For We Who Are Alone Together on Holy Wednesday

I pray that I—that we—find courage and boldness both to speak these prayers and embody actions that fulfill them in the name of Jesus who journeys with us Holy Week roads.

Today is Holy Wednesday. The middle of a week. The middle of Christianity’s Holy Week. The middle of unrelenting messiness in our towns and cities—in our world. 

Holy Wednesday is called Spy Wednesday in some parts of the Christian tradition because the day remembers Judas Iscariot’s despairing plans to betray Jesus. The betrayal is financial. Political. Spiritual. Personal. 

The story of the betrayal makes me uncomfortable in all sorts of ways. Our world was and is already messy with betrayals of many kinds, and now our days are engulfed by a multidimensional betrayal called COVID-19 that threatens our collective existence, reveals yet again fault lines in our human institutions, and defies clear cut explanations and responses. 

And yet—

The Gospel story calls us to hold steady in faith even when faced with fear and uncertainty. The arc of Holy Week is toward hope. In that hope, I pray that we come to terms with what it means to be in community with each other. I pray that God renews our understanding and our aliveness as people of faith. I pray for peace and healing across our world. And I pray that I—that we—find courage and boldness both to speak these prayers and embody actions that fulfill them in the name of Jesus who journeys with us Holy Week roads.

For We Who Are Alone Together

I sit alone together with the whip-poor-wills, watching
sunsetting shadows sneak across the front porch

where a bold squirrel has left her supper crumbs to
taunt my tiny terrier when she bounds out

the front door for tomorrow’s morning walk—alone
together with our neighbor’s eggshell poodle who answers

to Rainbow (why did I never follow up on my promise 
to learn the neighbor’s name?) and presses

her furry body to the ground in timid joy 
when she sees us, even if we are a street-crossing 

distant from her. I hear a trumpet—or is it a trombone—
muted but clear down the street—or is it next door?

Hard to tell in these days of i-recorded Taps rising 
like virtual incense up over the dust to which

we all shall one day return alone together. I walk 
down the street as the ancient dogwood, whose 

pink-tipped blossoms are unfurling one more time
like a thousand miniature Easter flags, keeps watch 

by the front yard gate. The horn sounds clearer but
deeper—a trombone, for sure. Not Taps, then, bugling 

alone that another day is done. Jazz, perhaps? Rising 
up to caress unlit stars as though they are Aladdin 

lamps hiding unspent wishes? A door to the neighboring 
church is cracked open, a tomb unsealed: hark

the herald vibrates from unseen lips 
as an owl in the loblolly pine responds—

Holy Tuesday, Holy Hope

We want to see Jesus.

Being quarantined has caused me to rummage around in some dusty corners of my house and my mind. Today, I found a stack of old postcards from the days when I was the pastor of Neriah Baptist Church in the mountains of Virginia.

In 1990, before Facebook and blogs and Instagram, we connected with our church community between Sundays with postcards. I prototyped the card on my Smith-Corona electric typewriter. Then I took the prototype to the local print shop every Tuesday. By Wednesday, one hundred cards were printed (not digitally copied but printed) on postcard stock. A church member and I put labels on the cards and mailed them on Wednesday afternoons.

Times have changed—
—and not changed

Of course, the world has changed in big ways. I have too.

But reading those old postcards, I realize. Some core characteristics of my identity as a minister back then ring true to who I have become now. I am older. I hope I am wiser. But. . .

Here is an excerpt of what I wrote on a postcard all those years ago:

The bud of a tulip opening to the world--
arms of God,
cradling the gift of life.

Dew glistening on the morning trees--
teardrops of the Creator,
cleansing the earth of sorrow.

Grass fresh-cut on a spring day--
God's greenness
staining our shoes and spirits with hope.

A spider's web sparkling with diamonds
           after the coal of night is carved away--
the Great Weaver,
connecting our hearts to heaven.

Footprints of a deer along a dirt road--
our journeys toward God
and the impression we leave behind for others.

We stand in the midst of nourishment, and too many starve. Our souls long for the bread of life, for forgiveness from our mistakes. Our spirits yearn to grasp the stars, to see our dreams come true, and yet, we live in a world where too few are given second chances. Lives are shattered by pain. If only we could gather up the little things, the millions of pieces of living that make up the loaf we call the bread of life. If only we could come home to God’s love and find renewal, reunion, love. 

