Not a Cold and Broken Hallelujah

As a person of a particular faith for whom Easter is extremely important, and as a pastor of people in a particular faith for whom Easter is extremely important, I admittedly had a great deal of trepidation about this Easter 2020. For us, the resurrection of Jesus, the One whom Death could not hold, is the center of our faith. The Deathly powers of evil, of insatiable greed, of power-grabbing, and power-over just couldn’t win. That’s what keeps me in this thing called Christianity, for all of its downsides.

And so, Easter, just isn’t lip-service for me. It’s my center, my hope, and the thing that I rest my career and vocation on. It’s also generally the busiest week in a pastor’s year.

So, you can then begin to see my nervousness this year. How would we do Easter? How would we be able to celebrate the most precious part of our faith while separated, over a screen? How would we wash each other’s feet on Maundy Thursday? How would we sing “the light of Christ, thanks be to God” as we kept vigil for Easter? These questions lingered in my mind.

Many Christians don’t say “alleluia” during Lent. We bury the alleluias and we don’t say this special word until Easter. As I was preparing for the strangeness of a completely online Holy Week and Easter, I wondered if our alleluias, when they emerged on Easter, would be cold and broken?

It’s been feeling a little cold and broken lately, with all this fear and death around. I was hit especially hard by John Prine’s death. ……..

And then Holy Week began… with Palm Sunday where we waved branches of Tennessee’s native botany instead of palm branches that we would nC01A4A32-DCF8-4906-8F0F-F74EE7311EF7ever see in Tennessee unless they were imported. Daily pastoral reflections on the lectionary texts were centering and inspiring. Maundy Thursday brought forth a Zoom call with our congregants sitting around their dinner tables. As we said liturgy and ate together over screens, we sang The Servant’s Song:

“I will hold the Christlight for you in the night-time of your fear. I will hold my hand out to you, speak the peace you long to hear.”

And then Good Friday brought a solemn centering that asked What Wondrous Love is This? On Facebook Live on Easter’s dawn, we did an Easter Vigil service from my living room as we kept vigil for Easter’s light. It was holy and we were connected to our early church ancestors.

We had a skeleton crew in the sanctuary for our Easter service … just enough to record the service. And as I sat on the altar, listening to a large, full organ prelude, I felt the organ’s vibrations in every cell in my body. And then, the smell of lilies on the altar wafted over…. and tears came to my eyes… I could barely get up to do the welcome.

I got up, looked into the camera, and together, our congregation said the opening words of the service: “Alleluia, Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed!”

These ancient words are the words of Mary, our first preacher of the Gospel, as she left the Garden after having been the first to see the risen Jesus.

The lone trumpet filled the empty sanctuary as we sang Christ the Lord is Risen Today and the pastors processed in the cross, the alleluia banner, and the scriptures.

And I begin to realize in a deep way, that our alleluias weren’t cold and broken at all. Though those kinds of alleluias are still faithful and resilient.

But our alleluias this Easter morning were different- they were full, robust, and sure. We needed Good News and we had it, and nothing, not even a novel virus, could damper our proclamations of hope.

This is not the Easter I would have ever imagined, but it is the Easter that I desperately needed.

I’ll never forget it.

Thanks be to God.

 

 

Lenten Wilderness Guide (Week 3)

Lenten Field Guide // Week 3: Hang in there! 

     The world that we find ourselves navigating is no doubt a fast-paced, next-day-delivery, instant-oatmeal kind of world. Therefore, when life brings us into an elongated season –especially one that involves suffering or even growth– we are often caught off guard by the length of the season. We know though that some lessons just cannot be learned overnight, as tough as that may be. Just like a golf swing cannot be perfected in one day, our spirituality cannot be quickly downloadable like a PDF file. The good stuff takes time to know intimately.

We see in Matthew’s gospel that Jesus takes a long season of forty days to engage with tough spiritual questions, all while he is starving for food. These temptations that the devil brought forth centered around Jesus’ identity and mission. Had he not known who he was or what he was here to do, perhaps the devil’s tantalizing temptations would have been harder for Jesus to resist.

As people of long-seasoned faith, we need spiritual disciplines in our lives that we practice every day–on the days when we feel like it and on the days that we do not. Just like it takes training to prepare for a college entrance exam or a 5k, our faith takes training. In order for the best of our Christian tradition to come forth from us in the hardest moments, we must practice it every day, so that it becomes our rhythm, our mother tongue. Spiritual practices like prayer, fasting, self denial, sacred time, service, justice and resistance work are just a few practices that help us live our faith values every day and prepare us for the long seasons that life will bring.

Scripture to consider: Matthew 4:1-11

Then the Spirit led Jesus up into the wilderness so that the devil might tempt him. 2 After Jesus had fasted for forty days and forty nights, he was starving. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “Since you are God’s Son, command these stones to become bread.”4 Jesus replied, “It’s written, People won’t live only by bread, but by every word spoken by God.” 5 After that the devil brought him into the holy city and stood him at the highest point of the temple. He said to him, 6 “Since you are God’s Son, throw yourself down; for it is written, I will command my angels concerning you, and they will take you up in their hands so that you won’t hit your foot on a stone.”7 Jesus replied, “Again it’s written, Don’t test the Lord your God.”8 Then the devil brought him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 He said, “I’ll give you all these if you bow down and worship me.”10 Jesus responded, “Go away, Satan, because it’s written, You will worship the Lord your God and serve only him.” 11 The devil left him, and angels came and took care of him.

