Three Days

Excitement and Boredom in the Easter Vigil

Tripp Hudgins and David Hansen argued about boredom and worship on Twitter and in dueling blog posts.  David says boring proclamation is a sin. Tripp sings the praises of boredom.  The dispute started with a Tweet out of UNCO 2016 that wondered why people are more excited about Star Wars than worship.  David says the story of the Gospel and our proclamation of it (David is a Lutheran) should be exciting.  Those who proclaim the story of the Gospel shouldn’t bore us and put us to sleep.  Tripp says we should not try to compete with entertainment for profit that seeks only to capture our attention for a moment. The Church, Gospel, and the liturgy have something “longer” in view – eternity. This exchange begs the question what is “boredom”, what is “excitement” and what is the interplay of the two in our worship?

The above exchange brought up a contradiction I’ve experienced in myself around the Easter Vigil and the memory of my first Easter Vigil, at St. Peter’s Episcopal church in Sand Pedro, California.  I was a sophomore or Junior in college and I had decided to spend the time between Christmas and Pentecost among Episcopalians. My college age Lutheran Pietist self had no means to anticipate what I found in the Vigil, (Who lights a bonfire in the middle of a church to start off a worship service?!).  It all captivated me, the bonfire, the lighting of the paschal candle, the siting in the dark listening to the stories of salvation, the loud acclamation of “Alleluia, Christ is Risen” with all the lights going up.  Nothing in my twenty years of worship had prepared me for the Easter Vigil. I was blown away.  Since that moment I’ve loved the Easter Vigil.  However, recently, the Easter Vigil has felt a little humdrum.

Over the years I’ve participated in various attempts to spice up the Vigil and I’ve enjoyed those creative takes on this liturgy.  However, as I’ve recently come to find the Vigil just a little boring, I’ve wondered if the main motivation behind wanting to spice up the Vigil was the leaders own fear of their own boredom. While, currently I’m bored with the Easter Vigil, I still love it and its various elements. Though, I’m bored with it, it is still truly meaningful.  I’m puzzled about why I no longer experience the same excitement and amazement of that first Easter Vigil and which I have often experienced in subsequent Vigil’s.  I wonder what did St. Peter’s do “right” to make their Easter Vigil so exciting to my college age self?

As I’ve reflected on this and sought to recollect what we did in the Easter Vigil and not just my experience of it, I’ve concluded St. Peter’s did nothing to make their Easter Vigil exciting for my college age self.  When, I force myself to recall, not my astonishment at the unfamiliarity of the service and its dramatic elements but what actually took place in the liturgy, I notice that the service itself was quite boring and unremarkable.  Once you got beyond the dramatic opening of a bonfire lit in doors, it was just a very long service.  The Exsultet was not superbly sung (I have no recollection of it from the service, so I surmise it wasn’t memorable), then we sat in the dark listening to average readers read the requisite stories of salvation.  Nothing special was done, no reading choruses, no dramatic readings or performances, no dances; just the reading of one scripture after the other from the same lectern used each Sunday for the same purpose.  But I ate up, this fairly boring and unremarkable Easter Vigil.

Why did I find this first Easter Vigil so compelling and exciting, and why do I now find participation in the Easter Vigil boring?  The reasons are layered.  Most obviously, that first Easter Vigil was my first. The liturgy was completely and entirely new for me, nothing in my worship experience before then prepared me for what I found in that liturgy. No one in the parish thought to give the young Lutheran Pietist a heads up on what was going to happen in the liturgy. They just said we do this thing on Holy Saturday, if you are part of the parish this is part of our celebration of Holy Week and Easter.  Also, my boredom is explicable: I’ve now been to 25 vigils in a row. Since that first one I’ve planned and lead a number of them. I know the Easter Vigil inside and out.  Then Easter Vigil was new and unfamiliar, now the Easter Vigil is, for my middle aged self, old hat.

Even so, I do think that St. Peter’s helped contribute to my astonishment and excitement for the Easter Vigil.  Unlike most parishes and congregations (in my experience) that have an Easter Vigil, St Peters had a high ratio of involvement in the liturgical life of the church outside the Sunday worship. The church was packed for the Easter Vigil.  Special liturgies of Lent and Holy Week weren’t for St Peter’s just something for the spiritually fastidious or dramatic few, but were truly liturgies of the whole parish. My first Easter Vigil was compelling and exciting not only because it was new to me but also because the whole gathered local body of St Peter’s parish understood what it was doing and saw it as a key component of the Christian life.  They may not have added any bells and whistles to their liturgical performance but their hearts and minds were attentive to its meaning and importance.  It was truly an act of devotion and worship for the entire parish.

