Word of the Week

Are you struggling with knowing how to deal with #covid19?

Are you tired already of your kids being at home? Your spouse being at home? Being home alone?

Scared about the future?

Feel like you are mountain biking up a mountain (and you don't know how to mountain bike?)

To all of our heavy loads I bring a word of hope: persevere.

Persevere: an undertaking in spite of counter influences, opposition, or discouragement.

For it's true: we are being hit at every side.

We're shifting through mental anguish, physical exhaustion and social isolation. TOO, TOO MUCH.

In light of this, if I see one more motivational tweet about how I'm suppose to rise to my better self during these times: be more, do more, achieve more because the world needs leaders now more now more than ever -- I think I might scream.

We are all doing the best we can.

Without warning or time to prepare, so many of our lives were changed in an instant.

We have less resources for help or self-care.

Thriving is not a realistic goal. Yet, I want to tell you this today: persevering is.

One of my favorite scriptures comes from 2 Corinthians 4 which speaks to what perseverance looks like:

"We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. . . . Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day."

Perseverance reminds us that even in the most difficult of circumstances we can be about the work of hope. Life is so much about both/ and.

But how?

I've heard from friends this week that they've loved doing yoga in the morning or dance parties before dinner or night caps with dear ones over the phone. 

I've heard about friends meeting up over Facetime to play games.

I've been busy trying to create community for my church via Zoom and over on You Tube where we share our weekly worship services.

In my case, I've loved keeping up with friends over the app Marco Polo and taking a mental break alone in my room every afternoon when my daughter "naps."  Even something as simple as sitting in the dark and taking a deep breath in the middle of the day has been a gift. 

Reading Psalms before bedtime has given perspective too. There is truly nothing new under the sun. 

Our family motto is "This is a marathon, not a sprint." And so, my friends, let us keep going.

What's one thing you can look forward to today or tomorrow? Sure, the big picture of all of this looks crazy but that's not the work your mind needs now.

My prayer for you right now is that you're able to keep showing up to whatever life-giving practices you need to make it from one day to the next. And give yourself grace when you have a hard day.

We're all going to have hard days (I had one yesterday!) and need to start all over in the morning. For, making it from morning to night and then doing it all over again is a beautiful accomplishment.

Really. I am so proud of all that you are doing. 

Persevere on my friends! You've got this. 

P.S. It's Holy Week- would you like some encouragement sent to your inbox the next couple of days specifically with these times in mind? Sign up here! 

For all of us whose lives are firmly planned in the church, there's one week of the year that exhausts us more than any other. And it's this one.  Holy Week.

Extra services to plan.

Extra crowds to usher.

Extra bulletins to print.

Sadly, it's the time of year that clergy complain most about.

Or church administrators talk about "getting through."

And when it's all said and done, the Sunday after Easter is one of the lowest attended services all year with the excuse "We're all too tired to come back." (And we really are).

Sometimes it's hard to think the "extra" is worth it.

I heard a clergy friend recently say, "I worked so hard on my Maundy Thursday sermon last year and only 10 people came. What's the point?"

I sat in a church council meeting a couple of years back when the leadership debated whether or not to have both a Maundy Thursday and/or a Good Friday service. The consensus was, "Oh that's too much to ask folks to come to! We possibly couldn't do both!'

I heard a member of a worship committee once offer about first time guests on Easter: "If the people really cared about church and God, they'll come back another week on their own. We don't need to do anything special for them!'

These encounters are full of frustration, annoyance and even anger, aren't they?

These leaders didn't want to give any more to Holy Week than necessary! If their efforts in previous years weren't acknowledged, appreciated or supported (or resulted soaring attendance numbers the next month), then why bother?

But to all of this my church loving friends, put your best foot forward. BestFootForwardMain

I want to remind all of us that Holy Week is our week if there ever was one.

It's our week to show up.

The story of a triumph, the clash of money and power, service, betrayal, denial, death and new life is our faith!

Where would our narrative be without the Upper Room, the cross, the tomb and the resurrection?

How would we have anything to say the other 51 other Sundays without the message of Easter? The themes of Holy Week are what we believe!

