As I sit here pondering the morning with its competing and conflicting signs of the season (daffodils raising their heads amidst a snow squall) two refrains keep coming to mind. The first is the opening line of a contemporary Easter hymn penned by William M. James, “Easter people, raise your voices, sounds of heaven in earth should ring.” Its joyous tone matches its timeless message, “…Christ has brought us heaven’s choices, heavenly music, let it ring, Alleluia! Alleluia!” Those of us who herald the wondrous good news of Easter find our souls resounding with new life by the uplifting mood of this hymn even as the signs of spring revive our sagging spirits.
A matching refrain echoing in my mind this morning is found in the words of the psalmist addressing God, “where morning dawns and evening fades you call forth songs of joy” (Ps 65:8). In pondering life, and the faithfulness of God, the psalmist, too, concludes that the only adequate response for those who recognize God’s `doings’ in the affairs of God’s people is a joyous hymn of praise.
As Easter people, created by God and for God, our lives are in God’s hands. Nothing can separate us from God’s love made known to us in the person of Jesus. Therefore, all life, in all seasons and in all times and places, calls forth `songs of joy.’ “Easter people, let us sing.”
The sun is shining brilliantly this morning, but the wind is cold – even bitter. Yesterday, the temperature reached an all-time high, and today it seems like a new low. Such vacillations in the weather are a hallmark of this time of year when the beguiling warmth of spring is beckoning but the chill of winter is reluctant to loosen its grip.
As impatient as we may be to put winter behind us for another year, it is the warm days and cold nights that make for good sugaring. Isn’t it fascinating how nature creates a virtue out of a necessity; how a time of transition with all of its uncertainties and even pain also carries within it the possibility of new birth.
Perhaps it isn’t an accident that Easter with its great paradoxes is situated in the midst of the changing seasons – that Easter which is grounded in the harsh reality of death gives birth to new life and new hope. It brings to mind the words of Jesus that “…unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” (John 12:24).
As we enter Holy Week in the life of our faith, we stand on the threshold of yet another opportunity to witness again the greatest event our world has ever known – to hear again the sweetest words ever heard around the world, “He is not here; he has risen!”
“In like a lion – out like a lamb.” So goes the saying, and hopefully so goes March this year. While our desires might be for an early spring, old man winter, like old man river, seems to just keep rolling along! Just when we think the saps going to flow, another icy/snowy blast sets us back. But we know that in three or four weeks the cold will give way to warmer breezes and the frost heaves will slowly settle down.
It’s something like that in our church year as well. In February we enter into the season of Lent, a theological time of darkness and cold. That is, it’s a period which the church for centuries has set aside as a time of self-examination and spiritual preparation for the great celebration of Easter. It’s a time of anticipation. Like spring, we know Easter is coming but we can’t hurry it along. Wish and long as we might we can’t hasten the process or shorten the time. It behooves us to utilize the time to our best advantage.
One way to immerse ourselves in the season is in a Lenten study. Or, commit yourself to a personal time of reading again the rich and pivotal chapters (14-17) in John’s Gospel which reveal Jesus’ heart and mind on his last earthly night. Time your study so it will culminate during Holy Week with attendance at a Holy Thursday Communion Service and Good Friday `Service of the Cross’ – both preparing us for the joyous celebration of Jesus’ victory over the grave.
Today the thermometer climbed over 32 – first time in a long time. A real January thaw (however short-lived)! Although the weather has been snow/cold/snow for the last eight weeks, the cold spell the past couple of weeks seems to have slowed the pace a little. And what the snow/cold couldn’t accomplish, the flu bug did! Actually, I suspect the `slow-down’ has been a welcomed (albeit grudging) relief for many following the hectic pace leading up to and through Christmas. Instead of being a time for quiet reflection and marveling, the Christmas season (at least for more than a few) has become a time of heightened activity, stress, and exhaustion. I sometimes wonder why we need to be forced to slow-down, relax, and rest.
As we enter into that period in the church year sometimes referred to as `Ordinary Time’ (the season between Advent/Christmas and Lent/Easter) it’s a great time to occasionally sit back, put your feet up (either literally or figuratively) and ponder. It’s a built-in time to reflect on what has been happening in our lives spiritually and in the life of our church this past year. It’s a good time to ponder where we want to be (individually and collectively) this time next year, and what it will take to get us there.