Let us come to the table of the Lord. 
Let us gather up the crumbs and live.

I did not format that 1990 postcard message as a poem. All of the words had to fit on a 3 ½ by 5 ½ card, and I did not consider myself to be writing poetry. These days I am intentional about learning the craft of poetry-writing. And I think–I hope–my theology and faith have deepened over the last 30 years (wow–30 years!).

Some things, though, have stayed steady across time and space—God’s presence and the promise that in life’s everyday stuff, in the places and people we encounter, we can find nourishment. We can find God’s grace and hope and renewal.

Remembering Holy Tuesday

Today is Holy Tuesday. 

The lectionary Gospel text for this third day of Holy Week is John 12:20-26.

“We want to see Jesus.”

John 12

This phrase from the text stands out to me today.

In this story, some Greeks come to Philip and ask if they can see Jesus. The Gospel writer never tells us whether or not these seekers get to meet Jesus. Instead, the story shifts and Jesus begins to talk about his final hours of life and his impending death. 

What happens? Do the Greeks encounter Jesus?

I wonder because of how urgent it seems sometimes that we see Jesus. That we are assured that God is with us.

The urgency has surfaced in my prayers and thoughts in recent weeks:

“Where is God in all of this?”
“Who are we as God’s people?”

We who in these days are looking into the face of human mortality want to know how this pandemic will end. Some of us are searching for meaning in the midst of the mess. Others seek healing and hope. 

I—many of us—want to see God-with-us.

So we come to Holy Week 2020. The story of Holy Week in any year is a gritty story of Jesus’ journey to the cross. It is also a story of how those who journeyed with Jesus looked squarely into the reality of life at its end and caught sight of life at its most radical and robust aliveness. They did this in stumbling and imperfect ways. But they had the chance to see Jesus by facing into what it means to be human and what it means to be people who follow the life and teachings of Jesus even if the road is treacherous and could lead to death.

We have a chance during this Holy Week to stake stock of who we are and who we hope to be as people of faith. The world harbors many death-ways. COVID-19 is not the first threat to human well-being and will not be the last. Some in our neighborhoods and communities have already looked into death’s face because they already were and are wrestling with poverty, hunger, homelessness, sickness, economic injustices, violence, and other life-denying realities.

We join the seekers in today’s Gospel in crying out: “We want to see Jesus.”

Today’s response?

We see Jesus in each other, in the thousands of ways we are finding to care for each other through this crisis. We see Jesus in grocery store workers and health care providers, in workers who deliver groceries and teachers who teach through the storm, in mail carriers and pharmacists and bank tellers. We see Jesus through Zoom platforms and Facebook Live. We see Jesus in the smiles and waves of neighbors whose names we do not yet even know.

But it is more than that. We don’t just see Jesus. We encounter the grace, hope, and love of God that resides in the redemptive arc of the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection across time and geographies. We encounter Jesus by caring for each other in these days when life’s deepest vulnerabilities and its most radical possibilities are laid bare before us.

On this Holy Tuesday I pray for the wisdom to gather up the pieces of our lives that make up the loaf we call the bread of life.

Let us come to the table of the Lord.
Let us gather up the crumbs and live.

Bruised reeds and smoldering wicks

The second day of Holy Week after Palm Sunday is Holy Monday.

Varying traditions tell of several things that may have happened on the first Holy Monday in the Christian tradition. Jesus cleanses the temple on Holy Monday and curses a fig tree (Matthew 21). One of the lectionary readings for Holy Monday tells the story of a woman in Bethany anointing Jesus with expensive oil.

Holy Monday also includes a reading from the prophet Isaiah.

Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations.

He will not cry or lift up his voice,
or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
and a dimly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring forth justice.

He will not grow faint or be crushed
until he has established justice in the earth;
and the coastlands wait for his teaching.

Isaiah 42

Reading this ancient text on Holy Monday during the COVID-19 crisis, my focus was drawn to the prophet’s powerful images of bruised reeds not broken and smothered wicks not quenched. What do these images mean for us as we journey toward Easter on a week when headlines warn of COVID-19 deaths, overwhelmed hospitals and health care providers, and frightening economic vulnerabilities for far too many people?

