During this Holy Week, we decided to share a piece by a 2003 Valpo alum and one of Deaconess Kristin’s seminary classmates, Pastor Tim Brown. When reflecting on the gift and invitation of Holy Week (amidst the busyness for those of us at the Chapel) his reflection really resonated. You are invited to join us at the Chapel over the next few days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Vigil, and Easter Sunday. May these days be a time where you can experience the presence of God and the gift of new life.
April 17, 2019
A parishioner sent me this lovely poem by Mary Oliver a few weeks ago. I’d read it before, but for some reason it spoke something new to me at this time of my life:
When I moved from one house to another
there were many things I had no room
for. What does one do? I rented a storage
space. And filled it. Years passed.
Occasionally I went there and looked in,
but nothing happened, not a single
twinge of the heart.
As I grew older the things I cared
about grew fewer, but were more
important. So one day I undid the lock
and called the trash man. He took
I felt like the little donkey when
his burden is finally lifted. Things!
Burn them, burn them! Make a beautiful
fire! More room in your heart for love,
for the trees! For the birds who own
nothing–the reason they can fly.
Holy Week is that week where the church asks you to show up Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and yes, Sunday. And we do this not out of piety or necessity, but because of opportunity.
Holy Week is the opportunity that the church gets to unload all of the things that you’ve locked away in the storage shed of your soul. And it gets full every year…you don’t realize it, but it gets full.
And in hearing about Jesus’ last supper, the crucifixion, the hope, the love, the abandonment, the genuine heartache and heartfelt passion–Christ’s “passion” is not just his suffering, but is even more so his deep, abiding love for humanity–in hearing all of this we actually get that lock broken open for us and God, like Mary Oliver’s “trash man,” comes and burns it all in the new dawn of resurrection hope that we honor with a new fire at the Easter Vigil, and celebrate with trumpets on Easter morning.
And here’s the thing: every year I don’t just clean out the stuff in my spiritual storage shed from the previous year. Some years? Some years something from way back when, hiding in the corner of my spiritual storage shed, a thought, a memory, a dogma or doctrine long dead in my heart but still present in my head, gets cleaned out, too.
Because the storage shed of our soul has many nooks and crannies. And though we move theologically (after all, if we believe at 50 what we believed as 5, we haven’t truly lived), and though we move spiritually (prayers and practices evolve), we often hang on to things because we’re not sure what to do with them.
And at Easter the tomb is emptied. Which means that all dead things are given the opportunity to get cleaned out for new life.
But I don’t think it happens fully every year if we don’t honor all of Holy Week. The whole story is needed to truly break that lock. Easter without Good Friday is just optimism. Good Friday without Easter is just nihilism. And either without Maundy Thursday miss the bittersweet, unrequited love present in the story of God in Christ.
And the Easter Vigil? My friends…the Easter Vigil is where the church gathers around a campfire to tell resurrection stories deep into the night until they become true again. It’s like when the family gathers in the waiting room of the hospital, consoling one another and playing back good memories, until they hear news from the operating table.
From Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday the whole movement of the resurrection orchestra each plays its own part, and each does its own thing, in clearing out your spiritual shed.
Shame? You don’t need it. You’re a new creation at Easter.
Vapid optimism? You don’t need it. You have real passion, and real resurrection in the cross.
Abandonment? God’s been there, experienced that, so you’re never alone.
Anxiety? In the silence of Holy Saturday we learn to fill our time with stories of assurance.
Literalism, fundamentalism, hurt from the past? God’s story of redemption is so much bigger than any one story…it’s why the Bible contains four accounts of it. And that past that hurts you still? Maybe it, too, can be left behind like those grave clothes in the empty tomb.
Holy Week makes more room in your heart for love. For the tree of the cross. For the beautiful new fire of the Easter Vigil.
And you, like the birds who own nothing, can fly into resurrection life with the Christ who won’t even let death stop us, by God.
Pastor Tim Brown is a 2003 graduate of Valparaiso University. Senior Pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Raleigh, NC. Father, husband, writer, occasional beer brewer. You can find more of his writings and sermons at https://endlessfalling.wordpress.com/