Holy Week 2019: Saturday

Because I have spent much of my adult life involved in planning Easter Sunday events at a church, Saturday has always been a day of tension. I know that we are still in the darkness of Friday, yet there is work to do to prepare for the celebration to come. Again, today, I split this tension. I woke up this morning and intentionally slowed my thoughts. I recalled (in a pre-coffee haze) the pain that we walked through last night. I chose to hold on to Friday for as long as I could. I sat in the beautiful morning air and watched my youngest practice. I came home to a house with the doors open to the breeze. I chose to take some long deep breaths and sit in the unknown angst of waiting.

I went to 218 (the name for the building where we gather to serve and worship) about 3pm. As I walked in, the cross was still hanging. The thorns were still present. The candles were out and the evidence of a dark night was somber. We began to transform the space for a party. The curtains went from the black fabric to the bronze satin. The waters of Baptism took the place of the cross. The drapes of the Lenten season were lifted and you could begin to feel the lightness in the air. This part of Saturday is especially dear to me as I work along side one of my favorite co-conspirators in all things liturgy and one of my best friends. Each in our own areas of passion, we work to create space for all to hear that the darkness has gone.

The last few years, I have gifted myself a guilt free Easter afternoon. This was a lesson that took many years to learn. I give all that I have to Holy Week. By the time that Saturday evening comes around, I have poured and felt and worked and loved the heck out of the journey. The idea of cooking and cleaning is last on my list. I WANT to have a lovely Easter dinner or drive to be with family on the other side of town. But on the years that I have forced this, I leave with little to no resurrection joy. What seemed like a good idea 4 weeks beforehand, leaves me exhausted and downright intolerable by Sunday night.

person standing inside cave
Four years ago, I let go. I invited a few friends for crawfish on Easter. There was no set table, no place cards, no china. There was no silver or ham or rolls. We ate crawfish on newspaper in the backyard. It was wonderful. This year, we have our pool ready and 57 pounds of squirming mudbugs on ice. Paper plates will be more than sufficient, as this day is not about eggs or baskets or fancy for me. This day is about the things that mean the most to me in this world: Jesus and my people.

For those of us with deeply imbedded Southern roots, this may seem mildly sacrilegious. But for this free thinking, resurrection celebrating pastrix, flip-flops and shorts are exactly what I need. Any and all cuteness and bunny crafting will come because someone else played on Pinterest. And when it is all said and done, a nap is defiantly in the plan. I’ll be ignoring all swimming teenagers by late afternoon. Whatever you are planning to do to celebrate tomorrow, make it a day where the reason we gather is the focus of your planning. Sing and smile and love and laugh. Walk with a lightness and a spirit of joy. May we see Jesus in all the glory of new life and fling ourselves into a season of falling more deeply in love with our Savior.

Holy Week 2019: Good Friday

Today, we remember the journey to the cross. We remember that Jesus was tortured and beaten and rejected. We know that the stone was rolled in front of the tomb and we are left to wait. During our Good Friday service tonight, the room was filled with candlelight. As the story of Christ’s last day was read, little by little, the room grew darker. Only one candle remained, a single candle next to the cross. As the final words were read, Jesus was placed in the tomb and the room went black. In that moment, a very real darkness was present. A familiar one that I know. It was the darkness of depression and hopelessness and grief. I have helped plan this service for 3 years. I have read the text countless times. This is not my first Good Friday. I knew what was coming. Yet in that moment, when the finality of it hit, it was a fresh and raw wound.

I know that Good Friday is hard. I know that the service is dark. I also know that it is so very necessary to walk through the pain and feel the hopelessness so that the IMG_4477announcement that ‘He Is Risen’ means so much more. I think Good Friday is especially poignant for those that have been through crisis – of faith, of health, of any kind – in the past liturgical year. It’s almost as if God is reminding us that God chooses to talk about the darkness and the mourning and the hopelessness. It makes me sad to think about the millions of people around the world that will be ready to talk resurrection but just don’t want to think about the road that it takes to get to the NEED for resurrection.

We have been conditioned to think that when you jump in the Jesus boat, you will always have people and happy and joy. Sometimes, that’s just not true. Sometimes your voice is prophetic and painful. Sometimes your honesty is more than people are comfortable with. Sometimes you choose to step out in a new way and those that have been walking beside you stop mid-step and watch you walk away. Sometimes the destruction and heartbreak is so profound that the most people can do is say “I’ll pray for you” which feels like an empty notion if you have ever faced the kind of darkness that envelopes even your belief in prayer.  This hurts. This hurts in ways and places that you didn’t even know it could hurt.

