 – Eat Ten Different Kinds of Ice Cream

I know, ambitious, right?

After all the years I spent declining dessert while on some diet or another, I have some make-up work to do when it comes to consuming sweets. From around 1985-2010, if you asked me if I would like some ice cream, I probably said, “no.” I opted for the yogurt, or the fresh fruit, or a diet coke, or nothing at all. Either that, or I ate ice cream while alone, usually while on a food binge after some extensive period of dieting. It was tragic.

Because that’s how dieting works – you find some rules to follow that are guaranteed to slim you down, and you follow those rules for a period of time, and then one day you get so weary of following the rules that you eat everything in sight.

I was an excellent dieter. I was very, very good at following the rules of whatever diet I was on at the time. Over the course of twenty-five years I lost small amounts of weight and I lost large amounts of weight. Every time, I gained the weight back.

It always came to a point where the rules made my world seem so very small. Dieting made it so that eventually all I seemed to think or talk about was how much weight I had lost or what clothes I was going to buy when I hit that next milestone of weight loss. I would bask in the success and compliments and then cower under shame every time I needed to go off the carefully prescribed dieting course and eat.

One of the best things I have done is stop dieting. I stopped telling myself certain foods were “good” and others were “bad.” I stopped deciding I was beautiful only if I could fit into my smaller-size clothing. I stopped making anything off-limits. I started saying “yes” to the damn ice cream.

So, it wasn’t hard to try ten different kinds of ice cream. I’ll probably try at least ten more before my fiftieth birthday. But in the spirit of my Fifty Things I Want to do Before my Fiftieth Birthday task, here are the ten I have had in the last few weeks:

  1. Cookies and Cream
  2. Bunny Tracks
  3. Caramel Cashew
  4. Peanut Butter Core
  5. Scotcheroo
  6. Monster Cookie
  7. Goldmine
  8. Tonight Dough
  9. White Chocolate Raspberry
  10. Juneberry

For the Next Fifty: Eat ice cream like it is my job.

# 20 – Try a Cortado

I’ve always been a black coffee kind of person. It’s what I have first thing in the morning, it’s what I drink if I go out with friends. I never needed or even really thought about having other drinks with all sorts of added milk and sugar and flavor.

But why NOT try all the other drinks that are on the menu? Or even ones that aren’t on the menu?

A friend mentioned on a Facebook post how the Cortado was his favorite coffee drink. I hadn’t even heard of this drink before much less tried one – so as I was making my list of things I want to do before I turn 50, I added it to the list.

Except I remembered the name wrong and wrote down, “Cordero.” So you can understand the puzzled look on my barista’s face when I asked if she could make one. Bless her heart, she even looked up the recipe online and said it was some kind of lamb dish. I apologized and said I must have the name wrong and ordered some black coffee instead.

Then I did some more research and got the name right and went back to her. I drank it on a Sunday morning after attending a church service at the United Methodist Church. If you want to know more about how to make one, you can find information here: https://www.northstarroast.com/cortado-coffee/

It’s good. It’s not as bitter as my usual black coffee. I’m glad I know what it is and now I order it frequently.

So many things about life get on autopilot, don’t they? I simply got used to drinking black coffee every day – it was warm, it didn’t have calories, it was inexpensive, my friends drank it – there were lots of reasons why it became the default drink in my life. But I might have gone my whole life without trying a cortado. That could have easily happened. Would my life have been less because of it? Maybe not – but nevertheless, I’m glad that it is now part of my repertoire of beverages I consume.

And it makes me think about how so much of what we do every day happens just because that’s how we always do things. Most days I get up and within the first hour or two, I hop on my treadmill – walking or jogging. I love my treadmill. I first got one 13 years ago when our first child was born and I knew my chances of getting a workout in would increase if I didn’t have to try to make it to the gym. For me, my treadmill has never collected dust or been a place to pile stuff as it becomes for some people. I use it every day. Every. Day. Anyway, my dear treadmill recently broke and now I feel entirely out of sorts without my faithful treadmill friend as part of my day.

But I know that I don’t have to have a treadmill in order to exercise. I mean, I will miss it until it is fixed, but in the meantime I get to try some other things. Today I dug out some old workout videos and tomorrow I can go for a hike. I’ve been meaning to take a yoga class for about the last 15 years, so maybe I can do that soon. The options are endless.

