Palm Sunday, April 5, 2020
Welcome: We gather, though far apart, holding one another in our hearts and in our prayers this day as we begin Holy Week this Palm Sunday as we mark the beginning of Holy Week.
Responsive Call to Worship:
One: We gather together in this place.
Raising our branches in joy.
All: Joining all who wish to see Jesus,
eager for a healing touch, a blessing received.
One: We gather together in this place.
Raising our branches in hope!
All: Joining all who wish to hear Jesus,
longing for a message of welcome
and acceptance on our journey.
One: We gather together in this place.
Laying down our branches in fear.
All: Wondering if we are able to walk with Jesus
through the week ahead,
through anguish, accusations, despair.
One: We gather together in this place.
Waving branches of prayer.
All: Walking toward the Cross, and the empty tomb.
Opening Hymn: We are Marching In the Light of God
Holy One, how you come to us in ways we never expect.
A king on a donkey? A Savior on a cross?
How can we recognize you, with us, among us?
Will your message come through?
Will the palms we wave with joy today
be thrown down tomorrow with doubt?
May your Spirit guide us through this Holiest of Weeks,
beside us, around us, before and behind us, within us,
as we pray together the prayer Jesus taught saying:
Reading: A Coronavirus Prayer by Kerry Weber, Matthew 21: 1-11, Matthew 26:14-27:66
(After the readings you may choose to respond, “Thanks be to God”)
Reflections: There are some brief reflections for the reading from Matthew 26 which follow the lengthy reading. I have also attached a wonderful Sermon by Rev. Dick Bennett, who has joined us at worship in recent months. He is a retired UCC Minister and his reflections are wonderful for Holy Week.
Musical call to Prayer: Hush Now in Quiet Peace by Michelle Currie
The Spirit brings release, so wait upon the Lord. (two times)
Prayers of the People:
We invite your prayers for Doug Firebaugh who is having minor surgery on Monday.
Prayers for Josh and his wife Jaime. Josh is a young father with stage 4 cancer and they request our prayers at this time.
For Ann and Tim and all who are sick and recovering from Covid 19.
We pray for all of the first responders, the doctors and nurses, hospital staff and cleaners, the grocery workers and delivery folks that they may stay safe and healthy, that they may receive the equipment and support that they need, and that they may find the strength and capacity to continue forward with their important work. We pray for our teachers and all the students who are working from home.
We pray for all who are struggling financially at this time, for the unemployed, for those who are worried about paying their bills and feeding their children in the days ahead.
In the silence of your hearts, lift up other prayers you may have this day. We pray for one another and for the concerns each of us carries for loved ones and friends, neighbors and folks across the world.
Closing Hymn: All Glory Laud and Honor
Passing from joy into sorrow and on to elation, we come
to Christ this holy week. Today is only a part of the story.
May the journey of this week lead you
into the fullness of Christ’s love.
Sending Forth: Go in the Peace of Christ to love and serve the Lord and one another.
Response: Thanks be to God
Recessional: Go in Peace
Go in peace and the peace of God be with you always.
Celebrate and share the joy. Celebrate new life.
Go in peace and the peace of God be with you always.
Readings for Palm Sunday
A Coronavirus Prayer
Jesus Christ, you traveled through towns and villages “curing every disease and illness.” At your command, the sick were made well. Come to our aid now, in the midst of the global spread of the coronavirus, that we may experience your healing love.
Heal those who are sick with the virus. May they regain their strength and health through quality medical care.
Heal us from our fear, which prevents nations from working together and neighbors from helping one another.
Heal us from our pride, which can make us claim invulnerability to a disease that knows no borders.
Jesus Christ, healer of all, stay by our side in this time of uncertainty and sorrow.
Be with those who have died from the virus. May they be at rest with you in your eternal peace.
Be with the families of those who are sick or have died. As they worry and grieve, defend them from illness and despair. May they know your peace.
Be with the doctors, nurses, researchers and all medical professionals who seek to heal and help those affected and who put themselves at risk in the process. May they know your protection and peace.
Be with the leaders of all nations. Give them the foresight to act with charity and true concern for the well-being of the people they are meant to serve. Give them the wisdom to invest in long-term solutions that will help prepare for or prevent future outbreaks. May they know your peace, as they work together to achieve it on earth.
Whether we are home or abroad, surrounded by many people suffering from this illness or only a few, Jesus Christ, stay with us as we endure and mourn, persist and prepare. In place of our anxiety, give us your peace. Jesus Christ, heal us. Amen.
By Kerry Weber, Executive Editor of America: The Jesuit Review
Matthew 21:1-11 Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem
21 When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.[a]” 4 This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,
5 “Tell the daughter of Zion,
Look, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; 7 they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. 8 A very large crowd[b] spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,
“Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
10 When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” 11 The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”
Matthew 26:14-27:66- The Passion of Jesus Christ
Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, What will you give me if I betray him to you? They paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.
