What Is Maundy Thursday?
In the Lenten journey, God has been present in our lamenting, self-searching and preparation. We have walked with God in our wilderness and climbed with God on the high mountain. We have trusted in the waiting and the “no’s”. We have persevered with God when our home did not feel like home. In all these places God has been with us. This day marks the beginning of the end.
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.
When we pray this prayer we are saying to God I will do whatever you ask–because I trust you. Maundy Thursday is a day of highest highs and lowest lows. It shows us the joy of what could be and the demonstrated pain of loss. The joy of the feast at the table is real and the pain of the coming truth is revealed. Things will never be the same.
It was near my 9th month of sobriety. I had seen dark days. I had lived through them. But the cloud of irritation seemed to follow me around like a shadow. On one particularly angsty afternoon, I found my seat in a meeting where I knew few people. My rhythm of attendance was primarily grounded in women’s meetings at this point. But in the absence of availability, I valued the comfort of the familiar room. As I settled in for the prompt top of the hour start, a familiar face from my women’s group walked in.
Having years of experience and a voice that I trusted, I was happy to listen to her share on the meeting’s topic. With the perfect amount of humor and a pinpoint infusion of hope, this woman was one that admired. We were not close, yet she had heard my story in meetings enough to know the outline of the past few months.
I was called on to speak during the meeting and I spouted my frustration and bitterness at whom or whatever I was fixated on that day. With little regard for anyone but me, I shared my righteous indignation about my current state. Knowing my head space at this time, I’m sure I wrapped my share with a positive spin and probably a hat-tip to what I knew I was supposed to do. Keep coming back.
After the meeting, my friend came over to speak to me one-on-one. I will never, ever, forget the exchange. After asking some engaging but surface-y question, she moved in for the kill.
“You know, you have a choice. You can quit fighting.”
With little thought for the direction of this statement, I inquisitively engaged my ears.
“It is your choice to be miserable. You will continue to see all of the negative of your situation until you choose to do something different.”
I wasn’t sure how to respond. I feel fairly sure that I didn’t say anything out loud. I can, however, vividly recall the internal monologue. It went something like this: I don’t know who you think you are and what gives you the right, but if you only knew….
Let me just leave the rest of that to your imagination. I feel certain that you get the idea. I got in my car and drove home. I was mad. Perhaps even more irritated than when I arrived. But it was different. This was an anger at myself. This was an anger that was necessary. This was the anger that I needed to propel me out of the self-pity that was running my life.
That night, I had a choice. That is why this is my Maundy Thursday moment. I had a choice to pick up the cup of gratitude and drink it. I had spent months listing and blaming and fueling my desire to avoid the fact that these problems were of my own making. On that day, when I was confronted with a harsh and painful truth, I had a choice to walk towards a solution rather than dwelling in the bottomless pit of self loathing.
This was a turning point in my life because I had a choice to make. There was no way to be convinced or coerced into this revelation. This day, I had to walk heart first into a new way of living. This would require a level of surrender that I could not even imagine. Sure, I had a long way to go. The road was far from over. Matter of fact, picking up the cup of gratitude was actually one of the easiest things I did in the next few month. Thursday still had some joy and there were moments of clarity and hope in the coming weeks.
But, Friday was coming.
What is Good Friday?
From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ (which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’).
When some of those standing there heard this, they said, ‘He’s calling Elijah.’
Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. The rest said, ‘Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.’
And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.
The scripture above recalls what Christians around the world remember on Good Friday. This is the day of death. When on a Roman torture tool, Jesus took the place of the world and forever changed our ability to have full access to God, no matter what we do to keep God at bay. Good Friday is the saddest day of the liturgical year. The darkness is palpable. This is the day when Christians are posed with the question of whether they REALLY want to follow Jesus.
Death by crucifixion was not only one of the most disgraceful forms of death but also one of the most dreaded and painful methods of execution in the ancient world. It was physically excruciating. It was humiliating. And, yet, it was necessary for the great story of our redemption.