And we forget that. No matter how much I like black coffee, not every day has to be a black coffee day – it could be a macchiato or a flat white day or even green tea! No matter how much I love my treadmill, my body can enjoy all sorts of activity. Some of these new things might open up brand new doors into my new favorite stuff and some of it might just make me miss black coffee and treadmills all the more. Either way, I’ve learned something.

So, yeah – try the Cortado. I recommend it.

For the Next Fifty: Keep trying new things. Every day if you can – a new recipe, a fresh perspective, a different route to work, ask unusual questions. There’s only so much time on this beautiful blue planet – find out as much as you can about it while you can.

Fifty

We were on the road between Hokitika and Cromwell, New Zealand, listening to the TED Radio Hour podcast. I forget which episode it was, but something in it made me think about the coming months and how I will be turning fifty at the end of May.

And in that moment, I decided to make a list of fifty things I wanted to do before I turned fifty. It wasn’t a bucket list – just a list that was a mixture of things I have loved in this life so far and things I had thought about doing and things I wanted to do more of in the next years. I called the list FNF: For the Next Fifty.

The list has some items that are easy to complete and others that will take a great deal of effort. I’ll share the list and the process of my completion of the items with you in coming posts.

Pastrgrrl Press

I’ve been keeping journals since I was in second grade – back when my handwriting was barely legible. For me, a great day consists of a cup of coffee, a good pen, and blank pages. Thus, it’s only natural that over time I felt the desire to create some beautiful journals to share with others who also enjoy the joy and therapeutic properties of writing. “A Month of Hymns: A Journal for Prayer and Reflection” uses hymn lyrics as prompts for each day. Read the classic lyrics, reflect on your own life and the leading of the spirit, and write. There’s room to draw as well on the 8X10 pages. Order today at:

https://www.amazon.com/s?k=pastrgrrl+press&crid=1U55EFAKOW8N&sprefix=pastrgrrl%2Caps%2C240&ref=nb_sb_ss_i_1_9

Keep up with new projects on Facebook:  Pastrgrrl Press

S is for Sacristy

A sacristy, also known as a vestry, is the room where vestments, paraments, and other items used for worship are kept. Oftentimes, the sacristy is right off the sanctuary or it can be in another part of the church. At times, the sacristy is where pastors will keep their albs and chasubles and prepare for worship. A small sink, called a piscina, is sometimes located in the sacristy. The piscina has a drain called a sacrarium which empties directly into the ground. This sink is a place to wash sacred vessels and to pour out baptismal waters and leftover communion wine so they go back into the earth and not into the sewer system. A sacristan is someone who has been given the duties of watching over and caring for items in the sacristy.

The sacristy is the room where I’ve disappeared to have a panic attack between services, the place where congregants have tracked me down to commend or scold me for sermons, and where I’ve stood to look in the mirror before church during a difficult season of ministry and thought, “is this it? Is this my life?” It’s where I’ve felt the hum of excitement as we prepared for a particularly big service, waited for the strains of the processional music to begin, and at times, wished I could be anywhere else. The sacristy is where we keep the stuff of worship – and at times it has felt like it is where I am kept, too. It’s where people can make sense of me – there with my alb and my proper stole for the church season. People know me there. They may not recognize me immediately at the grocery store or the movie theater or the swimming pool – but at the sacristy, robed and microphoned, I am in my place and easily classified.

Lately I have been thinking about the “stuff” of church and how it can both bring us closer to God and farther away – sometimes at the same time. For some people, being in the presence of a sanctuary with the stained glass, the pulpit, the altar, and paraments can be comforting and help one focus on celestial matters. For another, that atmosphere can feel rigid and oppressive.

As a pastor, I have sometimes felt that same push and pull in people’s interactions with me. I recall a particular wedding I was invited to preside at for parishioners with whom I had become close. The wedding was in the yard of a home in the country and I was at the house with the families and friends a bit before the wedding began. The place was buzzing with activity and nerves were frayed. Every few minutes it seemed someone would zip past me with a broken shoelace or looking for a lost bouquet or coming from a interaction with someone else and cussing up a storm. Then, they would see me, pause, and say, “Sorry, pastor.” Then they’d move along.

