Sunday, April 23, 2017

What happened to "Happy Easter"?

I remember being told when I was younger that as you get older time goes by faster. It used to be the three months of summer vacation from school flew by. It hardly seemed like I had gotten out of school in  the middle of June when it was time to go back again after Labor Day. Now the same period of time drags a little, mainly because of the heat here in Arizona, but it still seems to go fairly quickly when I look back on it. It's because I'm getting older I guess, but I wonder what has programmed to me to feel this way? Another mystery I have to investigate.

For instance, here it is, the middle of April, and I'm wondering why it feels like Christmas was just last week. I like Christmas, and it seems like lots of other people like Christmas too because all through December, while my denomination celebrates Advent and tries to avoid saying "Christmas" in terms of greetings, the world, even non-Christians, will often greet one another with "Merry Christmas."

There has been talk for years that there is what they call, "War on Christmas," where allegedly people are discouraged from using the word "Christmas" and especially "Merry Christmas," and encouraged to be a little more diversified, like "Happy Holidays," which, at least, has the intimation of covering all celebrations occurring in the time roughly between Christmas Day and New Year's and a bit beyond. It really isn't a war on Christmas. People say it all the time, in fact they say it usually for the whole month of December up until December 25. After December 25 world cuts out Christmas and goes on to Happy New Year. By Christmas Eve at midnight, the stores are already filling up with Valentine cards and what have you. Christmas Day? It's over, let's move on.

In a church which believes in the 12 days of Christmas ending on Epiphany on January 6, this can be somewhat discouraging. We are just getting started with the celebration of  Christmas when everybody else is finished. We don't hear Christmas carols for us; we heard them during Advent, but that's only on the radio, in the stores, and in a lot of churches. We never hear them in our church, not until December 24th. There are other denominations that are the same. Yet still come December 25th, we seldom hear "Merry Christmas" for the full 12 days of the season.

But how about the season that we're in now, the Easter season? During Holy Week, the week preceding Easter, people will accept a greeting of "Happy Easter," and Easter cards, endless candy and chocolate rabbits and even chocolate crosses are presented to be consumed beginning on Easter Sunday, some of it allegedly given by the Easter Bunny. But Easter Sunday, like Christmas Day, cuts off for the rest of the world and we keep going.

Easter for us is a season of 50 days, lasting up until Pentecost which is about the end of May. Like Christmas, though, we don't really use the phrase "Happy Easter" after Easter Sunday. I wonder why that is? We don't say it the week before because we have to go through the progression of Holy Week with the adulation on Palm Sunday, focus on Judas on Tenebrae, foot washing and the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday, the crucifixion and entombment of Christ on Good Friday, the waiting of Holy Saturday, and then finally on Saturday night and Sunday morning we celebrate Easter like the biggest birthday party ever. The Sunday after Easter is often called  "Low Sunday" for a  reason. People often feel that they've gotten their church ticket punched during Holy Week and Easter Sunday and that makes them good until Christmas.  But nobody really says "Happy Easter, even this close to the day. We still have, what, six more weeks of Easter season? Why aren't we saying "Happy Easter" more often, and not just saving it for one special occasion?

During Lent and the rest of the church year, Easter is commemorated every Sunday. We celebrate a little Easter, we remember that the resurrection came on a Sunday, and we sort of go through a bit of Holy Week every Sunday morning in our liturgy. There is a  procession, not necessarily waving palms, when the ministers enter the church and remind us of the procession into Jerusalem. We move on to the Eucharist which is the celebration of Jesus giving us his body and blood from the Maundy Thursday celebration. And then, like Christ arising from the tomb, we're sent out into the world to take the light and the message to the world itself. You know, though, we still don't say, "Happy Easter."
Maybe it's a picky one thing. I mean, in the greater scheme of things, how important is it that we say "Happy Easter" ? For that matter, how important is it that we say "Merry Christmas"? Or "Happy Hanukkah" (although we do it during the 8 days of Hanukkah, oddly enough). Or even using a specific greeting for Kwanzaa or any of the other religious celebrations that focus around that same time, and believe me, there's a lot more than one or two. So why is important for us to remember to say "Happy Easter"?

I think for me it's the recognition that we are still in a celebratory period. We are Easter people, and this is our season. Granted, Christmas is important, because if Jesus hadn't been born, we would not have Easter in the first place, or at least Easter as we know it. The idea is putting something out into the world with words that people can hear.  Granted probably 90 people out of 100 will be thinking a person saying "Happy Easter" at toward the end of May is probably really weird. Never mind that the Orthodox are quite often week behind us on Easter, so we have a legitimate reason for saying it to all our Orthodox brothers and sisters even after we, like the stores, have packed up Easter and started to move on towards whatever comes next.

