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From bulletin: St. John Passion service, Bethany Lutheran Church, March 29, 2015

From bulletin: St. John Passion service, Bethany Lutheran Church,
March 29, 2015

Sunday’s experience singing Bach’s St. John Passion felt more than a little surreal. Other than on the songs when I myself had to join in on the hard work of singing, I often felt as if I were somehow inside a recording of the music I’ve been listening to over the past several months. The 40 songs on my phone that are now so familiar provide so much more music than the choruses and chorales our choir has been rehearsing. For one thing they come accompanied by an orchestra, not just our choir accompanist playing on the piano a small portion of the completeness provided by the various instrumental parts. And for another, we practiced our own songs but had little or no exposure to the arias in ordinary rehearsals.

In fact, because what we were doing was only part of the complete work, that is why I decided to start listening to those 40 songs in order—no shuffling allowed. This winter whenever I plugged my ear buds into my phone, I selected Bach to accompany me as I pushed my snow blower or ran. My purpose wasn’t to focus on the music but to let the songs—mine and those of others, transitions, and accompaniment seep into me. Last week, before the dress rehearsal with the other musicians, I would have told you I wasn’t ready to sing my parts—despite seven months of group rehearsals and practice on my own.

But with those musicians? Wow—just wow. Oh certainly, I didn’t have everything down just perfectly, but it helped so much to have the support of such high level instrumentalists as well as the professional soloists who also sang with us. At Saturday’s dress rehearsal there were moments when I would hear the other sections of the choir sing and think, “Is that sound really coming from us?” It was so much easier to sing up to a new standard surrounded by all that excellence as I sat and stood immersed in something that sounded a whole lot like what had been coming into my ears all winter long.

For the few hours of Sunday’s service I was transported into an almost ethereal space where I even forgot sometimes how hard I was working.

Because of that I could really hear the message and sense just how passionate this passion was—our God was put to trial and forsaken. The heavenly music told a tale of oh-so-earthly human failures. No wonder so many of the faces I faced as I sang that the final number—including not just those of those in attendance, but also of our director—were either close to tears or had tears escaping—as is also likely true of my face and of those standing with me in the choir. How could we not “get” the story when told as Bach intended?

Indeed—what a way to put the holy into Holy Week.

(Note: in order to listen, access the link embedded above and go to the worship archives for March and click on March 29, St. John Passion.)

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(c) 2011 Christiana Lambert

Yoga has this way of bringing out feelings or thoughts you don’t even know you are having. Honestly, I would tell you this was a pretty good day. I completed some work, exercised hard, discovered my favorite driving route was construction-free after about a year and a half while noting the absolute beauty of the April day, and got answers to a few questions.

Not bad considering yesterday I was in a bit of a funk after finishing reading a book and comparing myself too closely to the unfavorable protagonist—or rather the main character of the story who settled for so little for himself. It’s one thing to be happy to have time to read a good book, but it’s another thing to think there isn’t anything more beyond that.

I promise you I don’t want to be that person, even if I do like my solitary at-home activities.

Thankfully, today’s intense rain followed by the blue skies that enhanced the pinks of the crabapple blossoms, the emerald-green grass, and spring-green baby-like leaves unfurling from trees reminded me that it is finally really, really spring, even if we will still have occasional cold spells ahead. Ask anyone who lives here—there is nothing like the snow-capped mountains on the horizon to set off April’s colors.

But yoga took me back within, back to going from one minute to the next when I could only look for the balance and/or strength to complete a pose as best I could. There were no seasons, just breath and sweat and trying to remain mindful.

So, when it came time for final relaxation, I did not expect emotion. Yet, there Robyn was, saying to breathe in “Let” and breathe out “go”—the very phrase that caught up with me a few weeks earlier.

Let go of what? Everything? Specific things? The past? Worries?

Oh, but how can you let go, if you try to answer that with your mind in the midst of the breath?

You just have to go with the breath and let the unnamed tears come, then brush them away and roll up your mat and go back out into the world outside yourself.

There that oh-so-gorgeous day greeted me once more. As I observed all that glory, into my head popped, “I am so glad this long Lenten season is almost over.”

