Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Holy Week

Being asked to do the Presbymeme (below) gave me the impetus to blog about my Holy Week. Nothing Presbyterian about it.

Let's start on Palm Sunday. I got a 9 a.m. call from a new friend, raised secular Muslim, who has very bad feelings about Christianity in general, but is trying hard to respect mine. "Happy Palm Sunday!" he announced. "Oh. Is it?" I replied. I really didn't know. And that shocked me. Has there ever been a Palm Sunday in my entire life that I didn't wake up looking forward to the dramatic story that moves from triumph to tragedy? I loved waving the palms as a child. I love the Palm Sunday hymns. As a pastor, I always loved creating a parade from the outside to the inside of the church and moving the congregation from the exaltation of "All Glory, Laud and Honor" to the reality of death and betrayal still to come.

I went to Funny Little Church (FLC) -- the one I've blogged about from time to time this year -- at the usual afternoon time. They had palm branches there, but we really didn't do anything with them. The service was fine ... but it didn't feel like Palm Sunday. None of the triumph or the tragedy, really. Just another informal, lefty Baptist kind of thing.

In keeping with the lack of realization that it was Holy Week, I had made plans to celebrate the Vernal Equinox on Maundy Thursday. That day I had second thoughts, but having no church home that was doing Maundy Thursday, I kept my original plans. I went to a friend's retreat center (we do similar work and try to collaborate rather than compete) to do meditative dances. It was fine. But it was not Maundy Thursday, which may well be my favorite Holy Day of the year. Especially when foot washing is included. My churches have typically conflated MT and Good Friday, with communion first and then Tenebrae, on the theory that getting Presbyterians out to one mid-week service is asking enough and two would be impossible. I love that movement as well, from tight circle of friends huddled in an upper room, to public trial and betrayal. From gentle hope to dark hopelessness in such a short time.

On Good Friday, I attended my local Episcopal church (LEC), which is where FLC now meets, so they had invited us to join them. It was a beautiful service. We heard the whole gospel story of the betrayal, trial, crucifixion and tomb. The priest gave a beautiful homily using an illustration from modern-day Middle East about non-violence and compassion that was so moving and pertinent. He is a man clearly in love with God. We had a ritual with stones that we offered as something we needed to let go of in order to follow Christ. There was the Eucharist and healing prayer. We sang Taize music, mostly. Finally, I felt like I had joined Holy Week.

But that left Easter. FLC just doesn't do the Big Holy Days (BHD) well at all and I had decided some time before not to attend there, so as to preempt my disappointment. But the last BHD I had gone with my mom to her traditional Presbyterian church and left screaming in boredom and ended up offending her, because she really loves her church, so I didn't want to do that either. First I thought I'd just do LEC again or the Cathedral, always a good choice if one is in search of Pomp. But I wasn't in search of Pomp. I was in search of resurrection.

Then I got an invitation I couldn't refuse. To worship at the Men's State Correctional Facility. So that's what I did. Drove with some friends from FLC to the maximum security prison about an hour away and worshipped there. We didn't sing any of the hymns I love -- no Jesus Christ is Risen Today or Hallelujah Chorus or the wonderful Brian Wren Easter hymn to Beethoven's 9th. They sang gospel. And Amazing Grace. A retired Baptist minister preached. Good sermon.

It is a strange and discomforting place for me to feel so out of sync not with Christianity in the spiritual sense, but Christianity in the denominational sense. In spite of lovely, compassionate Christian people in all the churches I have attended over the past year, I can't escape the sense of deadliness I encounter there. Is it in me or in the churches? I suspect it is me dying to my old ways of being church. A long, slow death as it is turning out.

At the prison, there is so little pretence. You either get resurrection or you don't. If you don't, you're not there on Sunday. If you do, you can't not be there. What else is there when you are behind bars and have thrown yourself on the mercy of a living, loving Lord? This is a stance I understand. When my church let me go, God did not. God, in fact, picked me up even before they threw me down.

[Now, there will be some Presbyterians who will read this, who know my story and will jump in to say, "Oh, no. The church didn't leave you." To you, I need to say, please spare me. I know what happened and how. And until you have walked in my shoes, you really, really don't know.]

So I am dying a long, slow death to the ways of worshipping and understanding God and church and community and compassion that I lived so fully for so many years. It is not easy. And yet, it is also not hard. Because I know resurrection. I know it in my bones, in my gut, in the ligaments that hold me together. I know it, quite literally, better than I know myself. Because my self is also in this long, slow dying time. I don't know what I'll look like or sound like on the other side of the process I'm in, but I trust, that with Peter I will move from eager follower to quick denier to empowered leader. But also like Peter, I don't know if my former communities will recognize me when I get to that stage or will want to disown the more inclusive, more powerful, more merciful and impartial God that I am continuing to grow to know. There is no going back to the old ways. I have no desire or need to do so. But what is to come is yet to be clear. Resurrection changes things.

Happy season of resurrection, friends. May you know it in your life and may the church know it as well.


Jane R said...

Oh, LJ, this is beautiful, thank you. Thank you.

Ruth said...

Thanks for this, LJ, powerful and deep reflection on what's happening in your inner life. Having left the church of my childhood, I can resonate with the wrenching of leaving old ways behind, but the relief of finding new.

pj said...

LJ my friend. I have no idea how to comment on this. I'm so accustomed to not belonging to anything, you know? Eh, I shall resort to parentheses. (((LJ)))


Wormwood's Doxy said...

Beautiful, my friend. Your Easter sounded just right.

As you know, I have a foot in two different church communities and I feel constantly off-kilter--so I feel your pain a bit.

I think there are times when God has to be enough, because the institution just can't give us what we really want/need from it. At this point in my life, I'm feeling really selfish---I just want to go for the Eucharist and then go home, because I've lost my emotional connection to the one community and feel resentful of its other claims on my time. And I cannot be fully present in the other community either, for reasons of distance and time.

I hope we can both find what we need. I do feel as if God is "on the case"---I just wish She worked a little faster sometimes...


Diane said...

Oh, LJ, so much in your post resonated with me, my wonderings and wanderings about resurrection. and church. I worry about us being deadly boring, and what is next for denominations, and think the correctional facility was a good place, people as you say, who can't not be there.

peace be with you.

Looking forward to more.
I wonder where I would go if I could move around?

lj said...

Thanks all. I've been out of town the rest of this week and out of the blogging loop, but I'm home now and grateful for your responses.

Jane, you know something about moving around, eh?

Ruth, I'm glad you found a new home among the Presbies.

PJ, I think your outsider status gives you a fresh perspective we all can learn from. I mean, how many Jufiscapalians do I know? (Two, as it turns out and that is just weird). BTW, latest spiritual reading is Sufi. May be another post in that.

Doxy, I believe God is on the case and does need to be enough. Actually, God being enough may be another post I need to do, because that's about much more than where I worship ... that's really probably the crux of my existence right now. Learning to let God be enough.

Diane, I bet you'd go enjoy some gospel services, but I don't think you'd stray too far from good preaching and good liturgy. You have such a wonderful sensibility about those things.

Peace and grace in this season of alleluias.