What if we actually said Happy Easter" to someone? Maybe it would prompt them to ask us why, and, there's our chance for some evangelism because we could tell them precisely why. 

This week I think I'm going to try saying it to somebody. I may start off small, like my next-door neighbor, a devout Christian lady, who might be curious as to why I'm saying that. Of course, if she reads this, she'll know why, but still, after I do something once it's a lot easier to do something a second time. I may use it with my Education for Ministry groups this week, just see how they react.

He is risen, the focus message of Easter and all the little Easters that come after it. We celebrate it all year, so why not use the phrase at least during the official liturgical season?  It might give us an opportunity to do a little evangelism?  Maybe it would be a turnoff for some, who knows? It might just open some conversational doors. This week I'm going to try it. May I invite you to do the same? We can always give it up at Pentecost, and Christmas will be here before you know it.

God bless -- and Happy Easter.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, April 22, 2017.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

To Be a Fool

We are fools for Christ sake but you are wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are distinguished, we are dishonored! — 1 Corinthians 4:10 NKJV

April Fools' Day, the day to prank just about anybody you can think of. By prank I don't  mean doing something mean or hurtful to somebody, but rather some simple joke like putting a fake spider in their water glass or something similar. It's like a kid limping into the room, nearly in tears, saying, "Mommy, I got hurt!" and then, when mommy goes all sympathetic and tries to help, the child jumps up and says "April Fools!"  Sometimes you wonder.

The Bible uses the word "fool" a number of times, 66 in the KJV alone.  "Fool" in the Jewish tradition usually meant stupid, vile, or wicked. From the Greek, it added unbelieving, unwise, egotistical, rash, or mindless. Today's definition adds someone acting unwisely or imprudently, a silly person, or any of a number of synonyms, many of which have connotations of someone who with mental challenges, pejoratives that really have no place in a world that we are trying to make into the Kingdom of God on earth.

What I think Paul is talking about is going against the culture of the time, any time. It's in the impracticality, a countercultural move, even something that can be very dangerous, especially in the days when after Jesus's death and resurrection, where persecution of Christians was starting to be a fact of life. They were considered fools because they didn't stick with the traditional Jewish teachings and worship, even though many still went to worship at the synagogues and some even did the offerings at the temple until it was burned in 70 A.D. Little by little much of the Jewish influence was weaned out of Christianity or, as they called it, the Way, and they appeared more foolish than ever. It was foolishness to actually refused to worship Caesar is a God, no matter which religion the person was, and especially with armed soldiers standing right there and your very words and actions were most probably condemning you to death. That was foolishness. Those who felt that they were wise bent the knee to Caesar but then, in the back rooms of their homes and those of their friends and neighbors, they participated in Christian worship. Their foolishness was not trusting in God and living honestly, if apparently foolishly.

Today we look at foolishness as not following the status quo, full. Foolishness is standing with people at Standing Rock in their attempt to protect the water. It could have cost every one of them their lives, but yet they were fools for Christ, or the native peoples, or perhaps  for the water itself that was precious to not only our First Nation people but to all of those who depend on that stretch of water to provide them with clean drinking water. Foolishness is standing for an organization that most people connect with abortion, but which in reality does far more for reproductive health, not just for women but also for men who might not be able to afford care or treatment or diagnosis without the help of that organization. It is considered foolishness for African-Americans to follow in the path of Martin Luther King Jr. and to use what he had taught them to protest the killing of innocent people just because of their skin color or the possibility that they might be bent on doing some kind of mischief. 

The appearance of being foolish is a stigma nobody really wants to have to wear. Being foolish is really a form of insult, as if a person did not have the wit or the intelligence or the savvy to be like everyone else around them and do things the "normal" way. Being a musician is foolish, because who wants to hear a symphony when you can go down to the nearest street corner and be almost drowned in sound by boom boxes, amplified guitars and overpowering drum sets. It's foolish to fight for school lunch programs for children and Meals on Wheels for elders who are unable to get to the store or perhaps cook for themselves. Children can't learn as well when they're hungry, and elders are often ignored because they are old, they don't have a value in terms of work, or they may be too ill or infirm to make much of a contribution to the general welfare. There are so many ways to be foolish now.