Many of us see and hear present day human woundedness in these images. We are bruised reeds and smothered wicks. We are people who are faint with worry and fear.

We are indeed worried and afraid in these uncertain days. And one gift Isaiah promises is a Chosen One who comes to our lives to bring spirit-infused justice and tender care.

Another way to think about the bruised reed and smothered wick during this Holy Week comes to mind as well.

The Chosen One does not seek political clout or military might. The Chosen One comes to bring justice but not in the ways the world expects.

In Matthew, Jesus quotes Isaiah 42, and many in the Christian tradition associate Jesus with Isaiah’s Chosen One. On this Holy Monday, we can imagine Jesus as a justice-maker and life-redeemer who defies the ways of the world. Jesus will not stop until he has sown seeds of justice into every corner of the earth. He will see the work of redemption and resurrection through to the end–even through suffering.

But he moves through the world with such care and in such an obtrusive manner that

as he passes through the marshes, not even bruised reeds will break off. Not a twig will snap. His draft won’t have enough force to blow out even a smoldering wick.

Peter Krol

Hmm…what can that mean? Don’t we want to see the footprints–the trail markers–where Jesus has walked so that we can follow? Don’t we yearn for tangible evidence that Jesus has passed by this way?

Because I am spending much of my time distant from friends but close to the dirt in my backyard, butterflies come to mind. I saw my first butterfly of the season yesterday.

As I watched that butterfly dance on the wind, I was reminded of Isaiah 42 and the Butterfly Effect. The Butterfly Effect in chaos theory refers to the idea that small actions have a more significant impact than we realize.

The simplified explanation of the Butterfly Effect goes something like this:

A butterfly flaps its wings in Chicago and a tornado occurs in Tokyo.

What does this have to do with bruised reeds and smoldering wicks during this Holy Week?

Jesus models for us a way to change the world that involves recognizing the power and promise of actions that defy existing structures of power and prominence. Every action we take–even the small ones–matter and can make a bigger difference than we realize.

We are living in times of unsung and unnoticed heroes. Health care providers, public school teachers, ministers, and others are doing everything they can to keep fires of hope burning in all of our lives. Many of them are risking their own well-being to provide this gift.

On this Holy Monday, we can celebrate a Justice-Making Jesus who moves through the earth with tender care for bruised reeds and smoldering wicks even as he resists–and overturns–the unjust power structures that so readily toss bent reeds on the trash pile and extinguish struggling flames.

We can also offer a word of gratitude for those heroes who together in their quiet and often unseen ways are saving our communities. Perhaps without realizing it, we are those heroes too, doing our part to foster the well-being of our cities and towns by staying home. By doing that we are tending to bruised reeds and smoldering flames and in unexpected ways living the Gospel.

a butterfly prayed for me today
or so I imagined 
when I saw her fold her wings
and open them up again as she danced
over a fuschia azalea blossom
in our backyard

i wonder–

did the air around her flutter
as some scientists say though
i couldn’t hear the faintest whoosh

who even notices a bent stalk
in a tumultuous sea of reeds
and yet butterflies push through
cocoons to commune
even with wounded ones

we are dust and ashes 
smoldering wicks
straining to hold the light 

and a butterfly prayed for us today

It happened on the way. . .

A reflection for Holy Monday

Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.

Mark 14:9

Giggles.  Squeals of excitement. Sounds of children danced in syncopated rhythms into the wind. 

“Brad! This is the biggest one EVER, except for that one over there. And look at those three humongous ones, if I could just reach.”

A voice drifted through the brush. 

“I bet none of those are as big as these over here.  I’ve NEVER seen one as big as THAT.”

It was a wonderful, supercalifragilifical afternoon.  But then, if you’ve ever picked blackberries, you know what I mean. There’s just something about heading down a forest path, talking, looking, contemplating–then you spot it. That first bunch of plump sweet yummy jewels of the forest. Just in the distance down the path.

Yes, blackberry picking tantalizes, because it seems that just when we’re reaching for the “biggest one ever”?  We spot an even juicier-looking one over there, one so plump we can almost taste it squishing into our mouth and deliciously tickling the insides of our bellies.

So the ritual goes. We taste-test our way from one big ole blackberry to the next one–eating some, saving others to ooze over ice cream, and with no small amount of regret, giving up on some because they’re “just beyond my reach.”

