A Season of Thanksgiving

This Sunday, September 22nd, our little church entered a “season of thanksgiving.” Every Sunday from now until Advent, several members of our congregation will stand up, before our congregational prayer time, and name some of the things they are thankful for at this point in their lives. Nothing fancy. Just simple thanks. This is my introduction to that season.

Thanks and HopeMy parents moved recently. This, of course, means that all the boxes that I have stored, out of sight and out of mind, in my parents’ attic for x number of years have come to light – and have come home to roost in my garage. As we sifted through some of their contents, I came across a small disco ball with a tiny pair of Japanese shoes attached to it.

When I lived in BC – 3 years before I moved back to BC to attend Regent College—I went through a deep period of depression. There were a number of circumstances involved, but chief among them: I had just returned from a two and a half month trip to Ethiopia. I returned on an incredible high – sure that God was going to move in my life, sure that big things were going to happen. And they did. Our house burnt down, my childhood home. I had to resign from my job in a very messy set of circumstances – without a safety net. I was unemployed for more than six months, living in my friend’s parents’ home, with no idea how to move forward in any aspect of my life.

It was winter changing to spring at that point. In the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, Canada, this means grey, grey, grey, grey, grey. The weather was no help at all.

I can’t remember how I ended up with my little disco ball. Did someone give it to me? Did I see someone else with one, and track one down for myself? I don’t remember. But I hung it from the rear-view mirror of my little Subaru. Not, I think, with any real purpose; I may have thought it made my car look cool.

And then – one day – the sun broke through the screen of grey. And my car was filled with all these little dancing points of light. And I was so thankful. So thankful just to see the sun. Thankful every moment the sun shone. That little bit of thanks, those little points of light, kept me going through a very dark time.

Then I went to Japan for a year. Again, when I came home I was convinced I would participate in big things. Momentous things. I didn’t. I ended up living back at home with my own parents. With minimal employment. In the middle of a long, cold Albertan winter. Again unsure of how to move forward.

I hung up my little disco ball again – this time adding to it a little cell-phone charm I had purchased somewhere in Japan. A little pair of shoes: a little pair of Geta – Japanese flip-flops (although they are usually made of wood, and so are neither flippy nor floppy) – summer shoes. They reminded me that all I had to do was to keep putting one foot in front of the other; they reminded me – spring will come, darkness will end, winter cannot last forever.

Thanks and HopeThese two things – the disco ball, my little pair of flip-flops – were the only two things that came out of those boxes immediately. Much to Andrew’s annoyance I hung them in our new car immediately, realizing that I need that message again: thankfulness, hope.

I wondered if others might need the same message: simple thankfulness, quiet hope. So we will spend some weeks together, in Bon Accord Community Church, simply telling each other the little things – and sometimes the big things – that make us thankful. Maybe there is some small item, some reminder that can hang in your room, sit on your bedside table, or hang from your rear-view mirror to prompt you to thankfulness, and to keep you putting one foot in front of the other.

We want to be a church, we are a church, that is honest with each other – that lets the cracks show – a church in which the answer to “how are you?” does not always have to be “fine.” Because sometimes you’re not. Sometimes I’m not. But sometimes the darkness that we face, and even the little annoyances we deal with on a daily basis, can become so overwhelming that we see nothing else. We lose sight of the good. We can’t see any more that the sun is shining. But it is! And taking the time to notice that little good might push the darkness back a bit and help us to refocus.

It may be that some of the things others are thankful for are things that you lack. Things you want – maybe desperately. I know that will certainly be the case for me. That’s ok. Because we all, every single one of us, have something, somethings to be thankful for. And if we can be a church that both cries with those who mourn and laughs with those who rejoice – then we will always be a place of welcome. And you might find, maybe you will find, that by taking a moment to celebrate what someone else has, and you don’t have, some of that darkness lessens in you as well. Because it’s out there. There is hope. And even if the sun is not shining over you right now. It’s there. And it’s as bright as ever.

So…
…………………………………………………………………………..
I am thankful for sunshine.
I am thankful for my body:

it will never be on the cover of Vogue, but it works—in a basic kind of way—well enough for me to function and to get things done. I can walk, and run, and jump, and almost reach the highest shelf in my kitchen. I’m kind of happy about that.

