Drawn in in love – Tuesday in Holy Week

On my way to Meijer to purchase ice cream salt and rubbing alcohol for the new fire at the Great Vigil, I passed by one of our local Pentecostal churches.  Because it is a) Pentecostal and b) on the main thoroughfare, they have one of those fancy LED marquees that announces things like opening in their pre-school or special services.  As I passed by this morning, the first ad I saw on the screen was for their Good Friday service, which is a thing I’m noticing more and more in non-liturgical traditions, and something maybe for a later post.  The ad featured a black background with a silverish cross in foreground along with the service name and time.  As the image switched to announce the Easter services, the cross changed from silver to white.  The background from black to a bright blue sky hovering above an August National-type green grass hill.

In that moment, I realized something about myself.  I think there is a part of me, way back in the recesses of my soul, that thinks the tradition of veiling crosses in Lent is backwards.  Instead, I wonder if we shouldn’t remove all the crosses from our naves during the Great 50 Days of Easter.  I know that this is a dangerously triumphalist thought, but I think it stems from too many experiences in which the fast of Good Friday and the feast of Easter Day have been conflated into a cross with purple sashing sitting below a white banner the Alleluia in gold lettering.

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I can’t even with this

There is no Easter without Good Friday, and Good Friday isn’t good without Easter Day, but they are meant to be honored as separate events, or maybe better said, two distinct features of a greater whole.

One of my favorite prayers in the Daily Office was written by Charles Henry Brent, the late bishop of the Philippines and later, Western New York.  It goes like this,

Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: so clothe us with your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name.

The Gospel lesson appointed for Tuesday in Holy Week is a typically Johannine text, in which Jesus is clear that it is through his being lifted up [on a cross] that Jesus will draw all people to himself.  There is, as the old hymn says, power in the blood of Jesus.  There is redemption in Jesus stretching out his own arms in loving act of laying down his life.  This even is worth contemplating deeply during the week leading up to and including Good Friday.  In the act of laying down his life, Jesus draws us all in to himself in love.  And then, it seems to me, something different happens come Sunday morning.  Rather than shifting our focus from a gray cross on a dark background to an empty wooden cross on a happier background, our focus should turn entirely away from the hill called Golgotha to the stone that has been rolled away from the empty tomb.  There is a whole lot more to think and say about this than 600 words will allow, but suffice to say, I think it is important to consider how the events of Good Friday and Easter are different, even as together, they help to bring us all into the knowledge and love of Jesus.

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Hosanna!

As my children get older, the time we spend listening to CDs of children’s music grows shorter and shorter.  I can’t say I’m that sad to see this particular era of their lives go away: listening to “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” on repeat can get a little monotonous; but still, like every phase in their young lives, there is some wistfulness for the way things were.  That, and the ever repeating HSK&T has merely been replaced by “Shake it Off” or some other bubblegum pop song.  There is still one CD that gets lots of airtime in Mommy’s Car, the surprising combination of Fisher Price’s Little People and Sunday School Classics.

Featured on this album are such classics as “Arky, Arky,” “Father Abraham”, and Give me Oil in my Lamp (Sing Hosanna), which our Music Minister, JKT, has declared “a perfect Palm Sunday song.”  I’m not sure of that, but this is the “perfect Christian song lyric video.”

Sunday School songs are full of teaching opportunities, and “Give me oil” is no exception.  The word that makes up most of the refrain, a word we will hear repeated during the Liturgy of the Palms this Sunday, Hosanna, is one of the Church words that we use, but I wonder how many people actually know what it means.  The Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms defines Hosanna as “(Heb. ‘O save now!’ Greek form of the Jewish cry used in the procession of the Feast of the Booths (Ps 118.25-26).  In the New Testament it is associated with the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday).”  Bibleworks translates it as “Save, we pray!”

Hosanna is a cry of a people totally dependent upon God.  It’s use in the Festival of the Booths serves as a reminder of the Israelites 40 years in the wilderness when food and water came from the hand of God alone.  Hosanna, Save us, we pray, is the cry of a people who realize that it is only by the hand of God that salvation is possible.  It is a peculiar cry for those of us who live in ease in 21st century America; a people who often forget that our gifts aren’t the result of our own hard work, but rather, the effect of God’s saving grace poured out upon us.

Every Palm Sunday we are reminded that Holy Week is the story of God’s saving love for us.  We cry out, “save us,” and God does so, even as moments later we cry out “crucify him.”  The irony is that the cross, a torture device inflicted on God by humans just like us, is ultimately what saves the world.  Hosanna indeed.

A Rough Landing in Ordinary Time

Easter is a movable Feast, that is to say, unlike Christmas that is December 25th every year, Easter doesn’t fall on the same date each year.  It follows the lunar cycles so that Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox.  Because Easter is a movable feast many others are as well: Ascension coming 40 days after Easter, Pentecost 10 days after that, and Trinity Sunday the Sunday following Pentecost.  All of this means that so-called ordinary time, that long stretch of green Sundays after Pentecost can begin anywhere from Proper 1 in early-mid-May or as is the case this year, Proper 7 in late-mid-June (I think even a Proper 8 start is possible, but I’m not that good at math).

All of that to say this, after a season of repentance and renewal in Lent, a season of celebration in Easter, and the always confusing Trinity Sunday, we crash land into Ordinary Time (I know, we don’t actually use that term in The Episcopal Church but “The Season After Pentecost” is just too long to type) with a bumpy Gospel Lesson.  All those Rectors who let their Curates commit heresy on Trinity Sunday are now selling them on the good exercise of preaching back to back Sundays.

“Whoever denies me, I will deny.”
“I didn’t come to bring peace, but a sword.”
“One’s foes will be members of one’s own household.”
“Whoever loves father and mother more than me, is not worthy of me…”

Thanks be to God that TKT and I are both away this week, though I feel sorry of AOM who will be guest preaching in our stead.  These are hard words from Jesus, words that I’m guessing most of us wish he’d never said, but the fact of the matter is that he said them and we need to deal with them out in the open.  In this week’s lesson, Jesus lays down the gauntlet for radical discipleship.  He desires a full commitment to the Kingdom of God: above one’s own desires, one’s own family, even one’s own life.  Jesus never promised that life in the Kingdom would be easy, in fact he calls us to take up our cross and follow him – to carry the instrument of our own death in order that we might have abundant life.  It is a bumpy landing into Ordinary Time this year, but perhaps it will set the tone for a summer of thinking about what it means to really follow Jesus.