Looking back on that time of sojourn with the parish of St. Peters, they attended to the various liturgical patterns more or less equally. No one service or liturgy was given precedence, rather it all was part of who they were as the body of Christ, no liturgy was just for those certain type of people in the parish. When I recollect, I see there was nothing remarkable nor did they do anything that would stand out to a liturgist or expert on worship.  St Peter’s did nothing to call attention to their faithful participation in the liturgy and festal cycle of the Church year.  No one could write a book on how to do liturgy like they did at St Peters of San Pedro, California.  As I think back it was all basic boring stuff, it was traditional and unremarkable.  Yet it was their faithfulness, and their understanding of the liturgy as central to the spiritual life of the Church that made that Lent and Easter one of the more memorable and exciting seasons of my life in the Church.

A Sonic Meditation for Maundy Thursday

What is Maundy Thursday?  The term comes from the Latin for commandment because according the Gospel of John at the Last Supper Jesus gives his disciples a new commandment, “Love one another, as I have loved you.” The command is symbolically and really shown in Jesus’ taking the position of a slave and washing the feet of those gathered for the meal in the upper room.  It is also, the day of the institution of the Eucharist.  It is also the day betrayal of Christ in the Garden by Judas, Jesus’ agony in the Garden, and the secret late night trial before the Sanhedrin.  Maundy Thursday; complex, chaotic, intimate, and political.

As I chose the songs for this playlist I attempted to keep the complexity and movement between intimacy and public exposure, the moment of calm but also the moments of chaos.  Personally I feel that what could fall under the umbrella of goth, dark alternative, or death rock, is well suited for the complexity of Maundy Thursday.  The playlist begins with love but an ambiguous troubled love.  If we are to hear Jesus’ command to love, we should also hear that it needs to be qualified. Love is many things, Jesus keeps us from any ambiguity through saying the command to love is connected to the way in which Jesus, and thus God incarnate as Jesus, loved.  Furthermore, in washing the feet of those at table Jesus makes concrete and symbolic what that love looks like.  So, we get a more intimate and positive, less conflicted moments of love. Here is where I find John Coltrane’s “Love supreme” in the mix. But, then back into the mix of emotions, conflicts, and ultimately betrayal.  This leads to facing violent death and the politics of death. There isn’t only a linear movement in the playlist, you can find betrayal articulated at the beginning as well as at the end.  As I listented to the playlist on Maundy Thursday, I was surprised by the degree of nervous energy in the playlist, even the moments of intimacy have an undertone of excitement and even anxiety. I hadn’t had that in mind when I put the playlist together the week before.

This isn’t a peaceful meditation.  Human failing is highlighted throughout, yet wiht hints, of something else, hins of the command ..” to love as I have loved you.”  But only hints

The above is what I heard as I listened to this playlist, as I finished preparation for Maundy Thursday worship.

What did you hear? What resonates with you?

How do you see Maundy Thursday and our commemoration of this moment in Jesus of Nazareth’s Passion?

Good Friday: Just another day in Post-Christendom

Yesterday, I had an appointment with someone, in the conversation my being pastor came up (it wasn’t about anything church or religiously affiliated), but that we met on Maundy Thursday, nor that today was Good Friday came up in the conversation.  The person whom I met seemed to have no sense that I as a Western Christian was in the midst of our high holy days, and that Sunday was Easter.

As I traveled to the Oratory’s Maundy Thursday service with a member of the Oratory, the business of the City was unchanged, people coming home from work as any other day.  I went out briefly today and the feeling is the same.  This week I’m running on a different time than many of those who are about me.  In this post Christian and post-Christendom world we have these strange remnants like Christmas, and people talk about the war on Christmas, and of course the Media has been putting out the requisite biblical or Jesus stories (though even that seems less prevalent this year, than in past years.)