In no way can I compare my human experience of choosing to die to myself to that of Christ, please hear me say that. What I can see, however, is the thread of journey. The fullness of the experience holds the road of surrender. And without this, we find a barrier to moving forward in faith. Without the excruciating, humility in the death of my need to control, there is no GOOD to my Friday.
There is a moment in any great story of sacrifice when the offering is passed from the giver to the receiver. Our modern world sees rare glimpses of sacrificial offerings, so it is hard for us to appreciate the significance of this moment. God gave the ultimate gift of a son. A SON. The significance and heaviness of which is not lost on my feeble attempt to define sacrifice.
For those that have walked into the brave waters of recovery, we know about sacrifice. We have seen in ourselves and in those around us the courage that this way of life requires. Time and time and time again we have been asked to walk away from the very things that have been our life-giving force. Sure, many of these same things have turned on us, but when your heartbeat and breath only know one rhythm, laying that steady pattern down is a death.
As is often true, days had passed from the drink and there was still death ahead. Work had been done on the identified issues and yet life seemed to be returning to a desolate ground of hopelessness. Until it was gone. And the truth was made clear. One way or another, death was going to happen.
Darkness. Sadness. Defeat.
These are the emotions that filled the restaurant as I sat with my sponsor more than a year after I began the sobriety journey. I had just returned from my first sober vacation and I was so proud of myself. I had fun. I laughed. And then we got home and I looked at the pictures.
We were snorkeling in a tropical paradise. The water was like glass. As sat on the boat that returned us to our ship, Lucas innocently snapped a picture. I was smiling. I had on cute polka dot swimsuit. Sure, my translucent skin was glowing like a Lite Bright, but I but most accounts, it was a decent picture. Until I looked closer. As I began to digest what I saw, I realized that I could count my ribs. The shot was from the back, and without the dexterity of a giraffe neck, I had never seen that view of myself. I realized that I looked like a skeleton with skin.
One of common side effects of mental health medications is weight changes. Unfortunately, the combination that seemed to work the best for me also caused weight gain. By the Fall of 2007, I weighed more that I did when I was 9 months pregnant with my second – by 25 pounds. From that place, I began to fixate on the number on the scale. With no drugs or alcohol to control, food became my obsession.
At first, people were excited to see my weight regulate. Within months, the difference was noticeable. I was in a vulnerable head space. All it took was one innocent compliment about my appearance for me to manipulate my food intake for an even BETTER result. By April of 2008, I was 6′ tall and weighed 125 pounds. Some days, my entire caloric intake consisted of coffee and just enough public eating to keep the worry patrol at bay.
It was weeks after the birthday meeting at my home group and I was the proud owner of a heavy metal chip. After 365 days of sobriety, you move from plastic to metal and it is a weighty moment. As I sat across from my sponsor that day, she looked me in the eye and said these words, “You can never take drink again and still kill yourself.”
I had tried to wrap my mind around the foundational principle of the program that alcohol was but a symptom. But the truth of the matter was, a year in, I had no clue. Sure, I was dry. But, I can honesty say that a dry drunk is often times more miserable than one that is still drinking. Alcohol may be gone, but the “ism” is still untreated. With every fiber of my being, I had taken God to the mat for control. Sure, I had given God some big things. But I love to be in charge. And my Good Friday moment came when I confessed that God had the job that I always wanted and I had used my resentment of God’s job description to fuel my “ism” of hijacked control.
I tried to control people, places, things, ideas, institutions, drinks and now food. And when I could not master them successfully, I used my ability to control my intake as a weapon against myself. I was going to die. I was going to kill myself. I learned a very valuable lesson about American culture in this season. No one wants a drunk, passed out mom, but they don’t seem to mind a skinny woman. In my inability to appease the masses with my first drug of choice, I had done the same thing with a more socially acceptable control device, food.
I had to die to the “ism” of self. I had to die to control. I had to die to my will and my way. Because, if I did not, my heart was going to stop beating. So, with the last bit of courage and the tiny shred of dignity that remained, I put all of my cards on the table. All of the cards.