Yes, there’s something about blackberry picking.

Blackberry picking and Life Journeys

Now, I invite you to imagine with me, just for a homiletician’s metaphorical moment, that life and blackberry picking share some similarities.

Consider. How many of us stay forever at one spot on life’s path? Most people today (when we are not quarantined) are always on the go–hurrying, rushing, running, bustling, hurrying–from one goal to the next, one dream to the next, one best-idea-ever to the next.

Blackberry picking and human life journeys? Oddly similar, because in life? No sooner do we get to one yummier than ever destination than we spot an even yummier-looking one just down the road.  And it is not long before our imaginations have taken to the wind, conjuring up all of the even plumper, juicier destinations that must be waiting just around the bend.

The next thing you know? We are off and running, rushing, hurrying, running, hoping.

Sometimes all of this movement is a good thing, full of joy and new discoveries. Other times? Not such a good thing, especially if we get lost or tangled in a briar patch. 

Either way, the fact remains. Life doesn’t stand still.  Whether things are peaceful or chaotic, plump and juicy or shriveled up, we humans seem always to be leaving one thing for another thing.  It is the way of life.  We spend most of our time on the way to somewhere, until finally we get to the last of our somewheres. And it makes me wonder.  When I get to the last of those somewheres and look back over all the places I’ve been, what will the journey have meant? 

Meanderings of the mind such as these on Holy Monday have sparked the idea that maybe I need to pay more attention to the berries that are hanging ripe on the vines between the gargantuan ones that always demand my attention.  Maybe I need to pay more attention to those “wide places in the road” I sometimes zoom through on my way from here to there. 

Why? Because maybe I’ve been missing out–maybe too many people are missing out–on the God-faces that peer out at us from windows and doorways that are on the way to our big dreams and destinations. 

It’s odd, isn’t it, the places we end up between the “big berries.” But sometimes, in those in between places, faith’s most profound wisdom leaps out onto the road to meet us. To teach us.

Unexpected Bethany blessings

For me, going from being a pastor to being a doctor of theology by way of a town called Louisa made me read Mark 14:1-11 with different eyes. Because Louisa? Back in those days, Louisa was on the way to everywhere, as long as you had at least an hour to make the trip. Louisa had one motel and a Pizza Hut and no Walmart.

Bethany may have been that kind of town too, a pebble-sized suburb half a day’s walk from the city. But Bethany was the place where Jesus stopped on his way to Jerusalem. And Bethany was a place where something powerful and beautiful happened.

Of course, if we’re not careful, in our excitement to get to “wherever,” we’ll miss it.  We’ll miss the wonders of our own Bethanies.

Bethany. Can we see the story?  Hear its sounds?

I picture Simon’s nephew bouncing on Jesus’ knee.  Jesus’ eyes dancing with light like fireflies in a summer field. 

Bethany was like that. It was a place where Jesus could stick his head into Martha’s kitchen and catch a whiff of his favorite bread. Bethany was a place where Jesus could sit with his friends Lazarus and Mary, listen to the crickets, watch the stars poke their heads through the curtain of a soft night. 

Bethany was the kind of place where you could borrow a donkey for a parade.

And Bethany was a place where something prophetic and extraordinary happened.

It is hard to say why she did it.  Maybe she was young, one of those people who paint every place they go with youthful aliveness.  Or perhaps she was older, not so energetic anymore but determined to keep on living out what she believed.  Or it could be that she was tired of the way her life was going and decided that day to step off the road she was on and follow the path of her heart.

Whatever the reason, this picture in Mark’s art gallery stirs the imagination. The pattern is true to Marks’s form. The story is a kaleidoscope of contrasts, reversals, surprises and double meanings. This vignette of Bethany is a Markan masterpiece of color and light sandwiched between two images of uncertainty and betrayal.

Just before this picture?  Sillouhetted in the shadows, religious leaders whisper and plot. Jesus will die.

Just after this picture?  Jesus’ friend betrays him out for some pocket change.

But between these two? Bethany.

Before anybody even noticed her, there she was, filling the room with her presence, walking with courage from the margins into the center of that picture of men to turn everything upside down.  In the midst of the whispering and plotting and scheming, she pours expensive oil on the head of the one she believes is the hope of the world. She breaks open her heart.