I am thankful for my friends and family:

Too many people to mention. None of them are perfect. But they are all a joy – at least some of the time.

I am thankful that I am greeted with joy, exuberance, and great hairy wagginess every time I come home:

Finn (our dog) is pretty great too. ;) Andrew and I have walked through some pretty dark moments together, but somehow we still find the time and energy to be silly with each other. And we still find the time and energy to get out and walk with our dog. I’m so grateful.

Finally, I am deeply thankful for this church:

for the warm, generous, and occasionally raucous crowd we have found ourselves in. And that they have graciously allowed us to lead – even experiment. I am humbled and so very grateful for the opportunity to be here in Bon Accord.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

How about you?

A Liturgy for Easter Sunday: Dry Bones

Taken from John 20 and Ezekiel 37

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry.

So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen.

The Lord asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”

Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”

The disciples went back to where they were staying. But Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.

The angels asked Mary, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

Then the Lord said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.

Jesus asked Mary, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”). Jesus said to Mary, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

Then the Lord said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ Therefore prophesy and say to Israel: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel.”

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”

Say to them: “Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live.”

And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.

Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’”

A Liturgy for Good Friday

Taken from Matthew 27 and Psalm 22

Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” “You have said so,” Jesus replied.  When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer. Then Pilate asked him, “Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?”But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge—to the great amazement of the governor.

Do not be far from me,
for trouble is near
and there is no one to help.

Now it was the governor’s custom at the festival to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was Barabbas. So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed. “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked. They all answered, “Crucify him!” “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!” When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!” All the people answered, “His blood is on us and on our children!” Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed over to be crucified.

Lord, do not be far from me.
You are my strength; come quickly to help me.
Deliver me from the sword,
my precious life from the power of the dogs.
Rescue me from the mouth of the lions;
save me from the horns of the wild oxen.

Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand. Then they knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said. They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. Then they led him away to crucify him.

Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
you are the one Israel praises.
In you our ancestors put their trust;
they trusted and you delivered them.
To you they cried out and were saved;
in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

They took Jesus to a place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). There they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, he refused to drink it. When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. And sitting down, they kept watch over him there.

 Dogs surround me,
a pack of villains encircles me;
they pierce my hands and my feet.
All my bones are on display;
people stare and gloat over me.
They divide my clothes among them
and cast lots for my garment.

Above his head they placed the written charge against him: this is jesus, the king of the jews.

Two rebels were crucified with Jesus, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!”  In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” In the same way the rebels who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.

I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by everyone, despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
they hurl insults, shaking their heads.
“He trusts in the Lord,” they say,
“let the Lord rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
since he delights in him.”

From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest.

When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.” Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.”

Many bulls surround me;
strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.
Roaring lions that tear their prey
open their mouths wide against me.
I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart has turned to wax;
it has melted within me.
My mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
you lay me in the dust of death.

And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open.

You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!
Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!
For he has not despised or scorned
the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
but has listened to his cry for help.

When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!”

All the ends of the earth
will remember and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
will bow down before him,
for dominion belongs to the Lord
and he rules over the nations.

All the rich of the earth will feast and worship;
all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—
those who cannot keep themselves alive.
Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord.
They will proclaim his righteousness,
declaring to a people yet unborn:
He has done it!

 

This Lent, I’m Not Complaining (Except When I Am)

Complain, httpwww.flickr.comphotos20918261@N002053243383

Photo credit: Britta Frahm, (b.frahm on flickr)

This Lent, I’ve been thinking about the 40 years that Israel spent wandering in the desert. Now, I don’t know about you, but when I think of this particular time in Israel’s history, I mostly hear the whining. “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die?” (Ex. 14:11). “There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death” (Ex.16:3).When reading passages in Exodus, I often want to grab Israel with both hands and shake. They have been led, miraculously, by the hand of God, out of slavery and into freedom. So why are they, as God himself names them in what almost reads as a fit of pique, a “stiff-necked people”?

The Nile basin is a fertile strip that travels (for much of its journey) through arid and un-productive land—desert. On satellite maps it shows up a vivid strip of green amidst sand and rock. Leaving this fertile strip, especially as a large group, meant certain struggle and possible death through dehydration and starvation. Perhaps Israel could have trusted God more—but was it really that unreasonable for them to complain?