Romans 5:1-5

Therefore, since we have been made righteous through his faithfulness, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 We have access by faith into this grace in which we stand through him, and we boast in the hope of God’s glory. 3 But not only that! We even take pride in our problems, because we know that trouble produces endurance, 4 endurance produces character, and character produces hope. 5 This hope doesn’t put us to shame, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

Offering yourself and your gifts – What simple serving projects could your family do together this week? Some ideas might include:. taking a bag of groceries to the food bank, gathering old clothes to take to a shelter, writing letters or drawing cards to send to people who need them, etc.

Acts of Worship: Slow down this week and find space to wait. When you get home from work or the day’s activities, if you usually turn on the TV or get on your phone, consider leaving it off one night. Create space to sit, wait, and listen to your spirit and to God’s spirit. Perhaps there has been something nagging at you that you need to stop and listen to. Perhaps there is someone you need to talk to or reconcile with but being busy has kept you from having to face that. Perhaps you need to make a life decision but have felt stuck and need the space to talk to God about it. Whatever the case may be, sit and wait for God to make the way forward for you.

Acts of Devotion and Spirituality: As we journey through this Lenten season, there are several weeks left. Consider reading a few chapters a day to read the entirety of the Gospel of Matthew. There is often so much blessing in reading a gospel in its entirety because it situates the text in it 1st century antiquity and gives a powerful narrative to popular texts that we focus on often.

I have seen the Lord!

I can’t believe I am back on my neglected blog, writing anything other than sermons and services on Holy Week! Holy Week for pastors spells s-w-a-m-p-e-d and it has certainly lived up to that this 2019 year. But as I set an intention on gratitude today in a last-ditch effort to deflect some of the anxiety about Easter’s logistics (and also as I sermon write for Easter Sunday), I found myself stepping back 10 years into time.

As I read John’s Gospel story, I am captivated by Mary. How she came to weep over Jesus’ death at his tomb and how she was the first one to see the Resurrected Jesus. She needed Jesus to say her name so that she would know who he was; that means she knew him, she knew his voice, she knew how he said her name. She was commissioned by Jesus to go and tell. And gee, did she ever! We have the Gospel story because of her. She went and said, “I have seen the Lord!”

“I have seen the Lord.”

“I have seen the Lord.”

What an honor to be the first human commissioned with the Gospel.

As I am reflecting on this for Holy Week, the gratitude that captured me was gratitude for all of the women in my life who have shouted “I have seen the Lord!” over and over and over until I believed that this Good News was for me too. They have been witnesses of this Love that was made flesh in the form of Jesus.

From my mom, to my grandmothers and aunts, in my raising who introduced me to God’s love. To writers like Anne Lamott and most especially Rachel Held Evans who kept saying, I think the Gospel is more expansive and inclusive than we think it is. To my pastors who said this is what “I have seen the Lord!” looks like for a woman in ministry. To my Divinity School professors who taught me that being commissioned with the good news means that “you cannot be a poster child of the status quo.”1 To so many women who have changed me because they have taught me the unforced rhythms of grace when I was so burnt out with the Church. To the women who have loved me deeply and said, “remember who you are; you are named beloved and you are a woman made in the image of God.”

For me, it will always be a woman who says on Easter’s Sunday:

“I have seen the Lord.”

Notes:

  1. Rev. Dr. Emilie Townes

2013 Blog Roadmap

I went for a run today with the distinct intention of dwelling on what is to come on the blog this year. I was interrupted twice by fellow neighbors who wanted to discuss the weather, narrowly avoided a charging dog, and then, culminating my run in typical Kate style, I stepped in fresh turkey poop on my way back through my yard. So instead of the blog, I thought about how to avoid the neighbors, angry dogs, and bird crap; it was a good try though anyway.

2012 was a lot of fun here on the blog! I’d like to thank everyone who read, commented, private messaged, tweeted, called, or connected through any other form of communication.

I learned a great deal from you all and pray that we’ll continue to learn from each other as 2013 unfolds!

Because I’m a hopeless planner, I wanted to throw out some ideas of where I’d like this blog to go and what kind of platform I’d like to create in 2013. I need your suggestions too though because this is a community and your opinion matters! What would you like to talk about or see more of?

Here’s a few things I was thinking:

1) A culmination of the Our Emptying Church blog series. More interviews, guest posts, church history, Millennial characteristics, discussions about David Kinnaman’s research to come. I’ll summarize the highlights of the series and hopefully offer a few conclusions we’ve arrived at.

2) More guest posts, interviews, and entertaining stories.

3) Responses to recent legislation and publications, with particular interest going to:

-the intersection of science and the church
-complementarianism v. egalitarianism (gender roles)
-women’s leadership in the church
-matters involving injustice, inequality, and discrimination

4) During Lent, I will be starting a series discussing human trafficking on a statewide, countrywide and worldwide level.

5) Stories about life’s funny, difficult, joyous, and grievous moments. I know that I have a year of many transitions ahead, ones that will require wisdom, vulnerability, and courage; so I hope to write about some of those moments.

6) Reviews of books I am reading and want to recommend.

I am planning on trying to post weekly this year, but have several other writing obligations as well, so “try” is a key word here. I’m personally looking forward to the warmer weather and new life that 2013 will bring soon– I look forward to our journey together in 2013. May we have traveling mercies along the way.

What am I leaving out that you would like to see on the blog? What are some topics that you’d like to discuss here?