Holy Days

Four Stories

Good-friday LP and I sat in the darkened sanctuary this morning, filling the last hour of Y1P's vigil. All night, members of the church came in to sit for an hour or two, quietly contemplating the shrouded cross, the crown of thorns, the half-burned candles from the Tenebrae service.

Yesterday my colleague and I chose favorite books from our shelves to leave for those keeping vigil: Mary Oliver and Parker Palmer and Billy Collins and Henri Nouwen, and more. He came in the middle of the night and read my "Life of the Beloved;" I came later and picked up his copy of "Why I Wake Early."

But first I spent time reading the crucifixion accounts in all four gospels, because this was what LP planned to do. She worked her way backwards from John to Matthew, and I did the same chronologically from John to Mark. Every now and then she whispered a question or pointed to something familiar or surprising. She said, "Really, they're all saying the same thing." I thought of people who write books based on the inherent contradictions, trying to use them to disprove something, and I appreciated her holistic view in contrast.

We both agreed on our favorite portion: 

One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 

But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 

Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 

He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43, NRSV)

It's funny, because this was a passage with resonance for my mother, too. She asked me to read it as I sat by her deathbed, the passage connected to the Taize "Jesus, Remember Me" on a tape a friend had given her.

I've told this story before. She's been on my mind this week, almost 17 years after her death from metastatic melanoma. She took a turn for the worse on Good Friday, but wouldn't admit it to anyone until Easter Monday. 

It's not the only Good Friday memory from my life that stings. I've told those stories before, too. But this week her story and mine came closer than ever before, as I put the pieces together, as I drew strength from the memory of something she once said to me that helps when there is disappointment to bear or illness to navigate or grief to survive. 

The gospels give us four stories of the crucifixion. We've told them all before, mostly mixed together, smoothing out their differences or emphasizing them to make a point. Somehow they still move and hurt and sink in and draw out and, ultimately, connect — for me, and LP, and somewhere in spirit, my mother, who took me out of school on Good Friday one day long ago, just because. 

Advent, Holy Days, When I was a little girl

The Day of His Coming

(Thinking about Advent 2)

See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and
the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger
of the covenant in whom you delight–indeed, he is coming, says the
LORD of hosts.

But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he
appears? For he is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify
the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until
they present offerings to the LORD in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years.
(Malachi 3:1-4, NRSV)

I used to stand next to Mrs. Buckley in the choir loft at Court Street Baptist Church. There are many pieces of music I will always hear in her gorgeous alto, and the solos in Handel's Messiah are among them. I was a high school freshman and then a sophomore. We had a crowd of high school students in the choir then, I suppose because she was their school choral director, and perhaps because her own daughter was in high school then, too. We swelled the ranks of the choir–how happily for the choir I do not know–and we learned good music. So much Handel I learned standing at her elbow, and although I played the piano, I did not have the sight-singing skills to get the parts easily. I leaned on her.

From the balcony, she sang every year during the Christmas Pageant. Her magnificent tones filled the sanctuary with "The Birthday of a King."

Oh, I admired her.

And I learned from her, qualities of kindness and love and patience, as well as musicianship. I learned friendship as I watched her with her friend, Mrs. Kersey, the minister's wife.

That part of my childhood and youth feels almost mythological, and I have lived far enough away for long enough that it hardly seems it could have been real, particularly the Christmas Pageant which in memory is gorgeous beyond what could have been possible. Ask my family, they've heard the stories over and over again, of the choirs, including the little children, processing to "O,Come, All Ye Faithful," electric candles in hand; of the solo I sang at 12 and the time I almost fainted while garbed as an angel; of my disappointment that we moved to Williamsburg before I got old enough to be Mary. Every pageant I write or direct or observe I hope will hold some fraction of the wonder that pageant held for me.

Mrs. Buckley has gone on ahead, to what I hope is a beautifully musical beyond. The dark Sunday afternoons I listened to her in the balcony, the wonder evoked by her voice, are all far in the past.

I have wondered if the people who were so much a part of my life would remember me, or if they did what they would think of hearing I became a pastor. How have I been refined? Am I what they would have imagined?

Today I found my same-birthday friend, the minister's son, on Facebook, and he sent me a message, glad to hear from me. He tells me one of our old friends mentions my name frequently around the Pageant.  And he signs off with a 🙂

Church Life, Holy Days

Down in My Heart

Both my grandmothers loved to sing, and I enjoyed singing with them. Each had an array of favored songs, mostly songs they had learned at church (Grandma G, the Baptist) or at church camp (Grandma S, the Methodist). I remember their dear voices, teaching me about Jesus, who was the Lily of the Valley, and whose love could be Down in My Heart. They meant it, both of them, about the love of Jesus being down in their hearts.

Jesus lived with them and walked with them and talked with them. They had a friend in him. The very thought of him meant something to him. He loved them.

Somehow Jesus feels very tangible, even if we've never met him.

We're coming up on the Sunday when we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit, that less easily defined Person of the Trinity, the one that washes over us or blows past us or lights us up unexpectedly. I've had those feelings, the electricity of one hand touching another on a cold day and sending up sparks.

Have you felt it, the shock that reanimates, the wind that reorganizes, the fire that redefines?

I believe it is sweeping over all our churches. It has taken a world-wide financial crisis to make some of us recognize that change isn't just coming; it's here. We're examining the spirit of our churches, determining what is essential, dreaming of new ways to live together.

We make a mistake if we depend on charts and organizational tools and marketing schemes.

We need to seek our joy.