When I considered what I would give up this Lent, I read through parts of the Exodus story, and through Jesus’ temptation, and I wondered what it would look like to not complain for 40 days. I’m still wondering. My husband seems to rather enjoy drawing my attention to a facial expression, or a snort, or a bald-faced whine. The thing is, I do have some reason to complain—a body still healing from a major surgery, the pain and grief that comes with infertility, a career that has once again taken a sharp left-turn—and my research and experience of biblical lament tells me that it is right and good to direct these complaints to God.

Complaining in itself is not an evil.

Yet these larger, legitimate complaints are not the ones that are difficult to hold back. No, what I can’t seem to stem are the

  Photo credit: kaibara87 on flikr.

This cat is me whining.
Photo credit: Umberto Salvagnin (kaibara87 on flikr).

little sighs and comments when a board game (that’s right, a board game) doesn’t go my way; the groans of an unusually early morning; the whine that develops when one more “roll up the rim” cup (if you’re not Canadian, this will make no sense) tells me politely to “please play again.”

What I have discovered thus far into Lent is that I am a whiney and annoying person. Because—although I have not managed to stop complaining—I am, for the first time, hearing all my complaints. And I have to say, I am at least 200 times more annoying than Israel in the desert. Of course, the main difficulty with these thousands of minor whine-sessions is that they mask an equal number of blessings that I simply stop seeing. When I complain that my numbers aren’t rolling in a board game, I fixate on that and lose sight of the fact that I am able to spend an evening in comfort, with good food, in the company of good friends. That I have the time to play. When I roll myself, groaning, out of bed I forget to be grateful for a job that puts money in the bank and gives me the flexibility to continue to pursue other things. When I whine about not having a winning Tim’s cup, I lose any joy I might experience in drinking the coffee it contains.

Stop Complaining, httpwww.flickr.comphotos1c114230175179

Photo Credit: Alan Turkus (aturkus on flickr).

Maybe, when God called Israel (and us) a stiff-necked people, he meant that we turn our heads and focus in one direction only. We have a tendency to fixate on all the little things we have to complain about and, in doing so, our necks become stiff, and we can no longer turn and see the many millions of blessings—big and small—we experience each day. We lost the ability to be grateful.

So: I am thankful for a husband who points out my complaints (even when I don’t want him to), and who enriches my life with wisdom and a slightly strange sense of humour. I am thankful to be greeted, every time I return home, by Finn the Wonderdoodle, with his painful, whip-like tail wagging and grinning, shaggy face. I am thankful for our home and deck and garden. Although it is March, I am thankful for the beauty of snow piled up in our back yard. I am so grateful for the warm and generous church in which my husband and I serve. I am eternally thankful for an army of close and far friends and family that care for us in every possible way. And for the little things: for popcorn and tea; for a bathtub and hot showers; for a couch that serves as a playground for visiting children; for sudoku and logic puzzles; for my long-underwear that lets me go for walks in the cold; for good books; for chocolate; for so many, many things.

Remaking Christmas

Advent begins next Sunday – but the stores have been decorated and pumping out Christmas music for weeks already. This year makes a record for me: I saw my first tree on August 29. Well done Costco. Each year the music seems to get louder. The tinsel seems more garish. Each year Santa Claus gets bigger, and the manger fades just a little farther into the background. Even in Christian churches. Even in Christian homes. Even in Christian hearts.

That is what makes me saddest.

“How insidiously did the enemy work to slowly hijack Jesus’ birth and hand it over on a silver platter to Big Marketing, tricking His own followers into financing the confiscation? We all know it. We all feel it. Every year we bear this tension. Each December, the world feels off kilter. But in the absence of a better plan or an alternative rhythm or – let’s just say it – courage, we feed the machine yet again, giving Jesus lip service while teaching our kids to ask Santa for whatever they want, because, you know, that’s really what Christmas boils down to.”

A friend of mine shared Jen Hatmaker’s 2011 post “The Christmas Conundrum” on facebook, and I want to share it with you – because it spoke to me, and it might speak to you as well. In it, Jen asks the question: “What if a bunch of us pulled out of the system? What if we said something very radical . . . like: ‘Our family is going to celebrate Jesus this year in a manner worthy of a humble Savior who was born to two poor teenagers in a barn and yet still managed to rescue humanity.'”

