Each year when I sit down to write my Easter sermon, I remember Doris Olson. Doris was a pillar of the church, and when I arrived as the new pastor, she came to my office and told me a story.
Monday lectionary email, archived here on Friday.
On Good Friday we face conflicting urges, on multiple fronts. On the one hand, I don't want to be one of the Christians who Gardner Taylor called "a Resurrection people, but not a Crucifixion people." I don't want to rescue Jesus from the cross--the weekly tendency of many preachers, and I think a poor interpretation of "bringing the good news." It is a reality: Jesus died.
I have a friend who visits his mother's burial site each year on the anniversary of her death. When the day comes, the mood is always solemn and deeply reflective--and tremendously difficult for other people in his life. What they don't know is that this annual ritual is generative, corrective. It helps anchor my friend for the rest of the year. I have another friend who almost never visits his parents' gravesite.
During Holy Week, it's common for worship leaders to ask people to consider their place in the drama of Jesus' final days. To what extent do we betray him, deny him, insult him, crucify him? When do we, like the crowds, find ourselves gawking at suffering with prurient glee? When do we, like the thieves, alternately ridicule the truth, then believe in it? When do we, like the centurion, make our confession--though perhaps a moment too late?
Several years ago I taught a Sunday School class on the Saint John's Bible, a beautiful hand-calligraphed and illustrated version of the Bible that took several years and a whole team of artists to create. I showed the class a video about how the project came together, and the class was spellbound, as I knew they'd be. The illuminations make you want to lean into the scripture. The Saint John's Bible fosters awe and wonder toward the God who gives us not only the sacred story but also the artists who make it come alive. Near the end of the video, the narrator shares the cost of this tremendous project.
I often worry that churches are too full of people who are not disappointments. Bear with me here. I love the story of the Prodigal Son. I love the idea that no matter what we do in life, no matter how much we mess up, God will still welcome us when we decide to come home.
One of the few fairnesses of life is the fact that each of us is given an equal 168 hours per week. That is where equality in so many ways ends. From that point on our privileges or lack thereof, and the resources they bring, define what we can do with that time.
I'm a bit of a congregational song nerd, and the church music folks I know talk about things like "sound pools" and "heart songs." Sound pools are what Mennonite musician, teacher, and hymnologist Mary Oyer and her students (who became my teachers) describe as the body of music that a culture or community shares.
This Sunday's passage from Paul's letter to the Christians in Rome seems to be an example of Year C's theological focus on those who are living in a state of alienation from Jesus Christ and the church. Yet when I think about rebuilding the bridges of love, trust, and belonging in contemporary Christian community, Paul isn't the first person who comes to mind.
The lectionary readings for Ash Wednesday are the same each year. So it almost doesn’t feel like Ash Wednesday if I go through the day without hearing Psalm 51: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.”