Silence slices through the noise. The disciples’ stares stab the air.

Jesus speaks.

“This woman has done a good thing for me.  When she poured perfume on my body, she was preparing me for burial.  I tell you the truth, wherever this Gospel is told, throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

On a quiet evening in a town on the margins of the “sacred” city, we glimpse God’s true dwelling place.  Not in the temple but in the house of a leper, we glimpse Gospel truth. In that moment, not in the actions of religious leaders or disciples, but in the actions of a woman whose name we don’t even know, we glimpse God’s vision for the redemption of the world.

She confesses her faith, and as she anoints Jesus she joins hands with all of the suffering and marginalized and silenced people in the world.

And the part of the story that startles us awake to an unexpected truth?  Verse 13.

Every time the Gospel proclaimed, what she did is told too. In memory of her.

What happened on the way. . .

In memory of an unknown woman from Bethany. In memory of a voice from the margins who became the voice of God. 

Yes, every time someone is baptized or a prayer is spoken, what she did is shared too. In memory of her. In memory of a woman who looked beyond the world.

Every time someone visits in the nursing home or feeds the hungry, her story is told too. In memory of her.

Every time we break bread around the Lord’s table and remember, her story is told too, In memory of her. 

Every time the Gospel story is told, what she has done is also told, in memory of her. In memory of a woman Jesus met on the way to where he was going.

Bo and I were hurrying on our way to somewhere when we saw it. 

“What was THAT? 

Bo turned the Jeep around and there it was.  A baby owl on the side of the road. 

Bo inched toward the little creature.  It was breathing but not moving. 

Bo placed the owl in his baseball cap and we drove on down the road toward–well, we weren’t sure where to take the injured bird. Then suddenly–

“Bo.  Stop!  It’s trying to fly.”

It seemed suddenly to dawn on the little fella that he was in a car instead of a nest. 

Something must have paralyzed the owl with fear, and once it had been held for a moment in Bo’s cap, life was restored. The owl was ready to travel on. 

Bo stopped the car, and what happened then on a winding road just after nightfall?  That is the odd thing. I can’t remember where we were going that evening, but I’ll never forget what happened when we stopped along the road. 

Bo took the bird out of the cap and lifted it to the heavens.  And the owl?  It opened its wings and journeyed on to the rhythms of the wind.

We don’t stay very long in our Bethanies. We live in a world of myriad hellos and goodbyes. I wonder. When we get to the last of all of our somewheres and look back over all the places we have been, what will we see? What will our lives have been about?

One thing seems certain to me on this Holy Monday in 2020. My life will make more sense to me if I take time to hear the truth of this story in Mark: everywhere we go on the the way to wherever we are going, a face waits for us–the face of that woman in Bethany whose prophetic voice has too often been drowned out by the voices of the world.

She reminds us. And Jesus reminds us by the way he responds to her in this story. Those faces we meet on the journey? Those people who care for the sick and feed the hungry and teach our children and drive a neighbor to the doctor?  All those people whose voices have never been heard by the world but who struggle to live God’s grace and love every day? 

Every time the Gospel story is told, their story is told too, in memory of them.  Because in their faces of care and courage, we see the face of Christ.  In their voices, we hear the voice of Christ. 

It’s important to remember, you see. Christ is not just the one we’re on the way to; Christ is the journey.  For Christ is the way, the truth and the life. . .

bread upon waters

The powerful and prophetic intersecting of chronos and kairos are being distilled for me on this particular and peculiar Palm Sunday.

It seems, as one becomes older,
that the past has another pattern,
and ceases to be a mere sequence.

T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

Liturgical time is not linear. It is cyclical.

As this pandemic Palm Sunday unfolds, I am reminded of the mysteries and gifts of liturgical time. Liturgical—and in some ways quarantine time—invites (if not urges) us to let go of conventional linear understandings of time and enter into God’s time. Kairos time.

Most of our everyday days are spent peering at the world and life through the gridded windows of Google calendars. We live and work and look at the world around us according to the rules of quantifiable and sequential chronos time. Watch time. Clock time.

Scripture sometimes uses the term kairos to talk about God’s time—moments that interrupt our usual calendars and make us more attune to God-with-us.

