An Unexpected Lenten Feast

or


Lent, Interrupted.


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. :)]


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Lent 2010 – Let Us Ever Walk With Jesus

“Let Us Ever Walk With Jesus”Handbook to the by Sigismund von Birken, 1626-1681
Translated by J. Adam Rimbach, 1871-1941

Click here for a MIDI of the tune

Let us ever walk with Jesus, follow His example pure,

Through a world that would deceive us and to sin our spirits lure.

Onward in His footsteps treading, pilgrims here, our home above,

Full of faith and hope and love, let us do our Father’s bidding,

Faithful Lord, with me abide; I shall follow where You guide.


Let us suffer here with Jesus, and with patience bear our cross.

Joy will follow all our sadness; where He is, there is no loss.

Though today we sow no laughter, we shall reap celestial joy;

All discomforts that annoy shall give way to mirth here-after..

Jesus, here I share Your woe; help me there Your joy to know.


Let us gladly die with Jesus. Since by death He conquered death,

He will free us from destruction, give to us immortal breath.

Let us mortify all passion that would lead us into sin;

And the grave that shuts us in shall but prove the gate to heaven.

Jesus, here with You I die, there to live with You on high.


Let us also live with Jesus, He has risen from the dead

That to life we may awaken. Jesus, you are now our head.

We are Your own living members; where You live, there we shall be

In Your presence constantly, living there with You forever.

Jesus, let me faithful be, life eternal grant to me.

Ok, I’ll just say it. Even though I pick the hymns, plan the services, live with the Rector, and follow the lectionary, lent snuck up on me this year. All of my worship eggs were in the Transfiguration Sunday basket . The final Sunday of Epiphany was a blow-out-pull-out-the-virtual-stops sort of day. It was a glimpse of glory in so many ways, and I had been anticipating it for weeks. But the thing about the final Sunday of Lent is that Ash Wednesday is just around the corner. Quite literally. And so here I sit at 3 in the afternoon on this penitential day, a little shell-shocked that it has come.

I have had the above hymn running through my head…. since high school. I have never seen or sung it anywhere except the Green LBW – Lutheran Book of Worship – with which I learned my first hymnody as a high school student. I don’t even really remember singing it at Calvary, but I spent many hours playing through that hymnal in my living room, and I always came back to this hymn. Maybe it’s the walking. Maybe it’s the transformation. Maybe it’s the journey. Maybe it’s the future hope. I don’t know. But it’s my theme for Lent 2010. Our life with Christ is lived one step at a time, with God’s grace, the hope of heaven, the love of the Father, and the equipping of the Holy Spirit as our constant companions. Lent, to me, is a specific season each year to make deep, abiding investments in that journey. Living so much of my Christian life in mega-church Evangelicalism helped to deepen my walk with Christ, but [for me] cheapened my Easter experience because we were not a Lenten people. I am profoundly grateful for each chapter of the story that Jesus is writing in and with and through my life. I wouldn’t want to be where I am now without the experiences of my life before. And my life before lives in deeper relief in my memory because of the elements of it that I miss now.

Anyway, I digress.

There’s always the talk of giving up stuff for Lent. Chocolate, candy, bread, Facebook, celebrity blogs, The Bachelor – the list is endless. I think there is a lot of merit to the idea of asceticism for the sake of knowing Christ more deeply. I think of Philippians 3 – giving up adored things for Lent is one small way that we can share in the fellowship of His sufferings. Skipping peanut butter cups isn’t going to make me more like Christ, though, if it’s a mere 40-day religious habit. But if peanut butter cups are part of something that cause me to think of myself more than others, that distract me from discipleship, that rob me of a God-centered life, then Lent is a great time to add the discipline of skipping them.

So, Stephanie, you ask, what are you giving up for Lent? Nothing. I’m putting something on for Lent. And I’ll state them publicly for the good of the order.

Reading during Lent:  NT Wright’s Reflecting the Glory , and also finishing the Thoene Zion Covenant series – again. The Wright makes me want to be more like Christ, and the Thoene reminds me to pray for the persecuted in our broken world. It breaks my heart. And I need my heart to be broken.

Putting on during Lent: I will tell you this if you promise you won’t laugh. Promise? ok. Jillian Michaels 30 Day Shred will be a 40 Day Shred for me, Sundays off. Some discipline with my body and with exercise is dramatically necessary at this moment in my life. I love this DVD, it kicks my butt, and making it a 40 day commitment with the intention of honoring Christ with my temple sounds like a very good thing to do.

Committing to memory during Lent: The te deum (see below), and the words to the hymn above will be read every morning and every night. I intend to commit them both to memory. I can’t think of anything better on which to fix my eyes and ears.

Communicating during Lent: I’ll be blogging my way through. The discipline helps me, whether anyone reads it or not.

I have several gigs over the next 40 days in non-Lenten contexts… I’m opening for Fernando Ortega in Madison on March 12th, leading worship for the Women in Christian Media national conference on February 26th, working with Jill Briscoe and Anne Graham Lotz for Just Give Me Jesus in Greenville on March 19-20, so there are many opportunities to make deep spiritual investments in my own life that will have the opportunity to overflow and bless others. That’s what I’m praying, but I’m mostly praying that my soul’s journey will bless the Lord, and that all within me will bless His holy name. The Lord to me is so infinitely kind.

Love to you, dear brothers and sisters in the faith.

Steph

We praise thee, O God:
we acknowledge thee to be the Lord.
All the earth doth worship thee:
the Father everlasting.
To thee all Angels cry aloud:
the Heavens, and all the Powers therein.
To thee Cherubin and Seraphim
continually do cry,
Holy, Holy, Holy :
Lord God of Sabaoth;
Heaven and earth are full of the Majesty
of thy glory.
The glorious company of the Apostles praise thee.
The goodly fellowship of the Prophets praise thee.
The noble army of Martyrs  praise thee.
The holy Church throughout all the world
doth acknowledge thee;
The Father of an infinite Majesty;
Thine honourable, true and only Son;
Also the Holy Ghost the Comforter.
Thou art the King of Glory  O Christ.
Thou art the everlasting Son of the Father.
When thou tookest upon thee to deliver man
thou didst not abhor the Virgin’s womb.
When thou hadst overcome the sharpness of death
thou didst open the Kingdom of Heaven to all believers.
Thou sittest at the right hand of God in the glory of the Father.
We believe that thou shalt come to be our Judge.
We therefore pray thee, help thy servants
whom thou hast redeemed with thy precious blood.
Make them to be numbered with thy Saints in glory everlasting.
O Lord, save thy people
and bless thine heritage.
Govern them and lift them up for ever.
Day by day we magnify thee;
And we worship thy Name  ever world without end.
Vouchsafe, O Lord to keep us this day without sin.
O Lord, have mercy upon us have mercy upon us.
O Lord, let thy mercy lighten upon us
as our trust is in thee.
O Lord, in thee have I trusted
let me never be confounded.