We were friends but we weren’t. Their interactions with me were just like with anyone else – and yet not. I was there to celebrate the joy of that wedding like everyone else, and yet I was also set apart somehow. And while part of me wanted everyone to just be themselves around me, a smallest fragment of my mind liked that I was somehow noticed because of my role. I liked that I had a particular role to play there.

I’ve always loved being a pastor – but the perceptions put upon me by others because of that role are not always predictable. Just like being around a church building can bring out the best or the worst in people, so can being around a pastor. However, I imagine it’s true that many people experience being treated in particular ways personally because of who they are professionally – the doctor who gets asked medical advice when she’s out trying to have supper with her family; the attorney who gets asked legal advice on the golf course; the baker whom everyone expects will contribute the cake to the family get-together. None of us can extract our professional lives from our personal lives entirely – not that we would want to. And as I’ve grown older, I’ve grown more comfortable knowing that to the vast majority of people in my life, I am their pastor first. Perhaps that is why it has made my closest friendships, my husband, my children, even more precious to me – because to them, I’m just Ruth. Just mom.

Thank God for the work we all are called to do in this life. Thank God that we are all more than the work we do in this life.

Joy Matters – sermon from 5/13/18

Rob Bell, a well-known pastor, author, and speaker tells a story about a time he was sitting in a meeting at the church where he was a pastor. It was a huge church and this was the meeting where the various leaders of the different departments of the church came together to discuss the running of the church.  Important stuff. But it was a very large staff, and so at one of their meetings, a couple of the people said that after those meetings they have to go back and tell everyone else about what happened in the meeting and so it might be good to invite more of the staff to come to the meeting so they could get the information first-hand. This was discussed for a long time and nothing was resolved, so they spent much of the next meeting talking about this, too. And Rob said that his heart began to sink because he realized now they were mostly just having meetings about meetings. So, he went to the person who was in charge of the meeting to talk to him and he said, “You know, I’ve noticed that we’re spending an awful lot of our meeting time lately just talking about the meeting,” and then he said he stopped because he realized with horror that in that moment he was having a meeting about a meeting about a meeting.

He talks about how in the course of all of it, he felt a whispering in his mind saying, “What am I doing here?” He said it was a feeling deep in his bones – that although figuring out all the meeting stuff was important and there were other people who may have been really into that and whom God put on earth to organize and attend meetings about meetings about meetings, he knew that was not his work to do. He had other work that needed to be done, other work that God had given him to do, work that energized him and gave him life and was hard in its own right, and it wasn’t to sit in meetings about meetings about meetings.

As we continue going through Paul’s letter to the Philippians, Paul is talking a lot about humility and service. He says, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.”

This is the kind of verse that is so contrary to our culture today. Most everything in our culture is hyper-focused on developing the self and looking out for number one. In fact, this culture elevates a positive self-image to such a degree that we run the risk of becoming our own false gods. Having a positive self-image is important, but it seems like it can run off the rails pretty quickly, too. For example, during a confirmation class some years ago, I asked a teenage girl to name someone she admired the most and she said herself.

Herself? Is that the message our kids are getting? That they should love themselves so much that they refuse to open their eyes and admire all the varied gifts and beauty of the people around them? To think so much of themselves that they have unwavering certainty that their way of seeing the world, their story, their little plot of land on which they live, their past and their future, is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end? I inwardly did the hugest eye-roll possible and then calmly asked her, “how about someone aside from yourself?”

Oh, trust me, Saint Paul would have done an eye-roll, too. As he sits in jail, writing letters of encouragement to his co-workers in Christ, urging them to put others first, think more highly of everyone before themselves, so much so that they consider themselves slaves to others.

These words about selflessness are powerful – and they can conjure up visions for us – maybe we think of Mother Teresa, serving the poorest of the poor in India. Maybe we think of our mothers, sacrificing their time, their energy, their own interests for the sake of our growth and security. Maybe we think of teachers, who so selflessly give of their energy and love and wisdom to teach our kids.

And probably, if you are at all like me, you feel a little guilty. Because it can feel like there’s no way to measure up to what Paul is asking of us here. The truth is that we don’t want to always think of others first – sometimes we want and need to look out for ourselves. We are fine with thinking highly of others, but we need to value who we are, too, and what we have to contribute to the world. And as far as being a slave to others?  It’s just hard to get behind that one at all.