What if.

Please follow the link to read the whole post. This woman’s got some great ideas: http://jenhatmaker.com/blog/2011/11/29/the-christmas-conundrum

Advent Readings, 2012

 

 

This year our church is moving through John 1:1-18 for the four weeks of Advent and for our Christmas Eve service. We will be exploring the themes of creation, light, home, glory, and becoming. Each service will begin with a full reading of John 1:1-18, and before the sermon we will use the following readings as we light our Advent candle – followed by the singing of O Come O Come Emmanuel (without the chorus – until we get to Christmas Eve, at which time it will be sung raucously and with great joy several times over!).

 

First Week of Advent, December 2: Creation

John 1:1-3

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.

Lighting of the Candle: We light this candle as a symbol of your life: within us, within your world. We light this candle in the knowledge that without you, there is nothing. You are our life.

Prayer: Dear Lord, we are thankful for your life. We see you everywhere we look: in the beauty you have created, in the relationships you have given us, and in the many blessings we have received from your hand. But we do not live in the fullness of your life. We turn back, time and time again, toward our own sin—toward death. The world you created is mired in oppression, injustice, pain, and death—and sometimes we wonder where you are. You were there at the beginning. You are here now, even in the midst of our darkness. Living God, we long for you to come again and bring the fullness of your life. Come, Lord Jesus, Come.

Congregation Sings: verse one only of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” (no chorus).

 

 

Second Week of Advent, December 9: Light

John 1:4-8

4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.  6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

Lighting of the Candle: We light this candle as a symbol of your light: within us, within your world. We light this candle in the knowledge that without you, there is only darkness. You are our light.

 Prayer: Dear Lord, we are thankful for your light. We see it in the eyes of our children, in the kindness that we are shown, and in the many blessings we have received from your hand. But we do not live in the fullness of your light. Too often we shade our eyes and turn away toward the overwhelming darkness: toward famine, and sickness, and war. But you said “Let there be light“—and the darkness was shot through with the glory of your presence. Bright Morning Star, come again into our darkness and declare the night over, and day begun… Come, Lord Jesus, come.

Congregation Sings: verse one and two only of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” (no chorus).

 

 

Third Week of Advent, December 16: Home

John 1:9-13

9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

Lighting of the Candle: We light this candle as a symbol of your home: within us, within your world. We light this candle in the knowledge that without you we have no home. You are our home.

 Prayer: Dear Lord, we are thankful that you have made your home with us. We find you at home in our conversations, in our actions, and in our thoughts. But we do not always feel at home with you. We do not always recognize you. In the midst of strife and conflict, in the middle of illness and pain, we often don`t see you for who you are. But you have come, and you are coming. You have made us your family, and we long for you to come and live with us again—to sit at our table… Come, Lord Jesus, come.

Congregation Sings: verse one, two, and three only of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” (no chorus).

 

 

 

Fourth Week of Advent, December 23: Glory

John 1:14-18

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”) 16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.

Lighting of the Candle: We light this candle as a symbol of your glory: within us, within your world. We light this candle in the knowledge that without you there is no grace or truth. You are our grace and truth.

 Prayer: Dear Lord, we are thankful that you have revealed your glory to us. We see it in the words you have left for us to follow, in the friendships you have granted us, and each time another person turns to you. But we do not always live according to your glory. Sometimes we look around us and we sink into despair. We are defeated by the suffering and delusion all around us. But you have already won the victory. We long to see your victory brought to completion. Lion of Judah, come quickly to shatter our despair with your grace and truth… Come, Lord Jesus, come.

Congregation Sings: verse one, two, three, and four only of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” (no chorus).

 

 

Christmas: Becoming

John 1:1–18

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

15 (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”) 16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.

 

Lighting of the Candle: We light this candle as a symbol of our faith in you. We light this candle in the knowledge that without you there is no faith. You are our faith.

 Prayer: Dear Lord, we have waited so long. And still we wait. But on this day, on this night we shout into the darkness and declare the victory of your light. For you have come. And by coming you have made us into something more than simply a people waiting in darkness. You have given us your life. You have given us your light. You have made your home with us. You have revealed to us your glory. You have made, and you are making us. You put on human flesh like a robe—wore our fragility like a cloak about you. But more than that. You are fully human. Vulnerable. Weak. But more than that. You are fully God. Powerful. Victorious. Holy God. Lamb of God. Jesus. Thank you… Come, Lord Jesus, come.