Perhaps it's time for us to reclaim the foolishness and to admit that we are foolish at times. Mostly it's a negative. Jesus encouraged us to be foolish, not by pranking others or being impractical,  although he did call the religious hierarchy names that corresponded with foolish or fool because of their stubbornness and spiritual blindness. Where Jesus encouraged us to be foolish is to not care what the neighbors think, but rather to do what is right and what is needed to make this kingdom of God come alive now and not just at some future point in time.

It's time to be as foolish as possible in the name of Christ. It's easy enough for me to look foolish, but what I really need to be as Christlike as possible. Maybe I can't walk from place to place like an itinerant to preacher like Jesus did, but I can work to make others more aware of the value of being foolish, being countercultural, being unlike those around us who only care for the material or what benefits them and the heck with everyone else.

This week, go thou and be foolish for Christ sake. Do what thou canst for others and glorify God for the wisdom of that foolishness. God bless. 

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café  Saturday, April 1, 2017.

Being Disconnected

Tomorrow we celebrate Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week. Tomorrow commemorates Jesus' ride into Jerusalem accompanied by people waving palms and laying them on the roadway for the colt he was riding to walk on. It was meant to be a celebration similar to a conquering hero arriving in the city, and there were crowds there to observe it, cheering and yelling "Hosanna!" It must have been quite a day.

After thinking about it a bit, I wondered what would it be like today if Jesus came into town, maybe driving a white convertible. Probably people would be so busy taking selfies and videos that wouldn't matter who this person was. There would be a lot of people looking and a lot of people recording the event for their walls and webpages, but I wonder if they were would stop to hear what he had to say, or would they be just so busy looking for a photo op or maybe a selfie with the celebrity himself, it wouldn't  matter what he said. The important thing was that they got the image and used it to impress their own followers. 

The world has changed a lot, I don't think anybody is denying that. Mobile generation, mobile civilization, we have instant communications so that if war breaks out, we know instantly. We don't have to wait a week for a message to get to our town from some central place where they knew what was going on. Oh no, we are connected. We check the number of friends we have on Facebook, the number of connections we have on LinkedIn, and the number of responses that we get to blog posts and whatever. Oh yes, we're connected. But if we stop and think about it, do we know our next-door neighbor's name? What about people two houses down? Do we know who they are? 

No matter how much we are connected on instant media, we are still disconnected from our fellow human beings. Walking through a store or down the street, waiting in line at the post office -- everybody is so busy paying attention to their cell phone and who is texting what that there is none of the free conversation that used to be possible in those situations. Now, if someone says something to someone in line at the grocery store, or in passing, or even sitting on a park bench feeding the ducks, it's very unusual for people to strike up a conversation. We have become disconnected, no matter how much we say we are connected.

Lent is a time that we usually think about connection. We may pray more, go to church more, participate in church activities, take on Lenten duties like helping at a food bank or doing volunteer work for some organization or other as a way of taking up Jesus' cross and maybe making it a little lighter for him. Now that connects us with other people and hopefully it connects us with God a little more. We find ourselves so busy these days that it's really difficult to connect with God as easily as we can our best friend across the country on Twitter,  Instant Messenger, Facebook, or texting. And , there's usually a fairly instantaneous reply. With God, though, there may be quite a wait, and an answer may never come in a way we can easily identify. So what we do is  say "Okay ," and go on to the next thing, like if we called someone and only got a busy signal.  

Of course, that's not the way it's supposed to be. Yes, we may have an increase in pious activities during Lent, but what about when Easter comes? Palm Sunday is the run-up, but Easter is the big event. On Easter Sunday at church, the place is jammed to the rafters and you see a lot of people that you haven't seen since last Christmas for even last Easter. It's a kind of reconnection but it's a temporary reconnection. We were told and taught to go to church on those days, even if our families were particularly religious, and that's the way we do it. Then we off the hook until next Christmas or Easter. We can disconnect again and return to our other "connected" lives. 

What of the connection between us and God? And also between us and our neighbors? Of course, we're supposed to be doing this all year, but it doesn't always work that way, not in our busy lives when we barely have time to say hello to the kids, get dinner ready before it's time to go to bed. Maybe we need to do is disconnect from our connections and reconnect with one that really matters.

I've been having Internet problems with connection for the last two months. Connected, disconnected, and then the cycle repeating itself over and over again. It's frustrating, I have things I need to do online, it's important that I get these things done, but how can I do it if I keep getting disconnected? The answer is go on to the next thing to which I can and at some point in time I'll be reconnected and get as much done as I can.