This isn’t a complaint.  But it does feel like I’m going about this celebration in secret. Part of this is that the week has been less intense for me since, the Oratory will only have held a Maundy Thursday service.  We are going together to other congregations for Good Friday and for the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday services.  I have more time to see that many others, some of whom may be Christian aren’t as taken up in to this the central holiday of Holy Week and the Three Days.  I’m also more attuned I guess that for many Easter Sunday will come and that will be that.  The center of our faith will be a blip on events that fill up their lives.  That this is so for the Christmas and Easter crowd is fine, what I find more problematic is when due to a variety of factors otherwise committed Christians won’t take the time to sit with the passion, death and Insurrection of Christ.

Even so, I understand.  This week has, as I said above, has been less focused then in previous years where we had a dramatic liturgy of Palm?Passion Sunday with Palms and processions and dramatic reading of the passion Gospel, and having the full three days celebrated with one or two other congregations.  This year I will be celebrating the three days but this week hasn’t been so consuming.

This isn’t a complaint. There is something of a truth in that Holy Week seems to be something barely noticed and passing by without remark.

What God did in Jesus of Nazareth isn’t obvious.  What was happening on that Friday in ancient Roman occupied Palestine, was just another execution of yet another failed resistance to Roman rule.  Yet another “messiah” crucified.  Move along and make a few snarky comments, nothing more, life goes on.

Tonight, I along with many other Christians will adore this once common implement of execution.  Granted it has other symbolic resonances, yet at base we adore tonight what should have been failure and the end of the story. We do something strange, because what we adore is hidden from view. The significance of these three days is almost to common, or rather like a treasure hiden in a field, it isn’t obvious or remarkable on the surface.

This is just another day, nothing special, life will go on.  Yet, we assert something remarkable happened and happens.  Something slowly is transforming the ordinary into something more, revealing the inner beauty and reality of the ordinary as what is quite extra-ordinary. And this began in a torture and death of one particular human being, a seemingly unremarkable and ordinary human being on the edge of a great empire over 2000 years ago.

 

Listening to Wisdom of the Silent Tomb

Today is Holy Saturday, I generally try to let the silence of this day settle in.  We wait on this day.  It is the last day of the Lenten fast.  Any who have been fasting are probably weary of it by now.  We have come to the end.

There is  a deathly silence to this day.  Silence and listening are more than not using words.

Today, many people are running about their business with no attention to Jesus Christ in the tomb.   Many Christian traditions do nothing with this day.

The second reading for Vigils in the Benedictine prayer is an ancient sermon by an anonymous preacher (well we apparently don’t know who preached it.) This preacher reminds us that the day Jesus was in the tomb is the sabbath.  Death has many meanings, it also means rest.  The body of Jesus of Nazareth rests in the grave on the Sabbath.

Silence can also be restful. Grief, loss, death, rest, silence.  Are we listening?

A friend points out how we often struggle to keep these three days together, this  the boundary between Lent and Easter.  Easter can overwhelm us into a search for certainty.

Easter is about triumph, and we can forget the means of that triumph. “By Death Christ beat down Death.” The way of the Cross is the path of Resurrection.

So thanks to the Anglobaptist.  On this Holy Saturday I’m wondering if  the ways in which we seek justice and righteousness and the conflicts surrounding that search are so rancorous among and between us Christians because of our forgetfulness, that is a misunderstanding,  of Resurrection.

We think Resurrection is about certainties or we think it’s about metaphor and principles.  We forget that our sense of certainty and rectitude isn’t the point.

Even after the Resurrection the silence of the tomb speaks to us.  It should in the least remind us that, whatever our positions, whatever our beliefs about justice and righteousness, God come in human form, and who then dies is simply unsettling.  Resurrection doesn’t settle anything, but it unsettles everything.  The wisdom to know what to do after the displacement of Resurrection, comes from a bowl towel and feet, and the silence of the tomb.

Holy Week, Grief and the Unexpected

As has become our custom at Reconciler, I didn’t preach.  We let the liturgy, the scriptures, sung and read, the hymns preach.  We walk a lot in our Palm Sunday service: We the Palm procession, we also process around to different stations for the reading of the Passion Gospel, we process up to gather around the altar, and we then process to the baptismal font for dismissal.  It’s a beautiful service.