So why not go for the gold this week and show up every time your church doors open? Why not plan and offer the best possible worship experiences we can muster up?

Why don't we roll out the red carpet for our guests-- even if we don't see them again till Christmas?

Really, why not?

I know it can be exhausting.

I know it might be thankless.

I know you might want to crawl into your cave on Sunday afternoon and not come out for awhile when it's over.

But do it, church! Embrace your week.

Preach your best sermons.

Show up on Thursday night, sunrise and Easter am too!

Love on your visitors.

Claim it. Name it. Own it.

Put your best foot forward, church. If you don't who will?

And P.S. If you live in the Washington DC area and don't have anywhere to go in particular this Holy Week, join me for services at Palisades Community Church. Learn more here. 

Welcome to one of the darkest days of the whole year— for Christians that is—the day we wait with Jesus in the tomb.

It’s the day that no one visited the tomb of Jesus.

It’s the day when nothing happened in the gospel narrative.

It’s the day that can be summarized in one word: silence.

As if Jesus’ cries from the cross of “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” were not hard enough to bear yesterday, today we sit with the reality of our Lord’s death.

And the fact that God’s son wasn't exempt from heart stopping suffering.

Even Jesus once died.

But, in most of our traditions, we have little room for Holy Saturday theology.

Though our Anglican friends often host Easter Vigils—the rest of us have no clue as to why we’d want to go to church on Thursday, Friday AND  Saturday too. What really changes from Friday to Saturday after all?

Isn’t the Saturday before Easter all about egg hunts, food preparation and shopping for new Sunday shoes? (well maybe not shopping for shoes this year)

Not that there is anything wrong with these things (and I’m going to be making some deviled eggs today myself). But I believe if we have our eyes already so set on Sunday, we miss out on a important part of who we are as followers of Jesus.

Again, even Jesus died. Part of what it means to be human is suffering and death.

Throughout our lives we will ALL face suffering that is so painful that we think it might kill us and then one day it actually will.

And if you’ve ever gotten to the point when the dreams you once hung your future upon are no more, you know Holy Saturday.

If you’ve ever woke up one morning to find that your child, your spouse or your best friend to whom your life was deeply connected was gone, you know Holy Saturday.

If you’ve ever wagered all your hope on one event going just as planned, only to find it blowing up in utter disaster, you know Holy Saturday.

Holy Saturday is accepting death.

Holy Saturday is embracing grief.

Holy Saturday is most of all -- surrender.

Pope Benedict XVI once said: “To be sure, it was not Easter Sunday but Holy Saturday, but, the more I reflect on it, the more this seems to be fitting for the nature of our human life: we are still awaiting Easter; we are not yet standing in the full light but walking toward it full of trust.”

So, my word for this Holy Saturday is...stand here.

Take in this day. Breathe in, breathe out.

And let us wait for Easter together—both on its date on the calendar to come tomorrow and all the resurrection moments to come.

Some of us are going to be in Holy Saturday for much longer than just one day. . .

Who doesn't like to fast forward?

I think one of the greatest inventions in television is the DVR box that comes with most standard cable subscriptions for an extra $10 or so a month.

With it, no longer do you have to watch commercials you don't like, or any commercials for that matter.

You don't even have to be at home to watch your favorite shows, as long as they are set to record.

And best of all, the days of spousal fights over who controls the remote are over. With the gift of the record feature, both you and your partner can watch what you want-- just maybe not at the same time.

But before I sound too much like an ad for a cable company, hang with me-- a point is coming.

Not only do so many of us have DVR or other recording devices boxes in our homes, but I think there is something about the fast forward feature that has taken over more than just our television remote controls. We live in a world-- in our place of privilege in a country like America-- where we get the luxury to fast forward through parts of our lives that we don't like.

Some parts of life are easy to fast forward through if we just apply ourselves.

Calling ahead for seating at restaurants to avoid the wait at the door.

Filing our taxes online to avoid the wait on April 15th at the post office.

Earning miles or signing up for reward programs with airlines to avoid the wait in the security lines.

