Journey Through Lent: Days 29-31

250jesuschristsuperstarWhen I was in college I saw a production of Jesus Christ Superstar. The musical traces the events of Holy Week and I was struck by the crowd, the chorus of singers that followed Jesus. As they waived palms on one Sunday they shouted his praises and sung and called out to him. But as the week went on, they changed. And by Friday, those same people once shouting their admiration were calling for his death.

It’s always stuck with me. That change in feeling. I think of it every year during Holy Week. Jesus goes from the exalted one to the one who is offered up as a sacrifice by the crowd. There’s something fitting about the fact that in many churches the palms from Palm Sunday are saved until the following Ash Wednesday, when they are then burned and turned into the ashes we wear as a symbol of our humaness and fraility and mistakes. Sometimes we turn from Christ, and we get it wrong.

We don’t like to dwell on that. We don’t like to dwell on the reality that Christ was betrayed, and denied, and abandoned. We like to stick with the Palm Sunday and Easter joy, not the Maundy Thursday and Good Friday pain. And every pastor I know is aware that when we announce the extra services, there is a near-auditory sigh.

But the reality is that it’s the week between the two Sundays that really teaches us who we are, and who we can be. We can be the crowd that shouts loud welcomes on Sunday, but then stays away when times get hard. Or we can be the people who journey with Christ in the hardest times, and who never turn our backs on him. Holy Week is our chance to proclaim with our time who we really are, and it is our chance to get our priorities straight.  This is our chance to not just be the crowd, but to stand out from the crowd.

This Holy Week, take the challenge of walking the whole path. Make a complete journey. And you’ll find on Sunday that Easter will be that much more meaningful.

Journey Through Lent: Day 20

IMG_0001Today is the twentieth day of Lent. (Sundays don’t count towards the forty days.) You are exactly half-way through. What started not so long ago on Ash Wednesday is heading towards Holy Week, and to Easter morning.

I don’t much like half-way points. I’m a procrastinator, so they were always somewhat meaningless to me. In school a teacher would say “by this point you should be halfway done with writing your paper” and I’d say to myself, “oh, right, the paper…I should get on that.”

Seriously, I wrote my wedding vows the morning of the service.

So, the mid-way part of Lent doesn’t work for me as some sort of measure. For some Christians it does. Today they are saying “I’m halfway there….just twenty days left until I can eat meat/drink coffee/mainline sugar/log on to Facebook again.”

And, if that works for you, great. But for those of us who are procrastinators, now is as good a time as any. Even if you didn’t get on board back on Ash Wednesday, it’s not too late. You can still commit to making this a holy Lent. Because, the richest part of Lent is still to come.

So, use this halfway mark as you will. Make it a mile marker to show how far you’ve come. Or, use it as a place to reboot, and refocus. Commit to running this race through the Passion that is to come, and with the passion that comes with wanting to be there in the hardest hours. Just as is true with the whole of the Christian journey, it doesn’t matter when you started. It only matters where you are now, and where you are headed.

Journey Through Lent: Day 17

Icon-Laying-HandsWhen I hear the words “healing service” my first thoughts are not very positive ones. I think about the services that televangelists in the 80’s sometimes had where someone would come onstage and they would reach out their hands and cry “be healed!” and then suddenly the person would be knocked to the floor and rise again without their crutches, or suddenly be able to see again, or hear again. I thought it was hokey and fake back them, and I’d still run the other way today from any preacher who told me they could do that. Because healing doesn’t work that way.

There’s a difference between being healed, and everything being changed back to how it was before. When we are healed, the bones don’t unbreak, the depression doesn’t immediately lift, the cancer doesn’t suddenly reverse course and leave our bodies the way we were before. The ones we love don’t come back.

Healing is different than that. And at first glance that might make it a little disappointing. It’s not a quick fix. What it is is a way to ask for God’s love to be with us especially during a difficult time. It’s a way of acknowledging that we need something more than ourselves when things get really bad. And it’s a way of being open to what the Holy Spirit is able to do to transform those places where the pain and the brokenness are happening.

Many who go to church on Sunday go the rest of the week, maybe quietly, without anyone else knowing they are fighting a hard battle. But that means that on Sunday, you are in a place with a lot of other people who might not know exactly what you are going through, but who have some idea, and want to travel this path with you. When the hardest times in our life come, we have a community that surrounds us. More than that, the body of Christ surrounds us, and it pays attention, and journeys with us.
I sometimes get called by hospitals or by funeral homes when someone is sick or someone has passed away and the family has no faith community. And I’m always glad to go and pray or say a service or help out. But I always feel bad. Because I see the way that this whole community, and not just me, surrounds a person who is going through something hard and stays with them. The best part of the church is not the clergy; it’s all of the people. That’s the ministry of the church and what it means to be Christ’s body together. And I wish that everyone could have that, because I think that they would find that Christ’s healing, more often than not, comes in community, and not in isolation, because Christ often chooses to work through others.

In this Lenten season, that healing takes on a particular importance. This is a time when we are called to heal our own relationships with God, and to draw closer to Christ. We accompany Christ symbolically through his times of greatest challenge, and greatest pain. And we learn what it is both to be healed, and to be healers.

Not About Me: Day One (A Journey Through Lent)

379246_10151246708651787_459997397_nI received ashes about an hour ago. My partner was on her way to Boston to assist in Old South Church’s Ash Wednesday observances, but she ashed me first. Later today she will be joining other clergy and seminarians as she stands in front of the church and offers ashes to the busy pedestrians on Boylston Street. And now I’m sitting here in the office of my small town church in Vermont, ashes on my forehead, waiting to see if any parishioners who can’t make our evening service will drop by for ashes.

Our contexts today are very different, but our hopes are the same. Maybe the people we touch with ash will stop for a minute, reflect on the day, and feel the tug on their hearts from God that comes every Lent, beckoning them back to the divine relationship.

We impose the ashes on one another with the the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” And Lent is all about returning. Not just back to dust, but to what makes something extraordinary out of that dust. Lent is all about returning to the creator, and returning towards the way that God’s son showed us. A way of love. A way of reconciliation. A way of hope. A better way.

Today I’m starting my Lenten discipline in the form of a challenge to myself (you can read about it here:http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-emily-c-heath/its-not-about-me-a-lenten-challenge_b_2659425.html ). I’m hoping that in Lent my thoughts and my actions will help return my attention to God, and to God’s people, again and again. I invite you to join me, in whatever way works for you. Even if you have been away from church, or away from faith, for sometime, it’s not too late.

God will always welcome your return. So, why not today?