The triumphal entry and palm procession didn’t move me this year, or rather it rang hollow.  The griefs of the passion story was more palpable for me this year.  This time around the knowledge that the crowds shouting “Hosanna” would soon melt away muted  the celebration at the beginning of the service.  Grief, loss and the unexpectedness of the liturgy and the Gospel were prominent in my consciousness as I presided in the liturgy.

This is not surprising given that  2013 was a year of loss and grief.  Very little went as I had thought and my father  passed at the end of 2013.  Little of what I’m facing now did I expect to be facing when I last celebrated Palm Sunday and entered Holy Week last year.  A year ago we we’re wondering whether or not my dad’s recovery from a major stroke would be a slow or quick recovery.  Nothing indicated that in 7 months he would die.  I also didn’t expect that the community would be down to four people in a temporary space big enough only for the four members curtailing much of the activity of the community (I’ve written about our “winter” here and here).  The events that are remembered and rehearsed in Holy Week, weren’t anticipated by the disciples and full of distress, loss, grief, and confusion.

Even the hopeful reality of Easter and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, wasn’t what the Apostles and disciples of Jesus expected.  The whole of what we celebrate and enter into in the liturgies of this week are tinged with loss, grief.  Even the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth means a certain loss: Loss of what the Apostles thought was about to come in the life and ministry of Jesus.

We may fail to see the complexity of the story and the liturgies.  We know the story, the path of the liturgy is well worn.  But life happens, and we find ourselves in unexpected places with griefs and losses that we didn’t have the last time we walked this way of Holy Week, of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday.  If we pay attention we can find these liturgies, these scriptures not only speaking to our situation, but showing us something we hadn’t seen or experienced before.

We  come again and again over our lifetime to these Holy Days, both to interpret our lives, but also because there is always more to learn and experience in these liturgies and these Scripture texts.

Whatever the intervening year has brought you, I encourage to attend to it and how the liturgies and Scriptures are experienced differently because  you are in a different place.  Come to these familiar rites and texts with anticipation.  There is more than you expect in them, there is a deep reality and resource in them.  Encounter them in the difference that life has brought you since you were last here.

Icons of the Three Days: Approach the Mystery in Silence

These are the icons in which and around which we live as we celebrate the liturgy of the Three Days:

Maundy Thursday as we wash feet and remember the supper we return to again and again in Eucharist.

Then we are here at the Cross and Jesus Christ in the Grave:

Behold the life-giving Cross.

And then Jesus Christ in Hades/Sheol/Hell the land of the dead, the shades, bringing up Adam and Eve:

I have meant to write this icon for years. I never have.  I think I shrink from its truth.  If I were to  paint I would need to fully enter into it and face it, in all its pain and all its glory.  God entered the depths of our humanity and the world and pulled us up.  This is too much.

And so I approach Silence:


Holy Saturday Reflection – and Silence

Rob Bell has a new book out, and Tripp Hudgins and Adam Ericksen are having a blogalogue about it.  Thought I’d link to my Holy Saturday reflection of two years ago, in which I reference Rob Bell’s Love Wins.

Holy Saturday Reflection: Love Wins and Christ’s Descent into Hell(Hades)

I haven’t blogged about Holy Week and the Three Days and Easter this time around.  Mostly because this year I felt silence was the place from which to encounter this mystery again.  I’m not preaching at all this festival cycle, so no sermons to post either.

How does one mark silence as intentional in the cacophony of the internet?

I suppose this is one way to speak around the silence to say I’m being silent for a reason, not just because I haven’t posted anything or haven’t tweeted anything.

Silence…

….And words past, from Rob and me.

“Enjoy the silence…”

 

Other past posts on Holy Week and the Three Days:

A Maundy Thursday Reflection

A Good Friday Reflection on a sermon

Enter the Mystery: A Maundy Thursday Sermon

Sermon Preached at Joint Service with Immanuel Lutheran Church and St Elias Christians Church

Over the next three days we are in the midst of the great Mysteries of our faith. Mystery not in the sense of something to find out like a detective using deductive logic, Nor even mystery as something that can’t be understood intellectually, but mystery in the sense of something mystical, something that needs our contemplation, something that in our contemplation of it transforms us and the world. Or in other words we here in this three day liturgy come face to face with our salvation. We should be prepared to not be the same, we should prepare to die and rise again, to new life.
What are these mysteries?