Other parts are more difficult.

Sir, we've found a spot of cancer in your lungs.

Miss, we think your child is going to have to repeat the 3rd grade.

No, dear, I just don't think we're ever going to get married.

But regardless of the circumstances rarely do we ever want to sit with annoyance, traffic jams, or life altering news longer than we have to. We have to get on to the next thing. We are ready to get on to the next thing. We want the fast forward button to help us. Sometimes we eat too much, drink too much or sleep too much in an attempt to get there faster.

I think this is the same way that most Christians feel about Holy Week. We want the fast forward feature. Where is it?

We've just experienced the highs of "Hosanna! Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!" from Palm Sunday. And if we go to worship on Easter we'll be asked to exclaim, "Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed! hallelujah!" Happy stuff, right?

But what about Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday in between?

Though I'd very much like to fast forward through the hard stuff of holy week: taunting, betrayal, hopelessness, pain, suffering and abandonment, I don't think as Christians that we can. Our story is as much about the hard stuff as it is the joy. And so, this week:

We are asked to sit with Jesus in the upper room when Judas betrays Jesus for some silver coins.

We are asked to stand with Jesus as Peter deigns that he knows Jesus three times.

We are asked with Jesus as he takes the cross to Calvary-- to die upon a trash heap for criminals.

We are asked to observe the pain in Jesus as he cries out to God, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

We are asked to wait with the sobbing women on Saturday as their Lord has died and they have no clue what to do next.

Intense, right? Yet, we can't just fast forward through this emotional journey. We must set aside holy time to live it. There's so much to take in as we go one step at a time.

I've been thinking a lot about Sabbath keeping recently. Maybe because holy week is coming soon:  the busiest week of a pastor's year, the time when bulletins after bulletins and services and services must be planned and planned some more.  Maybe because it is something that our household is trying to be better at after my husband ended up in the hospital on Monday morning due to exhaustion and  dehydration (a preventable condition if he'd just taken better care of himself the week before). Maybe it is just because it is a topic we seem to talk about a lot in the church, but rarely put into practice. 

Can I just say that sabbath frustrates me.  It is easier to be "good" at work than it is to be "good" at rest. No one is ever going to praise you for rest the same way they are of work. But, the longer any of us go without rest, our work will of course suffer. So, why not get the hint and embrace it? 

But, after all, as people of faith, Sabbath keeping is not a suggestion but a command.  Keep the Sabbath day holy . . .

So I ask myself and my congregation regularly: "How can we live into Sabbath more often?" And, by Sabbath, I don't necessary mean one day (though one days of Sabbath are good), but a Sabbath filled life.

This is what I am noticing-

Sabbath finds me when I stop and listen to the voice that says, "Why are you in such a hurry?" 

Sabbath looks like turning off the radio in the car. Sabbath looks like not rushing out the door in the morning on the way to work; instead getting up early enough to just be. Sabbath looks like saying lots of "No's" to meetings that just aren't necessary. Sabbath looks like turning off the tv more often and reading a book just for fun. Sabbath looks like walking down the bakery aisle at the grocery store, just to smell the bread. Sabbath looks like finishing my sermon on Friday so Saturday is really a free day.

Sabbath looks a lot like a Mary Oliver poem.

“Just a minute,” said a voice…
By Mary Oliver

“Just a minute,” said a voice in the weeds.
So I stood still
in the day’s exquisite early morning light
and so I didn’t crush with my great feet
any small or unusual thing just happening to pass by
where I was passing by
on my way to the blueberry fields,
and maybe it was the toad
and maybe it was the June beetle
and maybe it was the pink and tender worm
who does his work without limbs or eyes
and does it well
or maybe it was the walking stick, still frail
and walking humbly by, looking for a tree,
or maybe, like Blake’s wondrous meeting, it was
the elves, carrying one of their own
on a rose-petal coffin away, away
into the deep grasses. After awhile
the quaintest voice said, “Thank you.” And then there was silence.
For the rest, I would keep you wondering.

So, what about you: experienced Sabbath lately? What has it looked like? Any surprises?