I died in that restaurant. I died in a therapist office. I died on a women’s retreat. I died on the floor of my bathroom…again. And on that proverbial Good Friday, there was a stone over my tomb. I could not see a way out or hope for the future. I was wrapped in my burial clothes and praying for a miracle. The darkness was so, so dark.
What is the Easter Vigil?
Having been raised as a liturgical girl, I consider myself quite savvy in the ways. There is one piece of the liturgical puzzle that I have not fully explored, but it with great excitement that I have read, studied and look forward to fully engaging. This piece is the service of the Easter Vigil. The Easter Vigil marks the end of the emptiness of Saturday, and leads into the celebration of Christ’s resurrection.
The Easter (Paschal) Vigil has both historic and symbolic roots in the Jewish Passover. The Hebrew word pesach (Passover) became the Greek word pascha. Because Jesus’ death happened at the time of Passover, the term paschal mystery refers to his suffering, death, and resurrection. In this service, participants experience the passage from slavery to freedom, from sin to salvation, from death to life. The service begins in darkness, sometime between sunset on Saturday and sunrise on Easter, and consists of four parts: The Service of Light; The Service of Lessons; Christian Initiation (Holy Baptism); and the Eucharist.
The Service of Light: The darkness itself is the first movement of the liturgy. It represents all the meanings of darkness – devoid of light; evil thoughts, motivations, deeds; all that is hidden and secret, divisive, abusive, immoral and sinful. It represents the darkness of our world, and the darkness in our heart. Darkness is embarrassing and humbling, fearful and despairing. Darkness can be hard to sit in, so participants are intentionally moved to discomfort. Then a light is struck, and the light of Christ breaks into the darkness.
Liturgy of the Word– This next step is where nine readings are shared from Scripture – Seven readings from the Old Testament and two from the New Testament. Just before the Gospel, the Alleluia is sung. This is particularly meaningful, as throughout Lent our tempered worship has not sung Alleluia. This is another way that Easter is proclaimed.
Liturgy of Baptism– This is the third phase of the Vigil. Baptism and Easter have been closely linked from at least the end of the second century. Lent became the period of preparation for entering the Church through Baptism at Easter. Whether there are candidates or not, this is time for believers to re-affirm their own Baptism and remember their union with Christ in his death and resurrection.
Liturgy of Eucharist– This marks the end of the Vigil. All are invited to join at the sacrificial table. This table represents the broken body of Jesus and recalls his death and resurrection. It is the fullness of the gift of the Savior for us.
This vigil is a long service. In some traditions, it goes all night and day break marks the end of the service. This is where the sunrise service gets its roots. This is a time of moving from grief, to the recognition that restoration is not complete without the resurrection of Messiah. As the day breaks, hope is restored and the joy of the empty tomb delivers the good news of resurrection. This is that “day” that our faith matures. This is when we grown up in the knowledge and longing for resurrection.
My story will celebrate the Easter Vigil for the next 4 days. Each aspect of the 4 part liturgy will come to life in a story from my season of waiting in darkness. Sometimes I imagine being a follower of Jesus on Friday and Saturday. What despair. And then I remember that I am invited into the journey, not just symbolically, but intentionally in the gift of liturgy. May the waiting increase our dependance.
Darkness. If you have ever lost power or braved a real campout or tried to see if glow in the dark socks really work in a closet, perhaps you know something about the dark. If you are like me, your childhood taught you that night lights were heaven-sent and there was no need to really know about total darkness. To this day, I would rather sleep with a closet light on than wake to the darkness. I recently stayed in a hotel room that when you put your feet on the ground, a tiny light came on to illuminate your path. The lights were motion activated around the room and stayed on just long enough for you to prevent the inevitable tow stubbing that come from unknown darkness.