Congregation Sings: all verses of  “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” followed by several repetitions of the chorus.

Summing-up the Liturgical Year Experiment

Joan Chittister, “The Liturgical Year”

This past year (liturgical year, that is) I (Stacey Gleddiesmith – SG) have been walking through the Christian seasons with Ian Walden (IW) and Andrea Tisher (AT) – and we have all been walking with Joan Chittister, as we read through her book The Liturgical Year. For the conclusion of this series, I posed a number of questions to Ian, Andrea, and myself about the experience of walking very intentionally through the liturgical calendar this year. I know that some of you have been tracking with us throughout the year – even reading with us. We would love to hear your own answers to some of these questions – so comment away!

  • Is there one moment or event that stands out to you when you think back on walking through the church calendar/liturgical year with Joan Chittister?
    • IW: Advent, particularly the early stages, which bind up all our tiredness from months of following an invisible Jesus in ordinary time, and restore our hopes by uniting them with Israel’s. Joan confirmed Advent as my favourite time of the year, especially by highlighting that it is… the “beginning” of our year. We start by placing the “end” of Israel’s hopes (and ours), the coming of Jesus, right smack in front of our eyes. It sets a very different tone for the year than “New Year” party loneliness, excess, and regret!
    • SG The memory that crystalizes this past liturgical year for me is singing “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today!” and “He Arose” for weeks, rather than one single, solitary time on Easter morning…. Being able to let loose and celebrate fully (and at length) the resurrection of Christ (and therefore our resurrection to come) gave me hope and strength during a dark time in my life. It was an unexpected blessing.
    • AT: For me… Advent was the most memorable because it was also my first Advent in First Baptist Church (Vancouver) and so I was exploring both what Advent means, and what it means to this community, and how we might engage more deeply in the season… Looking back, I’m excited about how we learned to dig deep – and looking forward, I’m excited to do it again and with a little more awareness of who we are as a church and with a little more confidence that they trust me to lead them in new ways of doing things.
  • What did you find difficult about following the liturgical year?
    • AT: … Practically, it is really hard to live the story during Holy Week, when on the Wednesday night, you gather to rehearse all of the resurrection songs for Sunday morning. It’s a bit like skipping through scenes of a movie and then watching them in the wrong order and trying to stay “in” the story… it is a challenge for me on a personal level, but also on a pastoral level as I lead the 60+ musicians involved through that kind of week. I don’t want any of us to miss out on the week, but I also want us to be prepared.
    • IW: My own lack of preparation. Most events (the beginning of Lent, and even Easter day) caught me unawares, despite this advance reading and anticipation with Joan Chittister. By the time I’d realised the significance of the day, it had already passed, and I wasted the season in regret and never-really-getting-started.
    • SG: Being a worship leader, I need to plan for the next liturgical moment while I am both in the midst of the current moment and evaluating the previous moment. It is exhausting to walk this line… and it has caused me to think significantly my planning process (I’m going to try to write a basic plan for the coming liturgical year over the summer). At the same time, this blurring of lines enabled me to not only see, but experience, the connections between the liturgical seasons in a new way. Connect to the accompanying blog post.
  • What practice(s) will you take with you into the following year?
    • SG: Honestly, I don’t think we, as a church, will celebrate every little day and season… We will, however, preserve the seasons of fasting (Advent and Lent) and try to hold back on celebration, taking time to really prepare for it. We will also hang on to the extended seasons of celebration. Now that I’ve experienced an “extended Christmas” and an “extended Easter” I’m not sure I can go back to a one day “pull-out-all-the-stops” kind of celebration…
    • IW: Fasting / conscious preparation in both Advent and Lent (and figuring out the nature of those fasts, and making practical preparations for them [like clearing out the fridge] a week in advance). A “big” Easter (featuring, at least, communal worship times and personal reflections spanning Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, as well as Sunday)
    • AT: The main practice I’d like to take with me is one of “liturgical awareness” that is contagious… I found Chittister to be so inviting… Her descriptions of seasons and practices have such a winsome and attractive way about them… If I could live the seasons a little more the way Chittister describes them, perhaps there would be less need to convince anyone that participation and awareness of the seasons is a good idea.