With God it's a little different. With God, this connection is always on our end. God doesn't disconnect from us, we disconnect from God, and many times this God dis-connection is our perception rather than actuality. It's like taking pictures of Jesus in a white car driving over palm fronds,  and being in the crowd standing there with cell phones in camera mode and taking it all in and then posting it to prove that I was there. But what was I actually there for? Am I there to actually connect with this man in the white car being treated like the greatest rock star that ever hit the planet? Am I there to hear some words of wisdom, some reassurances, some things that I need to know and encouragement to do things I need to do? When am I going to disconnect and reconnect with my priorities in order? 

It's time to connect with God, and connect with my neighbor, not just on a cell phone, or chat, or a tweet, but in face-to-face, hand-to-hand, eye-to-eye ways. Time to reconnect with God, because that's the most important connection of all.

God bless.  

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, April 8, 2017.


Holy Saturday has come again. It's always one of those days when I'm not too sure what to think or how to feel about it. Like most Saturdays, the church is quiet and sitting alone except for the flurry of activity of the Altar Guild preparing the altar and flowers for the following day's services. Other than that, it's another day in the life of the church, a day when there are no meetings being held in any of the various rooms, no worship being held until the Easter vigil in the evening and a sense of waiting.

It's the waiting that I think about this Holy Saturday. Recently a number of people that  I know have been  undergoing the pain of waiting for various things, some of them for the demise of loved ones.  It is a release for the dying but it is gut wrenching for those who are waiting. Waiting like that takes a lot out of a person. For one thing, it means the imminent loss of someone very important in their lives. For another, it's almost being afraid to leave the loved one's bedside, even for a short break, because it might be just at that moment when the loved one steps from life into a larger world. It's hard, and even though we know it's going to happen, we are never really totally ready for it.

I think about Mary, Jesus's mother, and those who loved Jesus, especially Mary Magdalene and the others who gathered under the shadow that cross and watched as their loved one suffered and died knowing that they could do nothing to prevent or relieve it. It was brave of them to be where they were and to share in what was happening at the that time. It was brave because they were women, and it was unusual for them to be standing in a place of execution for criminals. But in their case,  convention, rules, tradition, all went out the window. They needed to be where they were, and I do think that Jesus knew they were there. Maybe in one small part of his brain not consumed with pain and loss, he blessed them for staying with him. It must have been hard waiting, with the sun shining down on them, no benches or chairs to sit on, and is certainly the only ones giving them any sympathy at all were the members of their own small group. Still they waited, just as we in the church wait and watch and pray from Good Friday until we rekindle the light at the Vigil.

For them, the end came and released them from the agony of the deathwatch, but it was so close to sundown that they didn't have time to prepare the body for burial as they would normally have done. The body was taken down from the cross and quickly whisked away to the tomb where the stone was rolled across it and they could not go in. They had to wait until after the Sabbath was over before they could return to do what needed to be done. So they waited.

Male disciples waited too, in their own way, up in that room where they had last gathered with Jesus and wondered what was going to become of them. They feared that they were known to be Jesus's followers and, as such, were at risk of arrest and possible crucifixion themselves. So they sat and worried about their own futures and what they should do now that they were leaderless in a hostile environment. The two groups waited, although it was a different kind of wait.

Holy Saturday for most people these days is just a normal day like any other day. We mow the grass,  go to the store, go shopping, and watch whatever sport is on TV as a way of rewinding. We are not waiting, we are busy doing things, we go on with life as if nothing important happened or is happening, that is, unless we become one of those who are forced into waiting for something. At that time, we can put ourselves in the same place with the women at the foot of the cross. We're suffering, and we look up and see one who suffers even more. We look on the face of our loved one and we hope to see the look of peace in the time before their last breaths, but we keep waiting until the inevitable happens. Then, and only then, can we take a deep breath and let the tears roll and we can express our own grief, selfish grief because we have lost something someone precious, but also a joyful time knowing that a loved one has found his or her way out of this world and into the next.

So today is a day of waiting. It's a day to spend some time contemplating and praying and most of all watching with those who are suffering, whether physically, mentally, spiritually, or emotionally. It may be a day where all of us can join those standing at the foot of the cross and then waiting before the sealed tomb, with faith that in the morning our sorrow be lessened and our weeping will turn to joy.

God bless.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café on Saturday, April 15, 2017.