But it’s good to remember here that the word slave is from the greek word ‘doulos’ – which means slave or servant – and usually by one’s own free will. One has chosen to serve, chosen to give one’s life over in this way. And that makes all the difference, along with something Paul says a bit later in this same letter, “Rejoice in the Lord.”

Yes, this giving over of ourselves, this putting others first, this thinking more highly of others than ourselves, it’s important to who we are as followers of Jesus, but the key is to find a way of doing that that brings us joy, and brings joy to the world through us. Joy matters.

There was a fellow I knew at seminary who, like me, was studying to be a pastor. He was a very good student, he always knew the right answers in class and everybody liked him. We graduated at the same time and lost touch, but years later he found me on Facebook and I was interested to notice he wasn’t a pastor anymore. He was a full-time traveling musician now and leads song-writing conferences and retreats. I asked him a little about his work and he told me a bit about his journey – how he had gone to seminary because his parents wanted him to and because it seemed like the right thing to do. He wanted to serve God. It seemed like a good thing to do, even though he wasn’t ever very excited about it. “Seminary was fine,” he said – “I liked the classwork and our friends and the variety – but once I got into a church it got harder. I felt claustrophobic and like I was playing a part that wasn’t me. I stayed for many years, partly because I had invested so much money in the education and partly because I felt like maybe I was just supposed to suck it up and try harder.” He talked about how the church he grew up in had stressed that you had to think about others first and die to yourself and so he wondered if maybe he was supposed to be miserable. Maybe that was part of learning how to really follow Christ. After all, he thought about people like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and other martyrs who had suffered and died for the faith – surely he could withstand a bit of unhappiness for the sake of his love of the Lord, right?

He began to get chronic backaches and headaches, various other aches and pains – but figured he was just getting older and that happens. He got used to a low level of despair hanging over him and took comfort that his work may not make him happy, but at least he could be useful.

The only time he felt really joyful in his work was when he was leading music – which he would do often at church or for other events that needed a musician. He wrote music and recorded some songs, always thinking of it as a hobby but nothing more. It wasn’t until one day a woman in his congregation stopped him after church and told him about how she appreciated his ministry of music. He thanked her – others had kindly said this to him before. But then she added, “I wish you could only do that. I mean, it seems like that is when you are happiest.”  And something deep within him said, “Yes.”

Those few words she said shifted something for him that day and he knew what he had to do. He set for himself the goal that within a year he would find a way to let music be his full-time ministry. He said it wasn’t easy, there was no direct route to follow to do what he does now, it took longer than he planned, but he loves his work now because he’s using his best, most life-giving gifts, and he’s joyfully serving God and others. The backaches and headaches went away.

Joy matters. My prayer for all of us is that we find ways to put others first, to serve often and well, but to find ways to do that with joy. Rejoice in the Lord! If you consistently have a slow sense of dread on your way to do something, even if you are good at it, listen to what that dread is telling you. Is it time to find another way to use your gifts or perhaps change up the way you are doing the same old task? Is it time for that season to end so another can begin? Listen not just to all the needs of the world and the advice of those around you, but listen to yourself and the Spirit of God at work within you. Or as the author and theologian Howard Thurman said it, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

Rituals (an Easter Message)

I’ve been thinking a lot about rituals these last days especially. Probably because Holy Week is always full of them. Palm Sunday we process in with the palms and say “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” Maundy Thursday we have holy communion and the stripping of the altar. Good Friday we hear those last words of Christ and then leave in silence to wait for Easter morning. The Easter egg hunts, the cross outside with the flowers, the “alleluias” – all of these are traditions we love.

But of course, the church has many rituals that extend well beyond holy week. We have particular colors adorning the walls and the lectern at certain times of the year – white and purple and green and red – all these colors telling ecclesiastical time for us. We have our certain hymns that are appropriate for this occasion but not that. Even words we use at certain times of the year – you’ll hear “Emmanuel”during advent, and now we can finally say “Alleluia” again after putting away that word for the season of lent. There are creeds and prayers and responses spoken at just the right time. The Lord be with you….See what I mean? We know how to do these things. They are part of our life together. And there are rituals we don’t even think of as rituals – the men who take off their hats and place them on the rack by the door before they enter the sanctuary, the way we teach our children how to treat this space with respect. We have rituals about so many things in the church.

