"In observing this truth that beginnings come from endings, many people are able to draw a parable of their own lives and faith journey from the observances of Holy Week." - Dennis Bratcher
I was hunting around the internet for information about how different bodies of the church tend to treat the Saturday before Easter (some traditions call it "Holy Saturday") and I stumbled on this page. It's like many other things I've read recently - talking about old observances and liturgical traditions that newer evangelical circles have rejected as being too "high church," but that many are returning to.
Do you know what "liturgy" means? It means something like "The work of the people" or "public work." It has become something we associate with churches and religion, and if you look up a modern definition you'll find stuff about worship service formats, but if you look at the etymology of the word, you'll get something more like this:
Work of the people.
I have heard people wonder out loud, "Is this stuff even worthwhile anymore? What does this have to do with everyday life? What does it have to do with the way we're supposed to be living? What does it have to do with me and my own experience of the world?"
I have wondered these things myself.
You know, I've got two different sets of loved ones having a Sabbath today. One set is observing a Jewish Sabbath and the other set is observing a Seventh Day Sabbath. Both of these sets of friends and family observe a Saturday (and Friday night) Sabbath every week.
As a United Methodist, and especially one working in the church, I am a little bit sad to say that I don't think I've ever observed a real Sabbath in conjunction with my own faith life - certainly not on a Sunday. Far from being a day of rest, it has often been a day of frantic activity . . . a day when my family has come second . . . or even last. And often the thing in first place has simply been "the task."
All of you honest music ministers know what "The task" is. It's that big, looming expectation that everything will be perfect in the worship service. That nobody will complain. That your colleagues will pat you on the back. When we are self aware in our music ministry we can protect ourselves from getting pulled in too far, and we can remind ourselves to calm down before the service begins . . . and then "liturgy" becomes something full of meaning . . . something apart from performance. But if we're not careful, we miss out.
Holy Saturday - Some people are still fasting on this day (and some people fasted yesterday on Good Friday). Some people are going to worship services, but will take no communion. Other people will intentionally reflect on the fact that for a day in the middle, Jesus was dead . . . because He had been killed by other human beings . . . killed in a way that these people had already been killing each other for centuries. He had handed himself over to people wielding something like an electric chair or a lethal injection. His own body of faith had called him out as a heretic. The politicians were tired of hearing about it and gave the people what they wanted.
I think about these last several years of planning Easter services . . . this is my first year not planning one. And I think about two of my friends who have planned and are about to lead their first as music ministers. And I can see where Holy Saturday means something to me.
It is never the right thing for us to be so distracted by the want of a "good performance" that we forget Who it is that we believe to be The Truth.
Our religious observances are supposed to be full of meaning, not full of pride. And when we are worried about whether or not it will all be perfect, we are playing into the hands of pride. It will tire us out. It will not help us to do any better than we would have done.
Jesus committed His spirit to God as He was smothered by humanity's love of lesser things - love of institutions, love of pomp and circumstance, love of power and property, love of money, love of position, love of our own "right-ness." These things only ever kill what is good.
Ask any musician who performs regularly - "What thoughts are most likely to sink you?" - and they will tell you, "Easy. Anytime I become obsessed with what other people are going to think of my performance, or anytime I worry too much about whether I'm about to play the right note. Sinks me every time."
Love of these lesser things will sink us every time.
Yesterday I participated in a beautiful, simple worship service. And it ended in darkness - "Were you there when they crucified my Lord?" Nobody was worried bout what anything looked like because we had nothing left to look at.
Some people use Holy Saturday to reflect on what the world was like during those hours of hopelessness. And today I am thinking - "What would our faith be like if we had more faith in our organizations and our own perfection than we had in God?" Our faith would be in the tomb then. And each moment we spend obsessing over the perfection of the plan we've created is a moment we spend apart from the thing that makes any of our planning worthwhile (yes, music ministers, that's us).
So my prayer today is about tomorrow, and it's for all of those people who are going to stand up in front of a crowd to sing, play an instrument, speak, or dance . . . God, thank you for being the only Perfect. Thank you for being the only True. Thank you for being the only Right. Help us to remember that in our smallness, you are great. Help us to remember that you have already done everything necessary. Let us be reminded that it is not our day, but your day . . . not our own life, but your life. Remind us to be Thankful rather than full of worry. Blind us to any lights over a stage. Shield us from any want of applause or expectation of exaltation. Let us be so focused on you that we have no place to go but into your presence, leaving behind the presence of anything lesser. Amen.