On the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, Where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the Passover? He said, Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is near; I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’ So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover meal.
When it was evening, he took his place with the twelve; and while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.” And they became greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another, “Surely not I, Lord?” He answered, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.” Judas, who betrayed him, said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” He replied, “You have said so.”
While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
Then Jesus said to them, “You will all become deserters because of me this night; for it is written,
‘I will strike the shepherd,
and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’
“But after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.” Peter said to him, “Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you.” Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” Peter said to him, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And so said all the disciples.
Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated. Then he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.” And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again he went away for the second time and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” Again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.”
While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; with him was a large crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him.” At once he came up to Jesus and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him. Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you are here to do.” Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and arrested him. Suddenly, one of those with Jesus put his hand on his sword, drew it, and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the scriptures be fulfilled, which say it must happen in this way?” At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, “Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me. But all this has taken place, so that the scriptures of the prophets may be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.
Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas the high priest, in whose house the scribes and the elders had gathered. But Peter was following him at a distance, as far as the courtyard of the high priest; and going inside, he sat with the guards in order to see how this would end. Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for false testimony against Jesus so that they might put him to death, but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward and said, “This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days.'” The high priest stood up and said, “Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?” But Jesus was silent. Then the high priest said to him, “I put you under oath before the living God, tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.” Jesus said to him,
“You have said so. But I tell you,
From now on you will see the Son of Man
seated at the right hand of Power
and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has blasphemed! Why do we still need witnesses? You have now heard his blasphemy. What is your verdict?” They answered, “He deserves death.” Then they spat in his face and struck him; and some slapped him, saying, “Prophesy to us, you Messiah! Who is it that struck you?”
Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. A servant-girl came to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” But he denied it before all of them, saying, “I do not know what you are talking about.” When he went out to the porch, another servant-girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” Again he denied it with an oath, “I do not know the man.” After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you are also one of them, for your accent betrays you.” Then he began to curse, and he swore an oath, “I do not know the man!” At that moment the cock crowed. Then Peter remembered what Jesus had said: “Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.
When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people conferred together against Jesus in order to bring about his death. They bound him, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate the governor.
When Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. He said, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself. But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since they are blood money.” After conferring together, they used them to buy the potter’s field as a place to bury foreigners. For this reason that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of the one on whom a price had been set, on whom some of the people of Israel had set a price, and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me.”
Now Jesus stood before the governor; and the governor asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You say so.” But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he did not answer. Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many accusations they make against you?” But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.
Now at the festival the governor was accustomed to release a prisoner for the crowd, anyone whom they wanted. At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Jesus Barabbas. So after they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” For he realized that it was out of jealousy that they had handed him over. While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him.” Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed. The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” Pilate said to them, “Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” All of them said, “Let him be crucified!” Then he asked, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!”
So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” Then the people as a whole answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” So he released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.
Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole cohort around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. After mocking him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.
As they went out, they came upon a man from Cyrene named Simon; they compelled this man to carry his cross. And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. And when they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots; then they sat down there and kept watch over him. Over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”
Then two bandits were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking him, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he wants to; for he said, ‘I am God’s Son.'” The bandits who were crucified with him also taunted him in the same way.
From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “This man is calling for Elijah.” At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many. Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”
Many women were also there, looking on from a distance; they had followed Jesus from Galilee and had provided for him. Among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.
When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.
The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember what that impostor said while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, ‘He has been raised from the dead,’ and the last deception would be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can.” So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone.
Reflections for Palm Sunday
by Kate Matthews
The passion story is a long one, full of trouble and beauty, and very old as well, going all the way back to Paul and the first-century Gospel writers, who filled out the story with both theology and details. From the beginning, Matthew has sounded the theme of fulfillment; here, at the end, while he continues to recall traditions that are being fulfilled, he also remembers the blood that was spilled at the story’s beginning, when the powers-that-be killed innocent babies because they feared one newborn child. Now, in Jerusalem at the Passover, the Jewish people will remember God’s deliverance of them from slavery in Egypt. The irony, Melinda Quivik writes, is that “the popular and dangerous rabbi who preaches freedom will be killed when the people come together to Jerusalem to celebrate their freedom from slavery in Egypt.”
When Jesus stands before Caiaphas the high priest and Pilate the governor, the rabbi who spoke at great length to his disciples and the crowds now has very little to say before the high and the mighty. Perhaps the local religious authorities’ obsession is easier to understand than the over-reaction of the mighty Roman Empire to one small-town preacher in a far-flung province. But Jesus represents something more powerful than a thousand legions: hope. And even the mightiest of empires could not extinguish the kind of hope that Jesus represented.
