Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Lenten Ruminations

Usually, I have used this space to post my weekly sermons and monthly newsletter articles, although this year for Lent, we did a series about rehab at Community UMC and because of the highly personal nature of the stories shared in the series, chose not to post the sermons from Lent this year.  

We began our time of Lent in the wilderness, reflecting on the things that tempt us and where we too may find ourselves in the wilderness.  We then talked about our need for intervention, whether it's God intervening, or people who love us so much that they intervene to keep us from doing harm to ourselves or others.  The third week, we talked about working the program, linking The Ten Commandments to how we work the program of our faith, but how we may have had to work the program through therapy or 12-steps, etc..  We then heard a powerful story about recovery, thinking about how we can make it through some of the challenges life throws at us, ultimately leading to promise as we await the hope and promise of new life and hope that Easter brings.  

Now, we find ourselves in the midst of Holy Week, as we journeyed with Jesus as he made his triumphant entry into Jerusalem with shouts of Hosanna!!  I also felt a sense of triumph last week, as I was recommended for commissioning as a provisional elder in the UMC by the Great Northern District Committee on Ordained Ministry, which is the next step in the UMC's ordination process.  So, I was still feeling the afterglow of a nice celebration by the church council over the weekend and a beautiful, moving, and powerful morning of worship on Palm Sunday.  

However, a turn of events has given Holy Week a whole different meaning for me and many in my family this year, as things can change in an instant and turn our world upside down.  While in the midst of a Lenten study at the church on Monday, I received text from my aunt in Wisconsin which I planned to respond to when the study was over.  However, I got a phone call from my mom and knew something was up when she told me that my second oldest first-cousin on her side passed away in his sleep on Sunday night, totally unexpected.  

Talk about a moment where after being on a spiritual high and glowing from being recommended for commissioning and after a powerful, meaningful Palm Sunday worship service, then having the feeling as if the rug had been pulled out from underneath and having our world shaken!!  I'm still finding myself trying to sort through my feelings this morning, as there is sadness, anger, questions of "why?," and some guilt that I feel.  I wasn't all that close to my cousin, yet we still had that familial love and last saw him a month after I moved here when he was up camping at Lake Almanor, yet kept in touch through Facebook and Instagram.  My heart breaks most for my aunt, his dad, his wife, and his young adult daughter and son, and the fact he won't get to meet his grandson who is due in a few more months.  Talk about a world being shaken for everyone, plus our family has had some other losses this year, including a 100 year-old great-aunt who was the last surviving member of her generation.  

Likewise during Holy Week, we live through a range of emotions, ranging from the drama and tension of the day of Jesus's entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, where the calls of Hosanna will only change later in the week to "crucify him," followed by Jesus's death on the cross on Friday.  Just imagine being in Jesus's shoes where things are triumphant, then the crowd turns.  Yet the world would never be the same after that week either, as we have the Good News that neither death, nor sin have the final word and that nothing can separate us from God's love when we live into the promise of Easter.  

As I reflect on this Holy Week and my cousin's sudden passing, it's not without hope and it's definitely not without grace either.  Jesus gives us the hope of new life and resurrection, even though it does not diminish our earthly grief whenever we experience loss.  Look at Mary Magdalene on that first Easter morning, weeping outside the tomb three days after Jesus was placed inside, along with the wailing and weeping of the women as he died on that cross.  Yet once they encounter the risen Christ, their mourning becomes dancing.  That is where we can find our hope too!!  

In a year of  several big losses for my church and with my family having lost a couple great-aunts and a couple family friends since this began, we still grieve, as grief is a long road, with many ups and downs, good days, and bad days.  And yet amidst the grief, we can still have this hope of resurrection and eternal life when we put our faith, trust, and hope in Christ, even though some days are harder than others (just being real there).  It doesn't mean we aren't praying hard enough or showing enough faith in the bad days, as it's part of our normal human nature and bad days will happen.  We need to be sure we show grace for ourselves in those moments too and remember that when it rains and pours, there will be sunshine in the morning too!! 

As we continue this journey through Holy Week and into the new hope and life that Easter can bring, what part of our lives do we need to put our trust, faith, and hope in Christ?  What are some of the shortcomings and things in your life that you need to die with Christ in order to rise to new life and wholeness?  Where are you in need of grace and mercy?  

Let keep on this path, one foot in front of the other as love leads our way to Easter.  

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