Looking for the green leaves
I find myself looking for encouraging yet simple signs in nature as I open the curtains each morning. The white blanket of snow is receding while still showing the stark outlines of empty trees and barren branches. When will the buds appear? Sunnier brighter mornings auger the mystery of spring. I saw my first groundcover courageously shooting forth from the frozen earth yesterday outside the parish hall. No flowers yet. But we know spring and summer are coming after surviving this bleak mid-winter. Jesus invited his hearers to look, listen and to apply what they saw in nature to the monitoring of God’s mysterious power over everything. God is still in charge and if we look closely enough, we can read the signs of the times in these simple natural phenomena. Our response may vary from shoulder-shrugging simple relief, to sheer awe about how all this holds together. Awe and gratitude may fuel this global thawing as we try to turn a corner with this Coronavirus experience. Declining infections, corporate responsibility and care for one another and the possibility of vaccinations will offer all of us the green shoots of encouragement as we come out of this terribly isolating disruption. We are exiled from each other and the lives we once lived. How might we feel awe and gratitude in the coming months rather than a begrudging entitlement towards God? To be alive remains our greatest privilege, not a right. How do we get in touch with the sheer scale and sanctity of creation, in which we all share? How do we breathe deeply with the lungs of the universe rather than snore our way through it all?
We are re-learning how to express sanctity, awe, and gratitude in our Tuesday Lenten enquirers class. For Episcopalians, we express this primarily through worship and service to one another. Our Book of Common Prayer lays out a path that many have walked and found meaning and comfort over centuries. Sometimes the path is covered with folds of frozen snow, but this holy book always marks the twists and turns of our personal and communal journeys, celebrations, and sorrows “at all times and in all places”. When we cannot find words, our Book of Common Prayer can help us find the words.
The Springtime of St. Paul’s is within our sights. We are resuming in-person worship throughout Lent, culminating in a great Easter Fire on Easter Eve where each one of us will be invited to cast into a fire, all the things that inhibit and keep us from being the people God want us to be. This ritual transformation is both a recognition of that which is broken and lacking in us as individuals, as a congregation, a nation, and a human race. It is also filled with hope that God will resurrect us and transform suffering and death into new and eternal life -in all its mystery. I am always surprised when people discover the power of our liturgies (often in emergencies like funerals or weddings) when they open the Book for the first time and experience its gifts. A young couple struggles to say the things on their hearts and create vows to propel them into the future, can find energy and inspiration in the words of the marriage service. The structure is perfect and allows all that is personal and cherished to shine through. What would happen if we used the book more and not just in emergencies and when we feel we need to be “religious” or need a “point of service?” The Tuesday enquirers class is trying to make us all more familiar with the book and how we express the valleys and mountaintops of our lives. So how are we using our book to feed us during this time of thaw and spring?
Here is an outline of the remaining services during Lent and how we can best come together in person and virtually to express awe, gratitude, and the sanctity of our lives. I hope you will use these opportunities to renew and feed yourself, take good care of yourself, and be aware of the needs of others around you and what pleases God when we align all these facets of the Golden Rule.
Holy Week and Easter combines some familiar liturgical opportunities with two ecumenical holy walks with St. Martin’s (on Wednesday of holy week and Our Mother of Consolation on Good Friday. We plan to rent a large tent for Palm Sunday through Easter and be able to worship indoors and outside during that sacred week. Some people would prefer to meet outside, so we envision a larger number of people gathering under the tent for Palm Sunday at 9 a.m. while others may want to gather in the church for the 11 a.m. eucharist. The easter eve service with the Great Fire (watch last year’s video) may be our largest service given the popularity of the Christmas Walk with the Holy Familywhen 150 people came out to celebrate Christmas. We intend to have an 8 am spoken service (in the chancel) on Easter morning, followed by a 9 am service outside in the tent and 11 am in the sanctuary. The 9 a.m. service may have some fun event (maybe Easter egg hunt?) planned for the children, like the Halloween safe-distanced celebration). The careful planning by staff and Vestry will balance the variety of ways we use our Episcopal traditions here with the realities of what we can and cannot do.
As Springtime approaches, we sense a stirring to re-connect and return to our three services in a Sunday morning. We have all sacrificed that which is familiar for the common good and our own protection. Now it is time to look for the green leaves and we hope this familiar round of worship will stir up that Easter joy we are all longing for right now. Easter will be different this year and given what we have all been through, it really should be! We share this tentative schedule, knowing things can change, but they represent the future buds of normalcy that we must never take for granted.
Wishing you a holy Lent and a joyful Easter!
Albert J. Ogle