Tag Archive: church

A Stormy Triumph

When I think of Easter, I think of spring. Easter usually falls in early spring. This year, spring is late enough that the daffodils are massed in full bloom, there are crocus about, and the cherry trees are covered with pink froth. Sometimes, it’s the azaleas and rhodies and tulips we see, but not yet – those are still waiting for warmer weather! Even in warmer years, though, Easter is usually chilly. It often rains, and not just down, but sideways. There’s plenty of mud. Where I live, Easter takes place in a season of storms. That’s what early spring is here.

It’s a curious thing to me, then, that significant parts of the Easter traditions are celebrated outside. Easter egg hunts? Sunrise services? I have vivid memories of being outside in the rain before the sun rose in my Easter getup listening to a sermon… freezing. Easter dresses aren’t usually warm. Hey, they don’t even come in warm colors! The colors are usually drawn from a pastel palette, and the dresses are designed for sunshine and warmer climes.

That expectation, the one of sunshine and gentle life, is another thing that I find curious. Easter is a celebration of life, yes, but in some ways, it is a holiday of horrors and extreme emotion. As Christians tell the story, it’s preceded by a horrible death of a very good man. Jesus was also God and therefore perfect and innocent, and his death, completely undeserved, is considered an atonement for the sins that all the rest of us busily commit. There was great anguish and pain – not only His, but also for His disciples and others who loved Him – present for days. From the cross, an instrument of tortuous, suffocating death, Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” Pain, abandonment, disappointment, probably fear, maybe betrayal – Christ must have experienced, with dreadful immediacy, the whole, crushing range of dark human emotion until death relieved him of that burden. I imagine his disciples, family, friends, and other followers experienced similar, albeit somewhat less intense, feelings. They loved Him. They’d banked on His promises. Can you imagine how it must have felt to watch Him die? To live with the knowledge that He was gone, dead, and far beyond human reach? That Sabbath must have been a very dark and hopeless day for them.

And then, Sunday morning, something too good to be true happened. The stone in front of Christ’s tomb was moved, an angel was sitting on it, and Christ was walking around talking to the women who came to visit His grave. The man who was dead was again alive. This was stupendous, incredible, fantastic news, and not fantastic in the merely excellent or superlative sense (as in, wonderful news!) but also fantastic as in “so extreme as to challenge belief.” That happened. The disciples did not believe the women who reported Jesus as now living, and two of them had to run see for themselves, to see if this ridiculous story could actually be true. I would guess that, when they saw Him alive, they felt such joy that it hurt. He’s alive! He’s alive.

Easter, to me, seems far too dramatic for pastel shading. I could buy into sunshine, particularly the blaze of glory kind, but not gentle life. I have to admit that, little though I like it, when I think about the process of the holiday, even the yucky weather I’ve often experienced seems appropriate. The menacing clouds, the scoffing wind, the pervasive chill, the weeping of the rain – they all serve well to represent the trial and trying of Christ and His people. When the sun comes out, when it’s brilliant and full and so beautiful it hurts, when it bursts out to bless the flowers and green that are already present, it’s a great symbol of the vibrant, flourishing triumph that is Easter and Christ’s resurrection. He is risen! He is risen indeed!

Happy Easter!

Focus on Worship

Having last talked about Focus and where I think it’s best to keep it, it seems appropriate now to talk about worship. Keeping our eyes on Jesus for salvation is great, but the Bible does make a case for moving beyond the panicky “save me!” approach. In fact, having something else like worship makes it easier to keep eyes where they belong.

What is worship? What do experience and culture teach us? Ever drive by a church and see their board telling you the time of their “Sunday worship?” Gathering together for corporate prayer, sermon, music, and other rituals has been classified as worship. With the increasing popularity of music during services, I’ve also heard worship further narrowed to simply that segment of the service. Music pastors are sometimes even relabeled as “worship pastors.” Occasionally, that’s because a church body is trying to incorporate other forms of art, like dance, into their time of worship, and they want the pastor to oversee that ministry.

Worship with a church is all well and good, but with the possible exception of those committed to monastic life, nobody lives in church! In fact, most of us spend a lot of time in other places. What happens to worship then? Is it relevant outside of a group? Can we practice it on our own? Does a church service actually facilitate worship? So many questions! Do any of them even matter? 😉 I don’t pretend to have any definitive answers, but I certainly have thought about it and do have some ideas.

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary tells us that when we worship something, we have something or somebody that we “honor or reverence as a divine being or supernatural power” or “regard with great or extravagant respect, honor, or devotion.” Personally, I think that definition is a bit dry and removed for such a powerful concept. It’s too intellectual without enough life. Digging deeper is definitely needed.

The apostle Paul, in Romans 12:1, says, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” Paul isn’t limiting worship to intellectual assent or a service. He tells us to present our bodies to God, bodies which come with us everywhere we go.  I think the greatest commandment, to love God with heart and soul and mind and strength, also applies, because I’d say that to whatever I love enough to give it my life, that’s what I worship.

How I worship it – the methods – changes depending on me and the what. If I was all about Mother Earth, I might be a committed environmentalist. If football was my one, true love, it’s glued I would be to news of it, especially during the season. If I really believed life was all about me, I’d undoubtedly indulge myself terribly and spend far too much time admiring my wondrous attributes. Worship is not, in my opinion, limited to the religious arena, especially since most of us don’t live at church.

We always have the chance to worship, throughout our days, even as we go about our everyday activities. Never mind that those activities frequently feel about as far from spiritually uplifting as the bathroom (just don’t look) does clean. Life is so often a monotonous grind full of tedious tasks. That, or it’s just plain hard, and sometimes, it’s both. What place does worship have there?

I’d like to share with you a fantastic chapter in the New Testament, Colossians 3. The whole chapter is well worth a few moments of study and meditation, but here are two verses particularly pertinent to this discussion. Verse 17 says, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Verse 23 repeats it, saying, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” This could get hokey, I suppose, but accepting that even the most boring or challenging jobs can be presented as an offering to God has certainly made a difference in my life. For example, I work as a nurse’s aide. I got into it because I badly needed a job, not because I wanted – AT ALL – to work in health care, and especially at first, it was really hard. It’s not a job anybody who knew me 15 years ago would have pictured me doing. And there I was, starting a job guaranteed to push many of my easily accessible buttons. I hated it, but I needed to work, and somewhere in there, I ran across Colossians 3. It took a while, but eventually I accepted that what I was doing wasn’t all about the people around me. It was for God, and the… ahem… difficulty of it didn’t have to crush or ruin me. Instead, it was an opportunity for me to grow and practice some of that other stuff we see in Colossians 3, like getting dressed up “with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” It pulled my focus off myself and my struggling and put it on Jesus.

The book of Psalms offers a couple of other helpful nuggets. 119, verses 9 – 11, say “How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. There’s also Psalm 1, which tells us that “Blessed is the one. . .whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and who meditates on his law day and night.” God, in the Bible, has given us so much direction and advice into getting our focus off ourselves and the other distractions and onto Jesus. It’s not enough to simply read it or listen to a sermon on Sunday, though. It must be practiced and tended until it becomes not just words, but a Word living in us.

Now that I’ve blathered on, do share! What is worship to you?