That was certainly not the case for me in 2008. The darkness was profound. I found myself in the midst of another bottom. One that brought with it feeling of failure and defeat. In ways that had not previously experienced, I had shut down. There were pieces of my heart and soul and spirit that were in mourning. I really wasn’t sure that I would ever see the light of hope. I had labeled myself broken and useless in ways that I was sure could not be redeemed.
It was from this place that I was introduced to a new skill set. By this point in my life, I had years of individual therapy and now a year of working a 12-step program. What I discovered as I began to treat my eating disorder was that I was missing basic tools. I was introduced to a program called Dialectical Behavior Therapy. DBT is a cognitive behavioral treatment developed by Marsha Linehan, PhD, ABPP. This all sounds like squishy psyhco-babble-fluff, but for those of us that don’t have key life skills, once again, my world and life was opened to growth. Here is a great way to describe the gift that this program was for me:
“Problematic behaviors evolve as a way to cope with a situation or attempt to solve a problem. While these behaviors might provide temporary relief or a short-term solution, they often are not effective in the long-term. DBT assumes that clients are doing they best they can, AND they need to learn new behaviors in all relevant contexts. DBT helps enhance a client’s capabilities by teaching behavioral skills in areas like mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness. These skills help people develop effective ways to navigate situations that arise in everyday life or manage specific challenges.” (www.behavioraltech.org)
For months, I participated in group sessions and individual work with a therapist that was trained in DBT. One of the best and most important gifts that this program gave me was the ability to be alone in my head. The mindfulness focus taught me basic meditation skills. What I had avoided, most notably in my prayer life, was the gift of listening. My attempts to run from myself pushed me to places of avoidance. When my world was opened to this new approach, the light came on.
I did not immediately develop the ability to be alone in my thoughts. I did, however, begin to breathe in my darkness. No longer was the absence of light terrifying. In this season, being comfortable in the unknown was tolerated. And more importantly, the willingness to sit in the discomfort of the dark places and look for the sparks of light was a gift that enabled me to press on.
It was also in this season that I was introduced to a writer that profoundly shaped my ability to use my story, however dark it felt, as a promise of light. I thank God, regularly, for voices like his that transformed my ability to belive that God could use my darkness to tell of the light of The Christ.
“In a futile attempt to erase our past, we deprive the community of our healing gift. If we conceal our wounds out of fear and shame, our inner darkness can neither be illuminated nor become a light for others.”
― Brennan Manning, Abba’s Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging
In my vigil of waiting for renewal, I continued to work the 12 steps. While I was learning new skills in mindfulness and tolerance, my program pushed me into another area of growth. It was during this time that I gave considerable attention to the 6th and 7th steps.
6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
When I finally made it though the amends, I was felling good about my progress. I can remember looking at step 6 and thinking, “Check! Let’s keep rolling.” As good sponsors do, it was suggested that I sit still with this one. I falsely assumed that simply being ready and asking for removal was sufficient. That was like a 40 second prayer, right?
Fortunately, we do not sponsor ourselves or work the steps in on our own. Rather than proceeding, I joined a book study that meticulously worked on these two steps in a book called Drop The Rock. For weeks, I met with a group of women in a local coffee shop and read about the dangers of holding on to, and the freedom available when we let go of our character defects. I realized during this study that I had been working the steps. I had given many of them very honest attempts. However, there was a vital piece that I was missing. I had failed to make the all-important turn of humbly and honestly asking to be changed—in very specific, uniquely personal ways—by God.
While I knew that I didn’t like the results that I was getting from life, at least I knew what to expect from my defects of character. I had learned to manage many of them. I had even learned to twist some of my defects so that many in the world believed they were assets. But I knew differently. I knew the ways that my control and insanity were preventing peace in so many areas of my life. By opening the door to change, I was inviting the unknown.
If I were to place myself in line for a revamp, what kind of person would I become? Weak? Un-opinionated? Disinterested? Nope. Not a one of those things would be the case. But it took time for me to understand that truth. And this unknown place was once again asking me to be in the realm of new. There is nothing more terrifying to a person that has no grounding posts than new. But I watched the lessons that the women around me were learning. I listened as they bravely walked into seasons of new at 5, 17 and 24 years sober. And I knew that if they were still learning with that many days under their belt, it was vital for me to learn a critical lesson:
I don’t know everything.