The Rev. Kathryn Matthews (firstname.lastname@example.org) retired in 2016 after serving as the dean of Amistad Chapel at the national offices of the United Church of Christ in Cleveland, Ohio
For further reflection:
William Wilberforce, 19th century
“You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.”
Attributed to Rabbi Tarfon and the Talmud (commentary on Micah 6:8)
“Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Act justly now. Love mercy now. Walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”
Albert Camus, 20th century
“Great ideas, it has been said, come into the world as quietly as doves. Perhaps, then, if we listen attentively, we shall hear amid the uproar of empires and nations a faint flutter of wings, a gentle stirring of life and hope.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 20th century, as he was taken to his death:
“This is the end, but for me the beginning of life.”
Sermon by Rev. Dick Bennett
March 2020 Springtime …
Dear new friends … Grace and Peace to all …Paula had invited me to share the morning message in March before we had to cancel Services. I was, of course, honored to be invited to help. We sure had no idea at all what would be impacting us all. But now ‘here we are’ … more or less ‘sheltering in place’ … seeking the companionship of God’s Spirit and one another and finding that our heart-spaces are calling us to experience a new way of ‘becoming together.’
What follows is a version of what I had been working on for that Sunday. Apologizing for its ‘longishness,’ I’d like to offer you all some options for reading so that hopefully you might find some currency in the sharing.
- ‘Think of it. You feel down and dead, wrapped in some kind of cocoon.’ Offers a sharing of a most necessary retreat I experienced at Old South UCC Church in Boston one spring when I was trapped in a cocoon of pastoral exhaustion and desperately needed to experience a ‘break out’ into renewed living. It hopes to share an experience where ‘new life’ flows again as the Power of Grace sifts through pain to give a new lease on living. (NOTE: I wrote this section hoping to honor Michelle Currie and our ministry of music for the tremendous gifts provided each week).
- – – – – – – – – – –
Union Church, Biddeford Pool
‘Boston Springtime’ – adapted, Ezekiel 37:1-14. John 11:11-45.
Part One: For the past several weeks, the Lenten scriptures have been sharing the gospel stories of Jesus’ journey wending his way to Jerusalem. As the Bible stories have been foreshadowing events to come, images and ideas of death and resurrection move us steadily toward the highs and lows of Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday & Good Friday. On the other side of it all … Easter begins to beckon, finally to break forth in a Sonrise of joy. But before that….
A man comes to Jesus in the dark of night, the cocoon of his tradition and his own self-doubt wrapped tightly around him. Jesus talks to him about being born again. A woman meets Jesus at the well. She is an outcast in many ways. The cocoon of her own life and her social and cultural ostracism bind her. Jesus offers her living water. A blind man reaches out to Jesus for healing. The cocoon spun for him, to be sure, interweaves social rejection, religious banishment, & physical hardship! Jesus, the light of the world, brings him sight and insight to new life.
Part Two: If we had met on the 5th Sunday in Lent, we would have heard the stories of ‘the dry bones’ & the ‘raising of Lazarus.’ Taken all together these stories call us to consider life & death, good & evil; they foreshadow images of Holy Week as they call us to encounter the mysterious world of redemption and renewal.
One of the classic illustrations of redemption & new life is the one of caterpillars. Out of an egg will emerge a tiny and very hungry caterpillar. As a part of its life cycle it begins to eat everything in sight before it builds a small house, a cocoon, around itself. Then, In God’s own time, the enclosing boundary walls of the cocoon break open … and into the sun a bright and glistening butterfly emerges into new life.
The good people of Random House define ‘resurrection’ as: “the act of rising again from the dead; the state of those risen from the dead; rising again – as from decay, disuse; revival.” While these technical definitions are helpful to our wonderment, a thesaurus pushes images of resurrection even a bit further with the words: renaissance, reawakening, renewal, rebirth, rekindling, resurgence, and resuscitation.
Sometimes, perhaps even before we’re aware of it, there’s a tendency for us to become too wrapped up in life events. It’s as if some sort of a curious cocoon wraps itself around us so that our lives become very limited and tightly bound. It would be nice if we could just easily break through this constriction … but most times it’s not so easy. Seems that ‘being constricted,’ ‘hemmed in,’ ‘bound up tightly,’ from time to time, is part and parcel of our life process. Sometimes, even though we realize that we’re in tough shape, and we fight against being all bound up, there’s a considerable and most uncomfortable time of waiting until the Spirit of God breaks in to give us new life.
This is the process we see in the Dry Bones story and in the raising of Lazarus. No effort of their own can break their encapsulating cocoons … only the ‘Spirit of God’ can breathe new life into them.