If you find yourself in a space of dark and still and depressing, Jesus knows about that, and so do I. I have stood on the darkest hills in painful struggle, all while others were doubting my motives and heart. I have wept from feelings of abandonment, from painful decisions and from loneliness. And I like to think I am in good company. The company of the mother of Jesus who stood next to him as he died. The disciples of Jesus who turned him over for execution. The crowd who witnessed the beating and murder. The children that sat at the feet of a loving rabbi just days ago and yet now watched him die. These are my Good Friday people. We sit in pain together. We weep and ache together.

What I want to do in this next sentence is to tell you Sunday is coming. But I can’t. It’s not time for that. There will be a resurrection, but it’s only Friday and for now, our job is to recognize that we have to be smack in the middle of that pain. There is not an instant fix. The first disciples did not have a countdown clock for Sunday because they didn’t know it was coming. And for some of us, we don’t either.

Holy Week 2019: Maundy Thursday

Thursday. Some call it Holy Thursday, others Maundy Thursday. The name ‘Maundy’ comes from the Latin for ‘new commandment’ which Christ gave his disciples at the Last Supper. In the time of Jesus, the meal was a sacred time of connection and shared life. One of the reasons that Christians around the world still celebrate this night each year is to remind themselves that the call to come and sit at the table and eat a holy meal together is still a vital part of community.

We are all welcome. We are all equal at this table.

The table is a permanent reminder that we are never to forget to gather, be honest and share the gift of Jesus. At sundown, Jesus and his disciples settled down to enjoy the Passover Feast. On the table before them were the ritual foods: the roast lamb, bitter herbs, bread, and wine. The foods were consumed at the designated times throughout the evening ceremony. The symbols of this supper were handed down from the time of Moses. Within this context, Jesus instituted a new feast. A feast to celebrate our spiritual redemption purchased with his life—freedom from the bonds of sin and death.

There is a moment after dinner where Jesus and his disciples go to a garden. It is not irony that humanity disobeyed God in a garden and lost relationship with God; Jesus obeyed God in a garden and secured salvation for us; and that scripture tells us that we will spend all of eternity in a garden like environment. No irony at all.

Jesus knows the cross is coming and that he alone can face it. But at this moment, he truly hopes that there is some other way.

My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.
Yet not as I will, but as you will.

In hearing these words we find the humanness of our savior. He hesitates. His prayer is one of anguish and pain, begging that he might be spared the humiliating death at the hands of his executioners. He enters into the garden weighed down. Nothing could prepare him for what is about to take place and yet he goes into the garden and awaits it.

I’m so thankful that Jesus prayed this prayer. On so many occasions, my prayers have been similar – save me the agony, the pain, the embarrassment, the anger, the rage, the shame. And then, in the depths of his pain, Jesus does what so few human beings have ever been able to accomplish and lets go. He stopped fighting, begging, pleading, manipulating, screaming, scheming, undermining, and he released his will. He lets go. Not as I will, but as you will.

The imagery of a cup is perfect for the setting. They have all just left the table hours earlier. To drink out of a cup you have to choose to pick it up, bring it to your mouth, and drink.  Jesus is making a choice here – there is no element of surprise, coercion, or coincidence. He knows what is coming. Tonight we gathered. We ate. We laughed. We sang. As we sit in our own spaces tonight, may we dwell deeply in knowledge that Jesus knew what tomorrow would bring and he did not run.

Holy Week 2019: Wednesday

Days before his betrayal and death, Jesus and his disciples were eating at the home of Simon. A woman, who is identified as Mary, approached Jesus with an alabaster jar of expensive perfume, worth about a year’s wages. Mary broke the jar, pouring the perfume on Jesus. In the ancient Near East, the act of anointing someone signified selection for some special role or task. Kings were often anointed with oil as part of their coronation ceremony.

two clear glass bottles with liquids

In John’s account of this story, Mary wipes the feet of Jesus. Anointing the feet models service, discipleship, and love. For a culture in which a woman’s touch was often forbidden, Mary dares to hold the feet of Jesus in her hands and spread the oil across his ankles and toes with the ends of her hair. Rather than measuring out a small amount of oil, Mary breaks the jar and lets it all pour out. She’s all-in, fully committed, sparing no expense.

I am not sure what the equivalent of this moment would be in modern culture, but it would be appalling. The shock of the onlookers. The feeling of watching a sacred and personal moment. The anger at the waste of resources. I can only imagine that I would have been one in the corner fussing about how Mary was doing it wrong.

