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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A Journey of Devotion-To know this Love that surpasses knowledge…

 

I thought about saving this hymn for Holy Week, but I decided that since it’s been such an influential text – and tune – in my life, that you might want to have it for the remainder of this Lenten season.

 

My Song is Love Unknown, text by Samuel Crossman, is in and of itself a speaking of the Gospel story, a devotional masterpiece, and a humbling, challenging, moving portrait of the ‘love that surpasses knowledge’ of which Paul speaks in Ephesians. It has been set to several tunes, but my favorite and the one that seems the most evocative of the deepest parts of the text is Love Unknown, by John N. Ireland, written in 1918. A story is told about Geoffrey Shaw and John Ireland. When Shaw was editing the English Hymnal, shortly after WWI, he took John Ireland to lunch. Halfway through it he handed a slip of paper to him across the table and said, “I need a tune for this lovely poem.” It was Samuel Crossman’s poem, written in 1664. Ireland read it and re-read it, then wrote some music for a few minutes on the back of the menu and handed it back to him, “Here’s your tune.” It was the music to the hymn: “My Song Is Love Unknown”.

Must be nice.


Text is below, with thoughts between each verse.

My song is love unknown,

My Savior’s love to me;

Love to the loveless shown, 
That they might lovely be.

O who am I, that for my sake
 My Lord should take, frail flesh and die?
—–My song – my theme – all my glory – is this love that surpasses knowledge that we are still compelled to know more fully. Thus, there is no end to the depths we may plumb of the marvelous love of God, particularly as displayed in His Son. I stand amazed!


He came from His blest throne

Salvation to bestow;

But men made strange,  and none
the longed for Christ would know:

But O! my Friend, my Friend indeed,
 Who at my need His life did spend.
—a definition of ‘strange’ – [ predic. ] ( strange to/at/in)  unaccustomed to or unfamiliar with : “I am strange to the work”. So, in this case, unfamiliarity led to contempt. Yet he spent – gave away – His life for you, for me.


Sometimes they strew His way,

And His sweet praises sing;

Resounding all the day
 Hosannas to their King:

Then “Crucify!” is all their breath,
 And for His death they thirst and cry.

 

They strew his way with, of course, palm branches, at the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. 
Such manic people wi
th their praises and curses! From the same tongue, in nearly the same breath. I stand
convicted. So familiar.
 

Why, what hath my Lord done?

What makes this rage and spite? 
He made the lame to run,
He gave the blind their sight,

Sweet injuries! Yet they at these
 Themselves displease, and ’gainst Him rise.

 

Sweet is the injury that leads me to an encounter with the Living God. The blind – sighted. The deaf – hearing.
The lame – running. Physical, spiritual, emotional – healing. And yet, we condemn. This is the mystery of Holy Week. We are among the crowd. 

They rise and needs will have

My dear Lord made away;

A murderer they saved,
 The Prince of life they slay,

Yet cheerful He to suffering goes,
 That He His foes from thence might free.

 

The Lord ‘made away’ – fulfilled – their needs… yet He is slain. Yet, to suffering He goes with
cheer – one of the synonyms for ‘cheerful’ is ‘agreeable’. Resolved. Resigned. Resplendent
.
In life, no house, no home

My Lord on earth might have;

In death no friendly tomb
 But what a stranger gave.

What may I say? Heav’n was His home;
 But mine the tomb wherein He lay.

 

Our Lord Jesus was the ultimate sojourner. A wanderer from embryonic state – a visitor, literally. 
And to the end, He remained a sojourner – with only a borrowed tomb. I suppose, since He wouldn’t
need it for long…. But yet, I think there’s a very appropriate summation of the story in this simple statement –
What may I say?
 


Here might I stay and sing,

No story so divine;

Never was love, dear King!
 Never was grief like Thine.
This is my Friend, in Whose sweet praise
 I all my days could gladly spend.