This sounds like a stupid thing to say, but the most important character defect that I embraced in my first trip through the steps was that my arrogance and pride held me hostage. I spent the first decade of adulthood with the distinct position that I know and you probably don’t. I came at decisions and conversations and relationships with that as the entrance ramp. But the key to recognizing pride and ego is that you have to be humbled. There is nothing more humbling to someone who knows it all (especially in the spiritual sense) than to be told that they get to spend weeks looking at how they need to ask God to change them.
Those were long days. And in combination with the work I was doing in learning to be still and sit in emotional unrest, I was a new kind of crazy. These concepts flew in the face of all that was me. I was a hot head. I was impatient. I was right. And this new set of skills required silence and stillness and a non-anxious presence. Thank God for wonderful mentors and friends and pastors and family that let me grow. Growth is so painful, but the new branch, the new bud and the new fruit, all require pruning, time and nurture.
This is not a secret ritual, it’s just a fancy term for the sacrament of Baptism. This part of the Easter Vigil celebrates that in Baptism, we are freed from the power of darkness and joined to Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. It can be formal, or perhaps more casual, but in any context, Baptism is a ritual that symbolizes light. It’s the entrance point of the light of resurrection breaking in to disturb all of the surrounding darkness.
In 2007, our church, At The Water’s Edge merged with 2 other church communities to plant Ecclesia – Clear Lake. I was less that a year sober when we began regularly worshiping together. It was lovely to be part of a bigger community as I got my feet on the ground. As my world continued to devolve, I found myself participating where I could, but keeping my distance from many leadership opportunities. In so many ways, that was grace. This pause provided me with another missing piece of the puzzle.
In this season, one of the main components of call clarification for me was my motives. I spent years serving from the wrong heart space. I know God gifted me to love and serve the Church, and in recovery, one of my greatest fights was the deconstruction of my faith and model for ministry. God did not NEED me. God wanted me. God could use all that I bring to the table as an offering. But, God is God and will do the work of re-creation with or without me. My posture had to change from ‘I’m needed’ to ‘I get to.’
This was a completely new approach to servant-hood. Previously, I was a self-announcing martyr. In this season, I was on injured reserve. What a gift to watch and learn and work WITH a team. I learned from people who were in different places, dreaming different dreams and I gained the wisdom to not have everything figured it out. With regularity, I forced myself to say my new motto – I DON’T KNOW.
The true ritual of my initiation happened as I was introduced to a group of 20-something year-old artist. Upon my initial assessment, I saw young people who I would have to oversee. This is where I was so wrong. They were talented. They were inquisitive. They were wise. They were intuitive. With their many differences, there were two things that defined our friendship – creativity and Jesus. I needed them to help me see outside of my box. I needed them to free me from the self-imposed Church boundaries that prevented me from being perfectly imperfect in ministry. I needed them as friends and counterparts.
Often, I look back on the imperfections of this season and I see the Spirit at work in ways that I could not think to ask for. In my walk from darkness to light, it was the young leaders of ECL that helped me to see my way through the darkness toward my rebuilt faith. I had safety in the rooms of AA, but I had a spiritual home around the table at Taco Cabana. Their faith and energy and ability to dream reminded me of the Church I fell in love with and wanted to serve with the rest of my life.
It was over queso and chips that I was given a gift. The Church that I longed to serve needed nothing from me but honesty. And we would never be the kind of Church that was on mission to the broken ends of the earth until the leaders could live out of that kind of faith. This season taught me that I already had all that I needed to be initiated into the ministry of Jesus, and that was me. Pure, raw, honest, broken – me.
