There are times when I say to myself, “I got it. I got this Christianity thing!” And then something happens and I realize, “Opps, I don’t got it.” Today was on one of those days.
As I went to church I was doing two things that might seem contradictory on the surface but both stemmed from the same trunk. First I was throwing a little bit of a pity party for myself. And at the same time I was patting myself on the back for being humble at the start of Holy Week. I wasn’t in the building 10 minutes before God called me on my crap in both circumstances. The answer to my pity party was a reminder (courtesy of one of the people at church) of what incredible blessings I have right here and now. The answer to my self back-patting was the unmasking of my own arrogance in the light of some of the very blessings I was being reminded of.
It was as if two explosions went off in different places of my brain at the same time. It felt like God saying, “Now that we’ve cleared the ground and I’ve got your attention, are you ready to listen?” By the grace of God I was able to say yes and then a lot of thigns lept to life for me in today’s liturgy.
The reading of the triumphal entry from Luke’s Gospel hit me. The last thing Jesus says in that reading is, “If they were silent, the rocks would cry out.” God can makes rocks speak, Carla. So drop your unhealthy pride over your ability to speak. so I need not be so proud of my ability to do so.
The opening hymn (All Glory Laud and Honor) drew me into a vision of Palm Sundays from my childhood and youth. It opened a doorway that allowed me to lay down this picture of myself as professional-worship-leader-watching-worship and enter into the experience of worship for worship’s sake. I wasn’t even aware that I had taken on the role of professional-worship-leader-watching-worship until I was laying it down.
Then came the first reading. I heard the first verse:
The Lord GOD has given me
the tongue of a teacher,
that I may know how to sustain
the weary with a word.
I said, “Yes, that’s me.” And then the reading continues to say:
Morning by morning he wakens–
and your expect to hear, “wakens my voice or my tongue.” But instead we hear:
wakens my ear
to listen as those who are taught.
The Lord GOD has opened my ear,
and I was not rebellious,
Words for me to take to heart. I think it’s true. The Lord has given me the tongue of a teacher that I might sustain the weary with a word.” However that makes it more incumbent on me to listen and to listen well.
The next thing that grabbed me was the Psalm of the Day. With its first person narrative of suffering it called out for me my own personal suffering (past and present) and, since we were all chanting it together, it called out for me the sufferings (past and present) of everyone in that church–most of the sufferings I’m completely unaware of. This created something rare for me; a sense of shared experience around suffering.
When I think about my own suffering that tends to make me feel separate from a group. I think of the suffering I have to deal with as a result of racism or trans-mysgongyn. I think of how my suffering is different from the suffering of others. However today I was able to experience suffering as individual and (oddly) unifying.
Then came the second lesson. It was the reading my Philippians that is about Christ emptying himself. I know that lessons well. I committed that passage to memory long ago. Today what got me was that the reason he is highly exalted is because he humbled himself not because he demonstrated some great power or ability. It hit me again that if I want to walk with Jesus the road to the glory I desire leads through humility and not accomplishment. That is so un-American.
Yes, I admit it. I want to be great in the kingdom of God. There! I said it. I’ve got ambitions and I want to reach them. And God seems to be saying that there is a way to greatness but it’s through servanthood and the greatness you seek might not be the greatness God wants for you. The road to Easter leads through Good Friday. I know that but I keep wanting to jump to Easter and skip Good Friday.
Then came the reading of the Passion. For the first time in years I didn’t have a voice in that reading and I didn’t have to say anything after it. Thankfully what was on my mind was to simply listen. As it was read I found myself weeping and weeping and weeping. The story hasn’t touched me like that in years. It was a mercy to have that opportunity.
The sermon was right on target. The Dean talked about the liturgies of the week. He said that this week is not about being an audience watching actors up front. He spoke of the liturgies as our work for the week. He pulled no punches. He said it’s hard work and it won’t be fun. At the same time he made it clear that going to church or not going to church doesn’t change God’s love toward us. We can’t earn more of it or lose any of it based on our church performance. I really appreciated his sermon.
The Eucharist gave me time and context for absorbing all of this. I had a chance to begin to sort all of this. And I needed it.
As communion was ending we sang “O Sacred Head Sore Wounded.” I couldn’t even get through verse one. It’s such an intimate hymn. All I could do was listen as the assembly sang and I melted. I was thankful for the chance to leave is silence. I was full. I couldn’t talk to anyone if I wanted to. I was also thankful that my husband wouldn’t be home when I got back from church because I couldn’t have talked to him either. I needed to be by myself.
Now it is two hours since that liturgy ended. I’m just now getting to a place where I am ready to talk to another human being again. If the heavens are silent and God doesn’t say another thing all the rest of the week, I will say this was one of the most remarkable Holy Weeks of my life.