As has been well before established, I was not raised with parents who fixated all that much on church. We went every Sunday. But there weren’t a lot of “extras.” We didn’t come back for any Wednesday programming. I honestly cannot remember a potluck supper. And my mother would have straight up told you that anyone who attended worship on Christmas Day needed their head checked.
I don’t blame them. They are self-described “Recovering Southern Baptists,” of the most rural of rural Souths. Their two-services-on-Sunday-supper-on-Wednesday-oh-have-you-accepted-Jesus-Christ-as-your-Lord-and-Savior-because-if-not-hell-awaits-you box was checked years ago.
But once, maybe by mistake, they took me to a Maundy Thursday service. I could not have been more than ten years old and it was the first time I remember crying in church. If you aren’t familiar with this particular day, it is worth getting to know. It is a gorgeously sad liturgy. And I realize that’s a bad sales pitch.
Maundy Thursday is jarring. You read the commandment of Christ to love one another. You wash each other’s feet. And at the very end, the priest strips the altar. Meaning that everything on and around the table gets put away. Even the lights are turned out.
I grew up in a very basic, protestant church. We did not have loads of candles and crosses. There were no complicated altar linens. We sat in wooden pews attached to a linoleum floor. And yet, as a young child, the drama of watching the priest remove candles, the altar book, and the fair linen, was the first time I had felt perplexed and saddened by the Gospel.
I could not comprehend the murder of a God who loved us so much that he would die for us. I still cannot. How could we kill him? And how could he love us in return?
This past weekend, along with millions of other Christians, we celebrated Palm Sunday at our family’s church. There was a donkey leading the procession around the block. Our choir sang, “All glory, laud, and honor to you, Redeemer, King, to whom the lips of children made sweet hosannas ring.” And since God has a great sense of humor, my own child and I had to bring up the end of the line because she insisted on pushing her teddy bear in a stroller.
Despite the sweetness of the morning, I came home inexplicably tired. It took me one nap and a glass of chardonnay to realize that our community was beginning to face the cross together. And that is no small thing.
The news out of Egypt only solidified that response. Two Coptic Christian churches were bombed. Dozens of people were murdered. They died doing the same thing we were doing, celebrating the triumphant arrival of Jesus to Jerusalem. And remembering the Passion of his death together as a community. They were naming the bizarre beauty of a God who is both our King and our Sacrifice.
One of the strange privileges of my priesthood is that I get to lead worship at 7am at a midweek service. The parishioners and I arrive at the church under the cover of night. Just by virtue of the darkness of the hour, we all tend to whisper. Our first real “conversation” is me loudly proclaiming, “Bless the Lord who forgiveth all our sins.” And the congregation agreeing, “His mercy endureth forever.”
There is not a morning that goes by that I do not think about those Christians for whom this is not a normal worship experience. Those that are daily persecuted, the world over. These brothers and sisters in Christ must name the Forgiver quietly, but boldly. And I feel blessed–no, stupidly lucky–that I am able to worship Jesus so freely.
In our current American culture, the doing of being Christian is valued far above the being of being Christian. Have you marched? Are you in the movement? Where are your morals? How many Twitter followers have you amassed in the name of St. James?
It seems to me that simply being in church is one of the most counter-cultural moves we can make, in or outside the church.
I suppose I’m telling you all to find a church this Holy Week. I know, that’s not exactly how we do things at Mockingbird, but it is my go-to answer for all things spiritual. And not because I’m limited, but because books are written by human beings and self-help seminars put the onus on you. People tell me regularly that they do not want to go to church because they have been burned by it, that it is full of hypocrites, and that people only attend church as a status symbol. I agree. So go to church. And do your best to ignore the people. At least for now.
I don’t care where you are on your spiritual journey with the Lord: pharisee, apathy, or agnostic-y. Maybe you’re mad at him? Maybe you’re acting like you’re not? Maybe you need a place to fall apart. Or maybe your 10-year-old daughter does.
Just find a back pew at a church and take a seat this week. Forget the sermon. Like I said, human beings can be hit-or-miss. Besides, you’re not there for that. You’re there for Jesus. Or rather, he is there for you. Listen to him. He will wash your feet. He will tell you to love one another. He will hang from a cross and utter his dying last words of sadness and abandonment. And on Easter, joy will cometh in the morning.