The fourth section of the Easter Vigil is the celebration of the Eucharist. Before I can get into the ‘how’, you must know the ‘why’ of this meal for me. There are different names for this holy meal that we share. Calling it the Lord’s Supper reminds us that it is a meal begun and hosted by Jesus. Calling it Holy Communion reminds us that it is an act of holy and intimate sharing, making us one with Jesus Christ and part of his body, the Church. Calling it the Eucharist, a term taken from the New Testament Greek word, reminds us that giving thanks to God for all that God has done is an essential part of the meal. ‘Eu’ means good. ‘Charisteo’ comes from the root word charis, which means thanksgiving, grace, or gift. The Great Thanksgiving. The Good Gift.
Communion is so much more than a religious tradition.
It is more than a mid-service snack. It is an act of worship.
It is a memorial. It is a celebratory feast.
A picture of remembrance.
It focuses our hearts and minds on Jesus. Every time you and I eat the Lord’s Supper, it is a sermon without words. Jesus left us with a picture so we would never forget. When we share Holy Communion we are doing what Christians have done throughout time. We come to the table and take the bread and wine to remind ourselves that all of life is holy. That’s why the Eucharist moves me like it does. It never stops speaking to me of The Christ who is reconciling all things right here and right now.
I love the fact that from the very beginning, ECL has participated in Communion every week in our worship service. This is not always the case in post-modern, casual worship gatherings. Some people ask why do you want to take it every week? I want to ask, why wouldn’t you want to take it every week? Communion reminds me that God is God, and I am not.
One of my favorite authors, Rachel Held Evans depicts it beautifully in her book Searching For Sunday:
“The Table can transform even our enemies into companions. The Table reminds us that, as brothers and sisters adopted into God’s family and invited to God’s banquet, we’re stuck with each other; we’re family. We might as well make peace. The Table teaches us that, ultimately, faith isn’t about being right or good or in agreement. Faith is about feeding and being fed.”
Because here’s the thing, what makes this a kingdom meal is not the quality of the people invited. The kingdom of God is like a glorious mess where broken and whole, judge and felon, liberal and conservative, enemy and friend all receive the same gift. It is mercy and grace that we did not earn and did not expect. And the Table is the place where we all come together. We eat from the same loaf and drink from the same cup. We are equal.
One of the things we do in our community is try to honor the variety of needs in this meal. We have those among us for whom eating bread with gluten makes their body ill. So, we have friend that bakes bread each week for us to share that makes it more inviting for our gluten intolerant friends. We also have people in our community that for them, alcohol stands as a barrier to spiritual wholeness. So in this meal, we always offer juice so that as much as we are able, we fling open this invitation to feast and take away as many barriers as we can.
I had to take the time to say all of these things ABOUT communion for me to help you understand why this is a holy, precious, vital, weighty piece of my story. Every time I come to The Table, I am thankful for the community that I feast with. This healing meal is the answer to hard weeks. It is the first aid to my broken heart. It is the calm to my storm. It is also the constant when there is none.
For me, it has been and will continue to be the feast that prepares me for traumatic times and allows me to celebrate life. And there was no time more vital for this truth than in the fall of 2008. I was 17 months sober and a storm was coming. It was going to bring destruction. It was going to demand an open table. And most importantly, it was bringing some resurrection power!
Easter, The Day of Resurrection
This is it. THE celebration.
Easter is the holiday that celebrates the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Scripture tells us that this occurred three days after Jesus was crucified by the Romans and died. Easter concludes the season of Lent. This is the moment in the rhythm of Church life when we recognize where our hope is based. If all of the other things fall away, the fullness of our faith is expressed in the instant that we recognize that the tomb was actually empty. The story is not just a story. The prophesy has come true and Jesus is alive!
Just like every religiously significant holiday, the opportunity to jump on the commercialization band wagon is high. Bunnies and eggs and chocolate and hunting for money and baskets and all of the things make for interesting celebratory tools are fascinating replacements for a day that should be about the fullness of the Christian story. I cannot wrap my brain around how a 12″ chocolate bunny embodies the forgiveness. I digress.