Robert Morris, an Episcopal priest speaks about the common-place and frequently unnoticed ways that people break out from their cocoons and rise above their loneliness and fear as ‘ordinary resurrections.’ Morris points out that the origin of ‘resurrection’ is the Greek word “anastasis,” which means ‘standing up again. As he puts it, “We all lie down. We all rise up. We do this every day.”” The same word “anastasis” is used in scripture: “I am the resurrection and the life.” “Funny thing.” he says, ‘that resurrection does not wait for Easter. It’s more occasional than that.” ‘Little resurrections,’ little ‘standings up,’ are a part of the life experience of many creatures…. including you and me.
I’m coming to believe that resurrection perhaps is not so much an organic process but rather that it is ‘Spirit-driven’ and heart driven. ‘Little resurrection’ first comes by the grace of God’s Spirit, the very Energy of Creation, serving to open one’s heart. Maybe it is as ‘simple’ as our being able to breathe freshly again in a new way … AND as ‘complex’ as God’s own Spirit-in-life gracing us with the power, ad a new means of ‘rising up,’ ‘standing up’ again. (‘resurrection, new life, getting going again!)
Part Three: C. Think of it. You’re down and dead, wrapped in some kind of dark cocoon. You want desperately to break out of the situation you are in and, then, after some significant time of struggle, a ‘sense of spirit’ breaks in to help you to break out from the place of death you are experiencing.
(from an old personal pastoral journal) … “”My valley of the dry bones. Too much death and sorrow and too little time to honor the process of healing. Talk of exhaustion. Getting short and grumpy. Inability to concentrate. Wanting to be most anywhere other than where was necessary to be. Working hard, accomplishing too little while experiencing a serious spinning of wheels. Like pushing against the walls of a bitter and encapsulating cocoon. Going nowhere too quickly. Even worse yet is having to face the fact that I must not be doing very well if so many people are asking me how I am.
Time to go church, preacher person. Time to receive. Time to give up. Time to surrender. Time to seek new life and set out for at least some temporary respite so that the valley of the dry bones, the shadow of death, could find some healing in some perhaps greener pasture hard by some still waters. Time to let go.”” …
Does it seem true that almost always, given enough time and support that a ‘little resurrection’ which will allow us to ‘stand up’ once again may be found right in front of us when/where we least expect it? It’s there right before us even when it’s hard for us to see very clearly at all. Back then I thought it would be good to listen, to take some of my own pastoral advice, and take some time out. It was time to go church. It was time for me to surrender. …
So, I went to Boston. The first day of Spring. The sunlight shimmering on the Charles! The visit to St. John the Evangelist for worship time. The long walk through the Boston Common, on up through the Commonwealth promenade, to Old South Church in Copley Square to sit in the great expansive sanctuary to watch the late afternoon light sifting about and setting up the stained-glass windows with an ever-shifting beauty.
The organist was having a hard day. Practice. Not going well. He kept on trying to get through a passage but was finding it rough indeed. Kept on trying. Suddenly, in the middle of the brightly lit afternoon, in the very heart of the sanctuary, he let go a huge moan of frustration; he took his music, threw it into the air, and then let go a howl of despair that most all of us have heard somewhere, sometime, out of our own dry spaces.
He came down from his organ bench. Thankfully, he didn’t appear to see me. First, in a most agitated fashion, he walked three complete circuits around the outside aisles of the sanctuary. Then, he walked right on down the center aisle to place below the organ and sat down in a front pew along the center aisle’s edge. He sat there quietly for a long time. Could it be that I heard him crying?
When he finally got up and came back on up the center aisle, he saw me tucked over in a back corner. His eyes were red and damp. He looked at me quickly and said: “I hope you didn’t see all of that.” I said, “Didn’t see a thing.” “Good,” he said. “Sometimes it doesn’t come to me too easily. Practice can be painful.”
He circled back around, picked up his music, put in back on the organ, and rested for a moment in the quiet. The dust motes danced before the colored windows. He started to play again. The same passage. Once softly, then a bit louder. Then he picked up his speed and the sound began to flow with the kind of grandeur that great sanctuary spaces can engender. The sound which previously had been so jaggedly pain-filled now became transformed into a flowing and lyrical beauty. He had come out from that place where his dryness had melted down his ability to play cleanly and powerfully. He took some rest from his pain, and then he went back to find his gifts had (been) returned to him.
Dry bones. Spirit time. Spirited time. New life. I thought of how Old South Church would be filled on Sunday and how no one present would ever know what pain he had experienced as a part of his faithful practice.””
In the practice of your life,
when your dry time comes,
when you’re feeling bound for unglory,
when your life practice gets too heavy
and you’re feeling all tied up….
That’s the time to practice believing …
It’s Lent … time to practice the rituals and graces of our faith; time to pay attention to the gifts and graces within our lives, and the healing that comes when we experience Jesus as companion. I pray that suddenly and unexpectedly we all may find ourselves being picked up by the grace of God’s own breath in our lives. This is a time for staying together. Blessing to all. db