Confession time: I have not taken my Christmas decorations down yet.
December and January have gone by in a blur for me, packed tightly with extra services, writing new music, making the high holidays of Christmas and Epiphany special, setting up prayer stations, baking bread, sewing new stoles, attending tea parties and ordination services and meetings, wrapping and shipping packages, and frequently apologizing to the cat for standing her up for our evening cuddle appointments. (Don’t feel sorry for her. She is a very thoroughly spoiled cat who just happens to have mastered the sad meow. Cute little con artist!)
Yes, even for pastors, it can be hard to really live in the moment during the holidays and appreciate all the spiritual nuances of the transitions between Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany.
The cycle of the Christian year, beginning with Advent and going from Pentecost into ordinary time until the cycle begins again, essentially squishes all thirty-three years of Jesus’ life into one single year of church life: every year, Jesus is born and every year, Jesus dies. I just did the math, and if we condensed the events of Jesus’ life into 365 days, Jesus would age at the rate of about three years every month. I don’t often do math voluntarily, so please take a moment to appreciate those numbers.
This year, I wanted to slow Lent down a little bit so that we can really savor the joy of Easter. Lent used to be a time of fasting—less food, less flavorful food, more guilt, more prompting to confess our sins—and in some churches, it still is, but the early Reformers from Martin Luther into the next generations of leaders have not commemorated Lent with fasting. Our church tradition does not require for us to “give something up” for Lent or to skip meals, although those can still be meaningful spiritual practices if we choose to take them on.
Holy Week—the week between Palm Sunday and Easter, when the plot thickens and the arrangements for Jesus’ death fall into place—was once remembered with daily church services. Attendance at church for eight days straight is an awful lot to ask, though, with today’s complicated schedules, but each day of Holy Week remembers an action-packed story that often gets lost for people who are only able to attend church on Sundays.
For the six Sundays in Lent this year, we will be going through each of the days of Holy Week, which means that we will celebrate Palm Sunday early by having it on the first Sunday, March 10th. The next Sunday will remember the events of the next day, the following Sunday will remember the events of the day after that, so that the last Sunday before Easter will remember the story of the crucifixion, the burial, and the silence of the tomb.
I know it might seem a little weird at first to be doing things on a different timeline, but I think that our close look at the days of Holy Week will give us a good opportunity to walk alongside Christ during his final days.
Along with our Holy Week series for Lent 2019, we will be having a time after services for adult education that loosely tie in to the themes of the morning. I’m still trying to arrange for some guest speakers, so stay tuned for more details coming soon, but as we thematically approach the death of Jesus, it seems like as good a time as any to think about and plan for our own. What do you think might be said about you in your obituary? What do you want to happen to your body after you die? Have you had conversations about medical decisions and advance directives? Where should your stuff go? What should your funeral look like? What is a good death? Funerals happen to be a particular passion of mine (yes, I have been told that I have weird passions) and I’m excited to share with you about why I feel passionate about something that seems so depressing. You don’t have to come if you feel uncomfortable and you don’t have to come to every class, but I hope to start a conversation within our church, our families, and our community about death: the final and universal end to what it means to be alive.
I hope that the upcoming season of Lent is a meaningful one for us all and I hope that many of us can walk alongside each other as we accompany Jesus on his last few days.
Plans are still underway for a joint Ash Wednesday service with Saline Presbyterian and their choir, a Maundy Thursday supper, and the annual community Good Friday service, so please keep an eye out for further announcements. With bell choir practices, weekly Bible studies, various meetings, fellowship events, monthly movie nights, and more on top of Sunday services, our church is a pretty busy place most of the week!
shalom and agape,
Rev Leia Rose Battaglia