Even before I could understand the significance of this day in my spirit, my family cultivated a love of the celebration. As a child, Easter was one of my favorite days. We dressed up, we hunted eggs, I stole eggs from my siblings baskets. It was great. As I grew older, the Easter traditions continued with eye rolls about pantyhose and still more egg stealing. As I have aged, my tunnel vision on the message of the season has increased. Even more so than Christmas, I resist the bombarding noise of the advertised chaos. I just want this season to be about Jesus! While this holiday has always had a rhythm of celebration, it was only as I experienced some dark and deadly places in my soul that I found the appreciation of the resurrection. Without walking into the darkness, I had no appreciation for the light.
When you are in darkness and see the flicker of light, you run. Sometimes the running takes you away from the light because light is painful. But, there are times when that small spark is hope. For one that has lost their hope, the promise of a new beginning is a miraculous gift. My resurrection day story is by all accounts a bit odd. What to many seemed to be a season of darkness became the moment where light broke into my darkest days.
I am a Gulf Coast girl. For more than 35 of my 42 years on this earth, I have lived on the coast of Texas. Since the first year of my life, there have been named tropical weather systems. Some of them have been significant in damage and loss of life. I can still recall watching the eye wall of Hurricane Alicia go over my house as an eight year old. In September of 2008, a storm by the name of Ike formed in the Gulf of Mexico. On September 13th, it made landfall over Galveston , at 2:10 a.m. as a category 2 storm. Ike caused extensive damage in Texas with high winds, a significant storm surge, and flooding.
We live less that a mile from Galveston Bay in League City. Our area was a mandatory evacuation zone. At the time, I had a 1st grader and a 3-year-old. We went to my parent’s house on the west side of Houston. While their house would see the rain and wind, they were safe from the storm surge. The storm surge at our house was a foot from our foundation. Our house was spared flooding and major damage. I cannot say the same for many of my neighbors. Wide spread power outages were significant and property damage was extensive. According to a Hurricane Ike Impact Report by the Texas Engineering Extension Service, damage in Texas from the storm was estimated to be $29 billion.
As the roads were safe, residents came home and began to assess the damage. Almost immediately, area churches began to band together to assist the community. Our church was without a building of our own, but with eager and willing workers, we joined with others to begin the clean up. To help coordinate, I attended a meeting with church representatives to expedite the joint effort. Quickly, it was clear that my best skill set for this task was to help organize from the administrative end.
Within days, I was immersed in full-time relief coordination. With a team of amazing women and men from across skill sets, the organization was in full swing. Within weeks, it was clear that this was a long-term commitment. When school returned for my girls, I spent my weekdays working in the office of one of the most active recovery efforts in the Bay Area. More than 3,300 volunteers worked as a part of the C.O.R.E. Alliance base camp during the 6 months following Hurricane Ike. More than 200 homes were cleaned and sanitized and the rebuild portion of the team helped non and under insured community members with recovery.
The leadership team of the organization had no idea about the two-fold disaster relief effort that was taking place in this time. By all accounts, I was a capable, organized and results driven leader. They had no idea that one of their key participants was literally being brought back to life daily. On the days that I felt worthless, I would walk in the office and answer a call from a desperate homeowner that had 4’ of water in their home. If you ever need perspective on gratitude, place yourself in the path of someone who has lost everything to a natural disaster. When you stand in the driveway and have lost everyTHING, and yet can still have hope and love and grace, it changes everyone around you.
For months, I listened to the voices of those that were hurting and those that were helping. With each passing day, resurrection was taking place. New life was being breathed into my heart and soul and even my body. What began as a natural disaster on September 13th, became a moment of breathtaking wonder. The people who I met, the clients we served, the way that our church dreamed and worked and loved opened the tomb of my heart. What was a cold, lifeless place of pain was washed with the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. And through the broken debris, God rebuilt my purpose. As I watched my community come back to life, I was grounded in the assurance that no matter the strength of the storm, no matter the power of destruction, I have a Creator that longs to work healing and restoration in the darkest corners of my despair.