  • Having walked intentionally through the liturgical calendar, how would you describe its meaning and purpose in the life of the church?
    • IW: It is a continual reminder of our purpose beyond this life. It insists that our lives aren’t just week-by-week, year-by-year survival, but they are witnesses and pioneers of a transposed life, of years after years that will one day (a day that starts now) be lived in a different, higher “key.”
    • AT: The liturgical calendar ensures that the church celebrates the WHOLE story. We don’t spend a whole year in lament or celebration, but follow the cycles which will allow for them both in the context of a story that is central to who we are. The calendar means that Jesus will have to be the focus for much of the year, which hopefully would be true anyway, but it also means that we’ll have to explore some of the less “popular” aspects of His life and ministry – including the idea that we are waiting for him still (Advent) – and to walk a little more slowly through the “death and resurrection” part of the story (Holy Week).
    • SG: After this past year, I understand what Chittister says near the beginning of her book. The slow, cyclical, plod through the life of Christ and the life of the church through the Spirit works as a spiral calling us ever deeper into the life of God. Humanity is designed for repetition. We need to hear the big story over and over – and the liturgical year is a great tool to guide a congregation through and into this meaningful repetition.
  • What would be the value of introducing some of these practices to the “non-liturgical” church, and how would you go about introducing them?
    • SG: The liturgical year is a key way in which you can work to deepen the spiritual life of your congregation. You don’t need all the bells and smells, but I would encourage “non-liturgical” churches to consider how they can rehearse the story: drawing on the liturgical traditions – but reapplying them in a way that suits the personality and character of their specific congregation.
    • IW: Church unity. However much we may disagree about doctrine, it’s harder to distrust and despise one another when we’re all consciously participating in the same acts at the same time. It gives us something in common we can talk about, for starters! Most “non-liturgical” churches plan preaching series in advance and cherish scripture, and so I would start there, consciously aiming to start a new series on the first Sunday of Advent, on Epiphany, in Lent, in Eastertide, and in Ordinary Time…
    • AT: I’m not really in a completely “non-liturgical” setting, so I think for me, it’s about adding strength and depth to our current practices and possibly adding to some of the seasons/days that we tend to treat more lightly. This next year, I’d like us to engage more in Eastertide, with a sense of heading towards Ascension and Pentecost…. I’m also thinking about ways that we might engage in a day like All Saints. Some of my key volunteers have been thinking with me about some creative ways to engage the day, but in a manner that will be more familiar…
  • How did the experience of walking intentionally through the liturgical calendar impact you personally?
    • AT: I found it very special to walk through the seasons thoughtfully and reflectively WITH you two. And my thinking and reflecting with you spilled over into other conversations and relationships too. I think it helped me feel more of a communal engagement. And the beauty of it is the way that the events of our lives match or completely miss-match the season. It means that sometimes we’re in a depression on Easter Sunday. And that’s okay. Or sometimes we’re in the euphoria of relational bliss during Lent. Or we’re experiencing some other life situation that feels “liturgically inappropriate”… as we gather week by week, there are those in our midst who are full of joy, anger, happiness, despair, excitement, anxiety … and so the calendar helps us to engage the whole gamut of human experience. (A bit like the Psalms, really!)
    • SG: Walking intentionally through the liturgical calendar in the company of Joan Chittister, Ian Walden, and Andrea Tischer gave me a fresh understanding of Jesus. The slow intentional plod of the liturgical year, and its focus on Christ, made me feel that I was matching my footprints (along with the others journeying with me) to Jesus’ footprints in the dust.  Stories I have heard all my life, accounts of Christ’s life that I have read almost yearly, came alive in a new way as I tried to walk my congregation through them… the liturgical year awakened in me a desire to measure my life in a new way.
    • IW: It convicted me! Mostly of how I live for deadlines, not for eternity. I time my life by accomplishments, not seasons, or character growth. This year re-awakened me to the scale of transformation I want to see in my life and goals. I don’t want to forget the height of purpose and depth of character that the various seasons call us to. I want my to-do list constantly reduced, effectively, to “walk with Jesus.”