Life is actually a sometimes rhythmic, sometimes arrhythmic, mixture of chronos and kairos time. Palm Sunday and Holy Week are examples. That first Palm Sunday parade had a chronological beginning point and an ending point along the road to Jerusalem. But it was also an interrupting, disrupting, and grace erupting moment that revealed (or began a process of revealing) the depths of God’s presence in, with, and for human lives.

The powerful and prophetic intersecting of chronos and kairos are being distilled for me on this particular and peculiar Palm Sunday. People are not parading in their sedans and SUVs from homes to church buildings to wave palm branches. Sheila, the pups, and I are at home, sitting on our front porch surrounded by Lenten roses, columbine flowers, dogwood blossoms, and bearded irises that with their scents and colors are joining bumblebees and birds in singing “loud Hosannas.” Soon, we will tune into Facebook Live for our worshiping community’s Palm Sunday service for this quarantined season.

COVID-19 has brought to our cities and towns pain, grief, and fear. It has stopped us in our tracks, suspended us in time, urged us to take stock of what matters in our lives. Countless timelines and chronologies are charting the sequence of the virus and predicting future outcomes. I know this because I have watched the chronologies while looking for some end in sight.

Perhaps this Palm Sunday invites us to consider anew the kairos dimensions of this contemporary reality.

This is not a new need. People in our communities have faced life-denying injustices for many years—across too many generations of chronologies. And the Gospel has always called us to interrupt and disrupt injustices with embodied proclamations of resurrection and graced new life. We have an opportunity in these crisis days to hear yet again the Gospel call to inaugurate the grace, justice, and compassion of God’s time on and for our groaning earth.

I am remembering today a former church member—I will call her Grandma B.—who I visited often when I lived in the mountains of Virginia. I sat with her on her front porch one afternoon while she shared her interpretation of what Ecclesiastes means by those verses about casting our bread upon the waters. She was 90 years old at the time.

Cast your bread upon the waters,
for after many days you will find it.

Ecclesiastes 11:1

Grandma B.’s interpretation of Ecclesiastes was a description of kairos time and one way that we as broken and searching humans can seek out and live into God’s presence and grace in our lives. I try in the poem below to capture the mystery and beauty of Grandma B.’s wisdom.

God’s grace—the bread of life—is an amazing gift. Perhaps on this peculiar Palm Sunday we can lean into that grace and say “yes” once again to the Gospel call to cast our bread upon God’s waters of love and grace.

*******

“The days grow longer while the years get shorter.”

she sat on the porch,
rocking
leaning backward,
looking ahead

face mapping
trailing-off yesteryears
looking back at her in morning mirrors

dreams blossoming in
infinite fertile fields

dreams suspended
now web-wrinkles in time

she sat on the front porch,
rocking
leaning forward,
looking back

sharpening her gaze
on a flinty hurry-up world
some hurts, some happinesses lingering
behind perception’s deepening mists

how does a heart choose
what to remember?

that time my brother poured a pitcher
of ice-cold cherry koolaid in
a just-purchased bag of imperial sugar

the way mama napped on the olive
green vinyl sofa
our big ole Marco Polo cat
draped over her head and shoulder

the day my friends came to visit and we
packed into their fancy convertible car
rode on potholed roads through
the countryside and laughed and laughed

not instamatic photos stored
in flat plastic containers and
slid underneath the bed

no, some re-collections are camera flashes,
lightning illuminates a moonless night
so that you see what you hoped was there
all along but had forgotten in the darkness.

she sat on the front porch,
rocking
leaning forward
looking back

“i cast my bread upon the waters,
and it came back.”

“your bread?”

“i was kind to my friends
and they remembered
they came back when
i was too sick to travel to them—
bread upon the waters.”

for some time stands
stock still
suspended
on the front porch
leaning backward,
looking ahead

casting bread upon waters

Honk if You Love Jesus (and Other Sacramental Pandemic Peculiarities)

Seeing your face is like seeing the face of God.

The sanctuary is empty, the parking lot full,
folks maneuvering pick ups and sedans
into back row spaces instead of back row pews,

just like Sunday morning—except

nothing is just like anything used to be. So
Pastor calls out from a flatbed trailer: “Honk
if you are glad to be in church today!”