But, I have Mary’s in my life. They are generous, bold, gracious, servant women that in spite of the norms or the comfortable, they choose to jump in the middle of a touching moment to honor and revere those they love. Women like Mary, that surpass the appropriate and pour out their love and generosity in self-sacrificing ways. I’ve seen them in the hospital room and the nursery. I’ve witnessed them in moments of pain and celebrations. I’ve seen the way that they hold a hand through the diagnosis and refuse to walk away.

In each of these moments, I have watched as the rest of the world stood by with their list of norms and to-do’s and could not understands. I’ve been witness to onlookers wondering what was drawing them to a kind of servanthood that is foreign to most of us. Do you know of this kind of love? The kind that causes you to give up something precious all in the name of expressing the gift of relationship.

The coming days are hard.
We will eat.
We will pray.
We will sleep.
We will deny.
We will forsake.
We will weep.

It will be a long 3 days. So, for tonight, may I encourage you to spend a moment with the Savior. Pour out your love for Jesus in a new way. Walk deeper into the truth that he is worthy of giving your best for. And sit at his feet for a moment, oily hair and all.

Holy Week 2019: Tuesday

I don’t really like the last few days in the life of Jesus. Up until that point I think much of what he did was endearing. Sure, he spoke a truthful word, but he loved kids, honored women and healed…a lot. When we read about the last few days of his life, the tone seems a bit more hurried. It’s almost as if he is trying to pack in all of the important things that he wanted to say. The words are pointed. He fussed at religious leaders, he cursed a fig tree, he tells stories that point clearly to a lack of faith. More than ever, I hear this need to communicate with those that may still be listening but not hearing.

It is not lost on me that one of the groups that Jesus had the harshest words for – all the way to the end – was the religious leaders. I am more and more and more and more convinced every day that as we step out in the ministry of Jesus, we are going to be held accountable for the ways that we lead people. I never want a human to cross my path and think that they are unlovable. Feelings of unworthiness and exclusion are incompatible with Jesus. As a leader in the church, I will fall on the side of love and grace. Every. Single. Time.

My family knows that I love Holy Week. They understand that this is more than a religious exercise for me. They have embraced that every ounce of energy that I pour into preparations and planning is done only because I want others to know the fullness of this story. Without fail, I feel excitedly nervous that all of the preparations are not enough. I frantically begin calling and texting all the people with ‘what have we forgotten?’ questions. You know I love parenting teens, but tonight was an especially treasured moment. In the IMG_1804.JPGmidst of school and swimming and boys, both girls offered to help me cut and paste and prepare for Thursday’s service. In our kitchen, they spoke my love language. There is not much in my Holy Week preparations that tops doing it with my family. Being together in this season reminds me that we need each other. My kids are now old enough to know that we never outgrow needing each other. I needed them tonight. Sure, I could have completed the task on my own, but I needed for them to show me that what I love matters. I needed for them to remind me that they love the things I love, because they love me. They were living examples of the way that Jesus reminded us in his last days to major on the majors – loving people well – even in the midst of doing the important work.

So wherever you find yourself on this Tuesday night, draw deeper into the truth of his final days. He wanted us to hear the depth of his love in the truth of his words. He gave us example after example of how to love. Now, it’s our job to do it.

 

Holy Week 2019: Monday

If you read the account of the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, you notice that immediately following the story of Palm Sunday comes the story of Jesus clearing the temple. If you have not read this recently, I encourage you to look in Matthew 21, Mark 11 or Luke 19. For those who would like to intensely study the differences in these accounts, we can do that another day. For today, I wonder where we are focused as we journey through Holy Week?

Jesus is headed for a brutal end. He knows this is coming. He sees the writing on the wall.  If Jesus is spending his last days, once again, sharing with the world that it is time to get our act together, I’m guessing this is important business. In your attempt to clean house, are you trying to make space for the unimportant rather than holding the court of honor for the sacred and holy? For me, this week is about returning to a space of sacred YES. I spent tonight having great conversations with #TeamHilbrich over hamburgers. I will spend time this week in my faith community. We will intentionally slow down, even when the ‘to do’ list is full. If we rush right through this week with packed calendars and full days and hurried emotions, we will find ourselves there on Sunday morning, as well.