Oh, Lord, keep me near to the cross, where I am reminded – daily – to sing the song of Your suffering,
Your sacrifice, and Your glory. May this Lenten journey bear lasting fruit in my Alle—ia life – that
the glory songs of life would be more significant because of the experience of the cross songs of
difficult days. Keep me ever-faithful, dear Lord…
 

 

Born: 1623, Bradfield Monachorum, Suffolk, England.
Died: February 4, 1683, Bristol, England.
Buried: South aisle, cathedral church, Bristol, England.
Crossman earned a Bachelor of Divinity at Pembroke College, Cambridge, and was Prebendary of Bristol. After graduation, he ministered to both an Anglican congregation at All Saints, Sudbury, and to a Puritan congregation as well. Crossman sympathized with the Puritan cause, and attended the 1661 Savoy Conference, which attempted to update the Book of Common Prayer so both Puritans and Anglicans could use it. The conference failed, and the 1662 Act of Uniformity expelled some 2,000 ministers from the Church, including Crossman. He recanted shortly thereafter, and was ordained in 1665, becoming a royal chaplain. He received a post at Bristol in 1667, and became Dean of Bristol Cathedral in 1683.

 

There are several tune options for this text. My favorite is here

A lovely more-folky tune is here, and you can finda great recording of it on ‘Night of Your Return’ by Fernando Ortega. He uses a more contemporary setting of the text, as well.

Lenten Hymns – A Journey of Devotion

It’s hard to believe, but we are only a week away from Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the holiest contemplation of the year – the journey to the cross, culminating in the celebration of the empty tomb. Landing in a liturgical tradition has been a remarkable gift to me in experiencing the power of the cross in a deeper way, and I have discovered a wealth of hymnody that has helped me along the way.

To that end, and to mark this lenten season, I will be writing a series of reflections on some hymns that have caused me to stop and take a breath and ponder anew the cross of Christ – in order to better and more fully experience the true Alleluia celebration of the empty tomb. I hope you’ll join me here each week, beginning next Wednesday, February 25th. 

Let us, as fellow sojourners, not miss the blessing of the journey. Let us be like Jesus, who for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, scorning its shame.

One Down, One to Go

 

 

Hello friends!

It is the 5th day of Christmas… and there is one version of the one appropriate song for the day that trumps all others:

 

 

I miss John Denver. Don’t judge.

But anyway, it is indeed the 5th day of Christmas. We didn’t put our tree up until the 23rd, so we’re in no hurry for Christmas to come to an end. I had to run some errands this morning, and I turned on the all-Christmas-all-the-time [since All Saints Day!] radio station…. and I was taken aback to hear something not remotely Christmas-y. The stores have only picked over bins of 80% off Christmas items… picked over candy.. leftover tinsel and garland… and I walked back into the door of my house and heard the carols singing and saw the tree [aluminum] and its light [rotating disc of varying colors. Coolest. Tree. Ever.] and I was relieved to be walking back into Christmas. How has this happened? How has it come to this?? 

 

We have a big advantage at our house; Ms. A was born on Christmas morning, and Mr. A was born on Dec 28.. T-man was placed with us on Dec 28th,  and Fr. S celebrates an Epiphany birthday… so we have reasons to celebrate throughout the 12 days of Christmas. I think that helps keep the holidays front and center for us, and I’m so glad. I’m just not ready to put it all away yet, and I’m always too sheepish to embrace the Incarnation during Advent [it’s the Lutheran left in me. I can’t help it]. 

 

But what I want more than anything is for the Incarnation of this Emmanuel to be recounted, retold, relived, revealed in me all year long – more of Him and less of me. This is my prayer on this 5th day of Christmas.

And, I wouldn’t mind 5 or so new golden rings.

 

Oh! The title of this post refers to this:

 

 

Right Hand - Stitches Out!

Right Hand - Stitches Out!

 

I got my stitches out this morning. I’ve been playing piano every day – a couple of nights ago it was close to an hour’s worth of playing – my right hand could have gone on all night, while the left hand needed a shake-down break every 4 minutes to get the blood flowing again. I’d rate the right hand’s ability to play at about 80-85%. I’d never have believed it.

One week to go until the left hand begins the same process. I can’t say enough good about the healing process, my ability to play, the level of pain – it all has been FAR better than anything I expected. I am profoundly grateful, and will be all the more so when both surgeries are but a distant memory.

Christmas joy to all of you!