In fact, some might even say that we have too many rituals. That nothing ever really changes in the church and so you don’t really miss much if you happen to miss a Sunday or two or five or more.

Yet, I like to think of these things as more a rhythm than ritual.  Just as with music – there are intricacies we miss if we only hear parts and not the whole piece. We need the crescendo of the lights and carols of Christmas Eve but we also need the diminuendo and hush of sparse Ash Wednesday, the steady beat of those Sundays in the middle of the summer where there are no big church holidays but the story is still being told of Jesus’ life and ministry. And it’s when we join in the dance where we sway from Pentecost to Holy Trinity to Christ the King Sunday to Advent to Epiphany, where we move in time to the music of Reformation Sunday and Transfiguration and Ascension and hear every note, and feel every beat in our chests – when we give ourselves the gift of not only hearing the whole story of the Gospel but to be swept up into it to be part of it day after day, week after week, season after season, year after year that’s when we begin to recognize the nuances, the special things. Think about it – your favorite song – how there’s that part where it speeds up or slows down or changes keys in a way that just takes your breath away and you want to sing along and you say, “I love this part.” That’s how it gets to be, doesn’t it, with certain readings as we hear them again and again. Oh there’s Mary letting down her hair again to dry Jesus’ feet – I love this part. Or there’s that father who brings his boy to Jesus to be healed and he cries out words we could have cried out a million times ourselves, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief!” I love this part. Or what about when the psalm is read that was spoken at your mom’s funeral or at your brother’s grave, a million emotions stirred to the surface as you hear those words you could speak by heart, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul.” I love this part. As we hear these scriptures over and over we come to see ourselves and our own stories reflected in them. They become part of us and we become a part of them. To hear these stories and sing these hymns is to tell the truth of who we are – our beauty and our brokenness.

No, our life together is about more than simply participating vacantly in rituals – it’s about the fullness of the rhythm of faith. Truthfully, we can forget this, though. Oh, I know it. I live it sometimes. Not every text is one I’m just so excited to preach on. I know you have lived this, too. Oh, I can tell when you’ve spaced out and are probably thinking about lunch or if you can fit in a nap this afternoon instead of listening intently to the Gospel reading. Sometimes the rhythm of faith can seem monotonous, predictable, it can even become difficult to hear.

Which is why I am so thankful for Easter. Sure, we have made Easter a ritual, too – because that’s what we do – but it is a ritual like no other. Because the truth of Easter is that we remember that all the rules were broken. Suddenly everything was turned upside down and the impossible was possible. The thing that seemed to have the final word, death, no longer had the last say at all. With a stone rolled away and some women spotting the empty grave clothes – everything changed. And not just for then, but for ever.

Do you know what this means? Yes, it means that our slate is wiped clean. Praise God, Alleluia – we are the recipients of grace and forgiveness we never deserved because Jesus accepted the punishment for us. Yes. Because of this day. Because of our dear Lord. Alleluia!

Do you know what else this means? It means that the worst things are never the last things. Not anymore. Because of this day. Because of our dear Lord. It means that when I stood by my mother’s grave on a November day in 2012, I could weep and feel so desperately sad, yet hovering in the cold air there was not only grief but the whisper of a promise. A promise that Jesus went to prepare a place for all of us – a home, our real home, beyond this one. It means the ones you have loved and lost are just waiting for you, a heartbeat away. Easter is the promise that there are no final goodbyes for those who trust in a resurrected Lord.  Thanks be to God.

Do you know what else this means? It means that those things that are broken and dead ends in your life, that those things that chain you or cause you misery or heartache, those things don’t have the last word either. Because of this day. Because of our dear Lord. Jesus teaches us that he is the God of new beginnings and new life and great hope – and we celebrate Easter every year because we need so desperately to be reminded of that. This faith we share in the love of God is eternally optimistic – in the words of Paul, “It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things.” You were fearfully and wonderfully made – you have no reason to accept anything other than being treated with respect and care and kindness by others and by yourself. Good Friday is over, the darkness of night has given way to Easter morning, folks. Whatever is causing you hurt or harm, sleepless nights, anxiety or frustration – if there was ever a time to let it go and move toward life and joy – it’s this day. May you do it with boldness and bravery and certainty that God accompanies you on your journey.

He is risen! He is risen Indeed!  Alleluia!

Easter books are available on Amazon. Click on the picture to see the selection.