And once again I was crying. This was not about the past 40 days in the desert—unless you consider 40 days to be a symbolic number. No, this was about my wanting to stop living with so much sad news.

However, Easter is a few days away—first I will try to share with Christ his bitter cup even though this year I seem to need the Good News (now!) for my own peace of mind.

In fact, I need not only the peace of the resurrection, but also the secular chocolate bunnies, colored eggs, and rebirth in the earth.

So during these next two days, I will also sneak in a few sips of the tangible signs that show me life continues—forever and ever more. Amen.

(c) 2011 Christiana Lambert

This is, after all, Holy Week. This walk to Golgotha, sad as it is, gives me comfort in facing mortality. Yet still, I am not so ready for myself or anyone else to test out Jesus’ love for us. I continue to be pretty firmly grounded in my humanness, for better or for worse.

Family members, friends, beloved pets, loved ones of friends, celebrities—it seems mortality will not be ignored right now, no matter how many times I say I’ve had enough.

Death is not in my hands, it turns out. Yet, thank God, neither is eternal life solely in my hands.

I like to believe I’m ready, that if it were my turn, I could rest in Jesus’ arms and go toward that proverbial light we’ve all heard about from those who’ve returned from near-death experiences.

Last week as I was sleeping, I had a dream that told me I have more work to do with my faith. (Or is it not work per se, but the need to let go of control?)

I’ll make the disclaimer that it could have been a metaphoric dream that had nothing to do with real death. It could have been about death to old ways, especially since I am firmly set on a life transition as I learn how to be the matriarch of our family while at the same time my family responsibilities have reduced. Despite all the recent sadness, I am returning to a time when I can focus more on my own real life dreams.

But this dream tells me old habits die hard.

I am prone to strange dreams, but this one seemed pretty normal at first. I had walked into a room where Indian music was playing. As I stood there, I clearly heard the woman sing, “Glide on into infinity . . . ” and then my body felt a strong pull upward.

There was no white light and I knew I did not want to go. As dreams go, I was suddenly lying down. With all my might, from head to toe, I held my body down while shouting, “No!” The next thought was that neither Sherman nor Christiana could handle my loss so closely after the other losses. (Lest you think I didn’t care about Jackson’s loss, just know that he is more like me—he builds walls around his grief rather than falling into it.)

No, in the dream I didn’t think nice thoughts about how good it would be to be in the presence of the Eternal. And, I didn’t even think about all the things I still wanted to do here. Nope, I fell right back into care-giving mode.

However, as I lay there awake with my heart pounding, I did think about myself. While I’ve decided that dying in my sleep is preferable to going out in many of the horrible ways I’ve seen, all I could think was, “I didn’t mean yet!” Yes, I was scared I was going to miss out on my own time now that I had finally gotten it back. I discovered I was not at all ready to submit to Divine Will should it be my time to go.

Nonetheless, why would it be my time? Just to calm my nerves, I asked Sherman, “Did I sound funny at all in my sleep?”

He replied, “Well, you were making all these loud breathing noises and then suddenly you stopped. I thought you had died.” And then he rolled over and fell back to sleep.

You can guess who didn’t fall back to sleep right away. I mean, do I have apnea or a heart rhythm problem or just a lack of trust in the Big Man? Or all?

I’m trying to convince myself this is a story about my need to grow my faith. Or about how I should not float around without making concrete steps toward the next phase of life. Or how much I do want to live. Maybe, once again, the answer is all of the above.

Then into all this emotional turmoil, I hear of another death—of someone who was a mere 4 days older than I am—and he died unexpectedly the day of my dream. Of our onetime group of four friends during the early months of college, two have now died and one has experienced a brain tumor. As I grieve for them, I look in the mirror and wonder, “Why them?” “Why not me?”

Somehow I have to remember that this walk to Golgotha is about Jesus and how because of his walk, he walks with us on our own walks to the cross. We are not alone, whether we are left, hearts pounding in the dark, to ponder our own numbered days or whether we walk our own holy week, “gliding on into infinity”—and beyond.

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