And on a Wednesday night before a high holy
pandemic Palm Sunday procession,
worshipers hungry for a face, a word, a hug

fellowship through car windows,
then parade away into the evening,
a cacophony of horns blaring—

Chevy pick-ups and Honda Accords. Four-door sedans and all-wheel-drive hybrids. They all pulled into the church parking lot on Sunday morning. But instead of getting out of their vehicles to shake hands and offer hugs before going into the sanctuary, worshipers stayed in their cars. They waved to each other and waited. At 11am, the pastor pushed open the church’s front doors and headed out to the top step of the church entryway to offer a call to worship: “Honk if you are glad to be in church today!”

Drive-in worship

That is how “drive-in worship” was inaugurated at a small rural church in a neighboring county several weeks ago. Folks rolled down their windows or tuned into a special FM station so they could hear the pastor, and when they felt Spirit-inspired, they honked their “amens.”

A bumper sticker that’s been around for a long time—“Honk if you love Jesus”—has taken on a whole new meaning for worshipers in this community.

Journalist Lisa O’Donnell wrote about local drive-in church experiments in a Saturday Winston-Salem Journal article. The drive-in worship services O’Donnell describes are in Surry County and are examples of one way faith communities are trying to stay connected and vibrant during these pandemic days of social distancing.

Together while We Are Apart

Gathering to seek sacred wisdom for life and hope in the face of fear and uncertainty has become even more vital, it seems, to people who are spending long days alone or at least apart from their communities of work, worship, and play. In response, pastoral leaders are imagining unconventional ways to gather communities together for worship.

Without intending to, we are learning what it means to be the virtual Body of Christ (a topic ripe for additional conversation in a later post).

Virtual Signs of God-With-Us

Signs and symbols of God’s presence are central to worship practices in my Christian tradition. In recent weeks, unable to break actual bread together or pass the peace through literal hugs, people have sought out new ways to embody and share signs of God’s presence, love, and grace.

Some people are sewing face masks as a collaborative and communal project. Others are joining forces and finances to provide meals for school children. People are also sharing their musical and artistic gifts through an array of online sources. Some of my colleagues are surprised to discover that worshiping through social media platforms has even energized them and their communities.

In these uncertain days, many faith communities are finding their own unique ways to substitute honks for hallelujahs.

Seeing Your Face Is like Seeing the Face of God

I believe that God and faith in God can be found both in the most ordinary and the most mysterious dimensions of human spirits and everyday lives. I glimpse (and sometimes taste and touch) the shapes, textures, and colors of God’s life-giving mysteries when I worship with others who are also seeking faith and spiritual understanding. For now, COVID-19’s threat means we have to rely on visual and aural dimensions of Christian worship and human connection.

I am reminded of a story in Genesis. In this ancient story, Jacob crosses a river to meet his brother, Esau. Jacob fears this encounter because of the way he mistreated Esau in the past.

The scene of their meeting is powerful. Esau embraces Jacob with grace and love. Jacob responds:  “Seeing your face is like seeing the face of God.” 

In these uncertain days, being together as people of faith, even in unfamiliar ways, is important because of the hope and strength people find in seeing each other’s faces and hearing each other’s voices. Simple acts and gestures (index and forefinger in a V to pass the peace, emoji waving on Facebook live, honking an “amen”) remind us that God is with us, a belief that centers us and gives us hope.

And all God’s people honked an “Amen.”

Welcoming Wildness

She is an uncertain season who invites me to her liturgy of the hours—

How is COVID-19 impacting the environment?

I am intrigued by articles I have seen this week about how the pandemic is slowing down pollution and restoring a measure of peace to the environment. This poem emerged as I began to think about the resilience of creation to “come back” when spaces open up for her.

Perhaps a kind of generative wildness within our own spirits can come out of extinction during these days. Given all of the horrors of this crisis, I hope for this resurrection possibility.

“Come out, come out, wherever you are!”
I call to her–

Wildness.

She is a shy child, eager but afraid
to meet a new friend.

No, that’s not quite right–

She’s been leaning on the door all along?
Waiting–then stumbling into my space

when the portal suddenly swings open?

“Come in, come in. I think we met
once upon a time ago”–

Wildness.

She is in me–sparrow and mockingbird,
wildflower and wilderness wanderer

Yes, that is it–maybe—

“Come on,” she says and reaches out.
“Let’s dance, just for a little while.”

I say “yes”–

unclenching my hands to take hers
while creation sings

Hope.