I think this flight is delayed so that I can finally get a blog post done. I’m in Charlotte where it’s warm, sunny, and glorious. Wish I could be on the other side of that great big window.
It is customary in our tradition to lay our al—uias aside during the season of Lent. It might seem a small and unimportant thing, but I have learned now over the last several years that removing the word from 6 weeks of worship services does very much matter – when the Easter Vigil reaches the glorious moment of declaring that Christ is risen, the word that has been missing for so long suddenly comes back – with life, and meaning, and import, and glory. I love it. What a great moment. We sing it more times than we can count at the Vigil and on Easter morning.
It is true, too, that Sundays are always considered a feast of the Resurrection, and if one wanted to, one could very easily justify feasting on the Sundays of Lent – or at least not fasting. [did that make sense?] In other words, the church gathers for worship because Christ is risen, and that isn’t any less true during Lent.
In an incredible convergence of time and liturgical season, our little church had the opportunity to mark the death and honor the life of a woman who did nothing less than live her life out loud – for 95 years. Sara died on a Thursday, and her family planned her funeral service to take place on the following Sunday afternoon. That this all happened during one of my trips away, and while my daughter had the stomach flu causing my husband to be writing sermons late in to the night on Saturday is of little notice [but was worth mentioning nonetheless. :)] My husband, the Rector of our little parish, was able to visit with Sara twice during her last days of life, even being present to pray with her just an hour or so before she died.
Sara’s life looked, by all outward accounts, like a lonely one. She never married. She had little family. She was rather transient over her long lifetime. But just beneath the surface of Sara’s story, for those who would take the time to look, and ask, and see, simmered a rich history of experience, service, and love that was a ministry to anyone who encountered her. Sara was a pilot in World War II. Sara was a lawyer. After her lawyering days were done, at age 66, Sara was ordained as an Episcopal priest, and she served a parish for 20 years – until she was 86. At that time, she decided to move closer to family, so she came to Wisconsin to live near her niece. Sara’s last 10 years of life were spent in an assisted living center, and her last 10 years as a worshiper bound by time were spent at Trinity Episcopal Church in Baraboo. From our first day there, we were intrigued by Sara, in her wheelchair in the front row, obviously afflicted by a failing body, but also obviously very much alive and engaged in her head and her heart.
The church bulletins that we inherited at Trinity had the tradition of including study notes on the readings for the week. The notes were provided by the national church, and as such, they were a little flighty. Nothing to write home about. I began to nag Scott to ‘get those notes out of there’. It wasn’t more than a week later that Sara, after the service, said to Scott, ‘Thank you so much for continuing to provide the notes on the readings in the bulletin. I use them when I lead my Bible study at the nursing home every week.”
The notes stayed in the bulletin.
When we gathered for her service last Sunday, the late-afternoon sun was shining through the stained glass windows, adding a noticeable glow to the room. Seriously – it was so beautiful. The Service for Burial of the Dead in the Book of Common Prayer opens with this anthem:
All stand while one or more of the following anthems are sung or said.
I am Resurrection and I am Life, says the Lord.
Whoever has faith in me shall have life,
even though he die.
And everyone who has life,
and has committed himself to me in faith,
shall not die for ever.
As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth.
After my awaking, he will raise me up;
and in my body I shall see God.
I myself shall see, and my eyes behold him
who is my friend and not a stranger.
For none of us has life in himself,
and none becomes his own master when he dies.
For if we have life, we are alive in the Lord,
and if we die, we die in the Lord.
So, then, whether we live or die,
we are the Lord’s possession.
Happy from now on
are those who die in the Lord!
So it is, says the Spirit,
for they rest from their labors.
Can you imagine the drama of that moment? A golden sanctuary; a gathered people; a prelude of Bach tunes, then the silence that precedes the anthem, which is read by the Rector as he processes with the crucifer in front of him – if there’s a casket, it comes behind the cross. It is an extraordinary moment.
When we reach the end of the service, during the committal, the line is said:
….and even at the grave we make our song – Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
And the congregation repeats the Al—uia. It’s amazing. And coupled with the context of honoring this amazing life, on an amazing Lenten Sunday, it was a feast for the senses.
We miss Sara’s encouraging presence in the front row. It became harder and harder for her to come. But she did. She was there. Incredible.
So my Lent was interrupted with a Sunday Alleluia song. And that’s ok with me.
In the starkness of the Lenten journey, as we round the corner now, coming up on Palm Sunday just one week away, I hear the faint, whispered song on the wind — the song that we will sing, even at the grave – because it is empty. The work is completed. Death has lost its sting.
I want to know Christ… and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings.
[The other thing I want is for my flight to leave O’Hare tonight. The window through which I’m peering now isn’t warm and sunny, but it’s filled with snow and the clouds from the de-icing trucks. But that’s another blog post. :)]