Perhaps it’s not so surprising that our Lord found it necessary to get away from the crowds (and even his disciples) at times in order to commune with God and gain insight as to God’s desire for him. I suspect each of us needs such time for ourselves – weekly, if not daily. Our bodies need it, our minds need it, and our spirits need it.
Once upon a time God – the God of Noah – the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – the God of Moses, Miriam, and Aaron – the God of the Prophets – the God who formed a covenant (more than once) with the Hebrew people to be their God if they would be a faithful people – took stock (possibly for the umpteenth time).
“What will it take for my beloved earth children to know without a doubt how much I love them and care for them – and how I long for them to know the truly full life that can be theirs? I’ve tried time and again in different ways and through a whole host of messengers (both earthly and heavenly) to make my love known to them. And yet, they fear my name. Some ignore me, and others don’t even believe I exist – just because they can’t see me. I know, I’ll become one of them – and then surely they’ll recognize how I love them and how my Spirit is with them at all times.”
And so the unseen God set about to prepare the world for a visit.
Now the story of that visit is a story of the God who comes. It’s a familiar story – having been told and retold for nearly two thousand years. It’s a gentle, homely story that never grows old for those who have been touched by the unseen God. And it’s even said that the story isn’t finished yet – that the unseen God is still entering into the lives of those who continue to hear and tell the story of God’s coming in time.
The story is being told again in word and song in countless churches around the world on the night we call Christmas Eve. In fact, word is that it’s even being told in Georgia, Vermont at the Methodist Church – beginning at 5:30 pm. And perhaps – just perhaps – the God who comes will enter again into the hearts of those who are gathered to tell and hear THE STORY of the God who comes.
I can begin to feel it already. With Halloween behind us and Thanksgiving already at the door, the pace is beginning to quicken. Just as the cold nights and dusting of snow signals that winter is descending upon us, so too the ‘holiday’ season is advancing at a relentless pace.
It used to be that Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade signaled the beginning of the Christmas shopping season, and the lights and displays appeared as the merchants enticed us to ‘shop early’ and avoid the rush. Is it just my imagination, or does each year find the beginning of the buying season inched ahead yet a little earlier? A relative announced recently that her Christmas shopping was already done – save one gift!
Do you ever find yourself wondering, as I sometimes do, how to fully enter into and savor the experiences of ‘now’ – of that which is at-hand – without looking beyond the present to that which is to come? It seems that it is increasingly difficult. While it is neither possible not to look ahead nor prudent not to plan ahead, we tend to increasingly miss the moment.
I am more and more convinced of the truth of the statement that “there are no yesterdays in the spiritual life.” That is, God can only encounter us in the present moment. If we are unable to (or don’t) enter into and savor the moment, perhaps we’ll miss God’s touch – perhaps we won’t recognize how (or even that) God is present with us.
As individuals and a community of faith we have the opportunity to enter into and savor the moment of thanksgiving (of ‘giving thanks’) for all that God has done, is doing, and will do in our lives. Perhaps you will join with your church family in savoring the moment of thanksgiving this year as we join with our Christian neighbors in a special Thanksgiving Worship experience on Sunday evening, November 23th at 7:00 pm at the Georgia UMC Church.
“I am the church! You are the church! We are the church together!” In singing these words on Laity Sunday (October 26th), we express a key element in our understanding of what the ‘church’ is, namely the people. By setting aside a special time each year when our Sunday worship experience is led entirely by the lay (i.e., non-clergy) members of the congregation we seek to demonstrate that the church is not just a building, a program, an organization, or even a hierarchy of workers (clergy and lay). We seek to proclaim that the church is none other than the gathering of those who have responded to God’s invitation in Jesus the Christ to be God’s witnesses in the world. By our baptism we are all called to witness by word and deed to what God has done and is doing in our lives and in the world.
If we were to define the church in biblical terms we would speak of being the body of Christ, the fellowship of believers, or a community of faith. In theological terms, we might speak of being a part of the ‘church universal,’ the ‘church triumphant,’ or the ‘church invisible.’ In each instance we are affirming that we belong to something (and Someone) greater than a particular congregation or denomination. We are declaring our allegiance to God as revealed in and through the person of Jesus the Christ, and our relationship to all (in every age and place) who share this allegiance. In short, ‘it’s bigger than both of us’ – or all of us combined!
As I ponder these things I get excited about the significance (and insignificance), the privilege (and responsibility), the hope (and dismay), and the joy (and sorrow) of being the church. What excites you about being the church?