The same is true about our churches. For those on church staff, we WORK this week. We want it all to be perfect and polished and excellent. We know that for some folks, this will be the last time we see them until December 24th. Here’s the truth – if we are not journeying with Jesus through this week, everything we try to polish up for Sunday will be empty. May we take tomorrow and Wednesday to walk though our worship spaces and pray that people will encounter the depth of the gift of new life. May we weep with those who are experiencing death and yet claim with them, even when they can’t that resurrection is the promise. I feel certain that if Jesus was to walk through our lives and our churches and see us spiffing up the carpets and scrubbing the bathrooms and planting new plants on the front walk, he would check our hearts. And if he found that our polish and pretty was about the exterior only, he would flip the tables of our churches and our hearts just like he did in scripture.

I watched with the world as Notre Dame, one of the world’s great cathedrals, was gutted by fire today. I was personally devastated that I had yet to visit Paris as by all accounts, 3564034923_097ff6ff9b_b.jpgmy heart would leap in the many treasured buildings that have held the songs of the Church for centuries. It was particularly hard to imagine this happening during this week of journey and faith that is so dear to Christians around the world. I’m just sad. But, I was reminded of a great truth today. As I listened to the media report on the Triduum that will be celebrated this week, I was again reminded that we are in the days of longing and waiting. We will be called to face death this week. I was witness today to streets lined with voices singing the hymns of the Church as united strangers stood vigil in the midst of the pain. THIS is Holy Week. The things that matter to Jesus are the pain and grief and questions of God’s people. In the midst of the waiting and heartbreak and even death, I know that God saw a sight that was fittingly glorious today: The Church.

Holy Week 2019: Palm Sunday

This is the week. This is the week that changed everything for those who follow Jesus. For me and my fellow Liturginerds, we get stupid excited when Holy Week begins. It’s the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Our journey is wrapped in everything from celebration to sorrow and back again. This year I have jumped headlong into a study and use of the Enneagram in my personal growth. One of the most fun moments of the joking and learning process was the identifications of the corresponding Enneagram numbers and Liturical Seasons. I am a passionate 8. I am also a living breathing story of Holy Week. I love the party, I need the meal, I depend on the darkness and I hope in the light. All in a 7 day period. You will hear from me daily this week, and some of this is not new information, but it is the great story of the Greatest story and we need each day.

I need just a moment to express some personal thoughts on this week. Well, perhaps they are more than thoughts. They are my not so subtle suggestions. Please hear them with the appropriate amount of love and grace and firmness. PLEASE do not skip from Sunday to Sunday. The story of Jesus is not complete with just palms and lilies. We need the bread and the cup. We need the nails and the grief. We need to hear and feel the stone closing of the tomb. When we wave palm branches on Palm Sunday and skip past the week to a sunrise egg hunt and matching family pastels, we miss the WHY.

I missed worship today. I was at a swim meet this morning with my youngest. Between some great swims and a live stream of a historic round of golf, we were throwing our own party. I was with my dad, and if you know him, you know that Tiger and his Ally-Gator are two of his favorite athletes. Watching the cheering and yelling and precious reverence was a holy moment for me.

While we were cheering our sports things, I was reminded that around the world people were gathering together and shouting Hosannah and celebrating that the King is riding the donkey into Jerusalem in Glory.  There were children whacking each other with leaves and reminders of parties and glory. There were picnics and egg hunts. Today was a celebratory time for so many. I was terribly sad that I was not with my community this morning, and I took a few moments of stillness to usher myself into this week. This is important. We have much to celebrate and grieve about and hope for in the days to come. Be present and connect in ways that are meaningful for you.

Over the next few days, I am going to write about stories that are found in the Gospels between the entry of Jesus to Jerusalem and the Last Supper. On Thursday, we will remember a holy meal. Friday is the day that hope seems lost as we witness the pain of death. And then we wait.

You can do this in many ways, but I find it especially valuable to do this in the context of community. For my local friends, I would be honored to have you as a part of our community at ECL. On Thursday, we will share the Eucharist in the context of a potluck meal. Join us at 6:30pm under the oak trees at 218 Clear Creek Ave. Friday, we will journey with the Gospel writer John and be reminded of the pain of death. This service will draw on the hopelessness on the day of Crucifixion.  That service begins at 6:30pm, as well. Sunday morning, all are welcome for our Easter Vigil at 6am. We will gather by firelight under the oak tree for reading, listening and anticipation of resurrection. And at 10am Sunday we will celebrate all that is Resurrection. All of it!

This week is intentionally painful. The road is not easy. My prayer for you is that you can find a space and time and way to be on a journey this week. If the journey of Jesus seems like a far away story from a far away time, I pray that it will come alive for you this week. May we see the road leading into Jerusalem as our invitation to hope.