Preaching resurrection in the middle of Lent

empty-tomb-and-three-crosses-colette-scharfI am a big fan of the liturgical calendar.

As someone who plans worship, knowing what season it is helps.  It helps us with the colors, the themes, the hymns, the scripture, the tone of worship.  That being said, I must also admit that the liturgical season is an entirely human construct.  We invented it to help us know God.  God did not invent it to help God know us.

Yet I find myself in a seasonal muddle this year.  In the past week I conducted two memorial services and they were not particularly Lent-y.  The opening hymn at the first was “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee.”  The choir sang Beethoven’s “Hallelujah” from The Mount of Olives at the second.  A few weeks ago, our retired soprano section leader, a helluva woman in her 80’s, sang an introit and a benediction response that were full of Alleluias.  My own husband, giving the benediction at the Ash Wednesday service, spoke out his usual “Hallelujah, hallelujah, Amen.”

What’s a liturgical-seasoned girl to do?

The funny thing about the liturgical calendar, and holidays/holy days, is that it’s all play-acting.  We’re pretending Jesus is born again; we’re pretending the Holy Spirit has lit a flame on the apostles’ heads; we’re pretending Jesus is walking toward his execution as if we have no idea what might happen next.  But we do know what happens next.  That’s why we’re in this story in the first place.

It’s always with a little guilt over my own pretense that I approach the Good Friday service.  We know what happens next, so if there is genuine sorrow, it is about the sorrow in life right now, in the world today.  Maybe.  I suppose we can – and do – feel sorrow for tragedy and suffering, whether it is the suffering we are going through right now or the suffering of innocent victims scattered among the pages of history.

Is my sorrow over Jesus’ death mediated by my belief that he rose?  Does the joy at the end of the story erase the pain near the end of the story?  What does it means to utter alleluias and preach resurrection in the middle of Lent?

Alleluia (1)

The second memorial service this past week was for a woman who had been a matriarch of the congregation.  She loved butterflies, and so in her memory we hung our Easter butterfly banners, and in my homily, I quoted “Life Lessons from a Butterfly” which had been among her keepsakes.  ““Let go of the past. Trust the future. Embrace change. Come out of the cocoon. Unfurl your wings. Dare to get off the ground. Ride on the breezes.  Savor all the flowers. Put on your brightest colors. Let your beauty show.”  The words might be a little twee for some,  but they reflect a sweeter approach to life held by more than one woman I’ve known in her 90’s.  They are Easter words – “come out of the cocoon, put on your brightest colors.”

But if we take the season of Lent seriously – if we take this time before Easter as a time for reflection, repentance, and change – maybe these are Lent words too.  Let go of the past (and stop doing things that hurt others because of hurt done to you in the past).  Embrace change (repent, turn around, choose love instead of hate, trust instead of fear).  Unfurl your wings (do not put your light under a bushel).  Dare to get off the ground (follow Me).

There is no Lent without resurrection; we invented Lent after the Easter event.  We might see the three crosses, but we see the tomb and the garden just beyond them.  Maybe, then, knowing the life after death awaits us gives us courage to face the hard pieces of our lives.  And maybe an ‘alleluia’ or two in the midst of repentance is not a bad thing.

He is risen!  Take up your cross and follow Him….

butterfly_cross_

Easter Post-Mortem

lemon pledgeWell, it is finished, and by “it is finished” I do mean Holy Week and Easter.  And for all the pastors and preachers and church musicians and church secretaries out there, I say “Phew.”  Of course, Jesus rose from the grave in spite of our best efforts, but there you are, God accomplishing God’s work without the help of us ministry professionals.

Easter is over, and the post-mortem has begun.  Yes, the services ran long.  Yes, the microphones were a little wonky at first.  Yes, we changed some traditions and yes, we did not change some traditions.  Yes, there were flowers and no, not everyone has picked theirs up yet.  Yes, there were dyed eggs and yes, one child did smush his all over the chancel steps.  Yes, the restless little girl waiting to be baptized did eat said smushed-up egg on the chancel steps while her parents promised on her behalf to turn from the ways of sin and renounce evil and its power in the world.  Yes, there were crowds, and  yes, there were enough regular-size bulletins but not enough of the large print.  And yes, God provided us in Portland with a perfect, 72 degree, blue-sky day.

So here it is, bright Monday, and I awoke at a charming 4:30 am today.  I am such a Calvinist.  No rest for the wicked despite all of yesterday’s efforts.  It is bright Monday (as our Orthodox brethren and sistren call it) so that means it is Accomplish the Semi-Annual Dusting of My Office day.  That always feels like an appropriate response to resurrection: to clean, to wipe off the old dust (which, a friend reminded me, is mostly dead skin cells.  Bleh.)  I hung up my robe, I organized my stoles by color, I finally put away the Christmas creche which had been tucked behind the couch since December.  I bagged up old throw pillows for Goodwill, washed the dirty coffee cups, put all the sermon-prep books back on shelf, and pulled out the Lemon Pledge and dust rags.

I’m not sure  that cleaning as a response to the resurrection is what Jesus had in mind.

Anyone who has been to our home will confirm that I am not a clean freak.  I like things picked up, but if I get to cleaning every week or two, that’s good enough for me.  So it’s not like I’m always walking around with my arsenal of Murphy’s Oil Soap, Lemon Pledge, white vinegar, bucket and rags at the ready.  But I love to clean the office on the Monday after Easter; I think of it as a spiritual discipline.

I mean, if Jesus went to all that trouble to rise from death, and folded up those linen cloths neatly (with or without the imprint of his face on them) and gave us shiny, new, eternal life, the least I can do is clean my office, fold up the prayer shawl that was crumpled up on the couch, and give the impression that things are in pretty good shape.

There’s an understatement: after the resurrection, things are in pretty good shape.  Except that not really.  Crap still happens.  People still practice their bad juju on the innocent.  Death still appears victorious and sting-filled.  The dust will come back, and sooner than I want.

But I offer what I can in response to the new life.  I clean, and I will clean again, though not soon enough.  I am grateful for the spring, knowing that the perfect 72 degree, blue-skied yesterday means a rainy, rainy April awaits us.  I am convicted by the gift, and at least for today, try to live generously in response.

After the resurrection, things are on their way to being in pretty good shape.  And my dusting is part of that.  Thanks be to God.