Tonight we recall the mystery of the Eucharist. On the night before he was betrayed, Jesus takes the Passover meal and transforms it. We celebrate the Passover, and like the Hebrews, being freed from Egypt we eat the lamb and in bread and wine. We also recall the mystery of transformation, as we pass through darkness; we come to touch something of how the disciples were thrown into confusion on that night. God offer’s himself in Jesus Christ to us and the world by becoming human and ultimately undergoing suffering and death on the Cross; we who are Christ’s have the heavenly food that is Christ himself, we are never far from that night, the joy, the confusion and the life of Christ. Freedom is scary. Freedom can mean dying to a way of life that is familiar and safe.
Thus, we will sit and contemplate the mystery of the cross and the suffering of Christ, the passion. In this we are not only there with the woman and apostle at the Cross distraught and Christ death, but we celebrate that through the Cross and Christ’s suffering God enters into and transforms suffering. Because of this mystery we freed from Sin and Death. Here there is a bit of a puzzle, we face something odd, for it is not only that there was a dark time, but God overcame it, Rather God in Jesus Christ enters death, actually dies. And not only dies, but dies as a criminal, a criminal, a terrorist, King of the Jews, that is someone who threatened the imperial rule over Palestine. God in Jesus Christ becomes the outcast. On the Cross God in Jesus Christ takes upon himself all the oppression, the suffering, injustice and sin of the World. But even as we contemplate this mystery we are not left with death, for The Cross has meaning only if Jesus was raised from the dead. One man 2000 years ago in a backwater of the Roman Empire being crucified, makes no difference; many other Jews of Jesus’ age were so crucified. The cross becomes meaning full in that God acted; God chose the weak and despised things of this world as the means of our transformation and salvation. The Resurrection oddly enough tells us that God in Jesus Christ actually suffered, and retains the marks of his suffering. God doesn’t come ultimately with Shock and Awe (as he did in Egypt) bringing death, but undergoes death to free from death. And so an implement of execution and torture becomes an object of beauty and contemplation, and we honor the Cross, we bow to what God has done in that one moment, for in the Cross there is life already even in death.
And then we come to our Passover in the Easter vigil, as we and Christ Passover from death to life, to True life, Resurrected life. Yet in Resurrection we never leave the Cross or the works of God throughout history that Jesus fulfilled on the Cross. The Resurrection only has meaning in the cross and death of Jesus. The resurrection shows us that the way of the cross is the path to transformation, the dying does lead to life, that God can transform our suffering. God has indeed begun the transformation of the world. In the Easter Vigil we know that though it may often look like evil and death and injustice still reign, God is transforming the whole cosmos, and we who have come to believe in the Cross and Christ Jesus Raised from the dead participate in that transformation. In our contemplation of Christ passing from death into life, we find our own path as we die to ourselves and take up our cross that we may continually find Resurrection. There is then a responsibility in all this contemplation, for we become the locus of God’s saving transforming work in this world. We are the ones who know the mystery and have experienced it and we are to be open to God’s ongoing transforming work in the world. The world should be different because we who contemplate and celebrate these mysteries also live out these mysteries in the world in our daily lives by the power of the Spirit. We who have gone through the waters of baptism and died and been raised to life in the waters of Baptism, are to live into this new life, growing ever more into the age that is to come.
Yet this too is a mystery for we don’t always live this way, we still struggle with these mysteries, we still need to come back to this moment when God beat down death and injustice by suffering injustice and death.
Ultimately this mystery is one of Love, a costly love, a love we are called to participate in a love we are to share with each other and the world. This Love is shown in service, in washing of the feet. Washing the feet is a symbol of this way of the cross and of practicing resurrection. In this act of having our feet washed and washing each other’s feet we come to know in our bodies the love of God, for ourselves and for all. We symbolically show God’s love to each other in an act that isn’t comfortable, and which is awkward. Peter found it uncomfortable and awkward. We do this that we may learn what it means to be like Christ in the world. In foot washing we enter into the mystery of the Three Days, so that we may carry this mystery with us into the world in service to Christ and the world. We let our feet be washed and wash other’s feet, so that we may remember in our bodies the Love of God and the way of the Cross. The servant is not greater than the master; we take up towel with Christ, and walk to Calvary and are raised again to new life. So, come and symbolically enter into the way of God’s transformation, and learn to be a servant like Christ in your body. Come and feel the love of God in your body.