Good Friday

One of our professors who later served as a local church pastor stopped attending worship once he retired. I don’t remember all of the details, but basically serving as a preacher left him with standards about preaching and worship that made him disappointed in the pastors who served the congregations near where he retired. I’ve known other pastors who quit being active in the church upon retirement. I don’t want to become like them. I’ve known too many of my colleagues with outsized egos that somehow left them thinking that other pastors simply don’t measure up to them.

The truth is that lay people who are faithful to the church endure seasons of church life when the leadership of their congregation is less than perfect. They become disappointed in a particular pastor. However, they understand that they belong to the community of the church, not to a specific pastor. A congregation isn’t, or at least shouldn’t be, a personality cult surrounding a single individual. People belong to churches because they are committed to other members of the congregation, because they believe in the mission of the church, and because the church gives them an opportunity to serve others.

As hard as it is, I believe that the discipline of humility is a critical component of church life. I intend to be an active participant in the life of a congregation for as long as I am able.

Having said that, I have really been feeling out of touch this Lent. Today is Good Friday and it simply doesn’t feel like Good Friday for me. I have the Easter anthem that our choir will sing on Sunday in my head. Our church had a drop in service for Maundy Thursday. People were invited to drop by the church for an open time in the evening in which the labyrinth was available for personal meditation and communion was available in the sanctuary. The “take it or leave it” attitude with which the service was announced and the lack of any liturgy simply didn’t appeal to me and I decided to stay home.

For so many years, my life has revolved around the readings of the lectionary and the rhythms of the church calendar. That was really disrupted by the pandemic. It was Holy Week of my last year as a pastor when our congregation decided to shut down in-person worship. All of our Holy Week services were cancelled and replaced with short prayers that I led over Facebook. It wasn’t at all what I longed to have happen. I had so looked forward to sharing that sacred time with our congregation. We had developed a series of Holy Week activities that attracted a lot of visitors to the congregation and gave us, as pastors, opportunities to be close to our congregation. Praying alone in the sanctuary in front of a camera wasn’t the same at all.

The following year, now retired, our new-to-us congregation was still not worshiping in person. I preached for the Palm Sunday service by recording the sermon at home which was dubbed into the service by the church administrator and played over Facebook. It was especially strange to participate in online worship and watch myself preach knowing that there was no congregation in front of me when I delivered the sermon. For the next two Lenten Seasons we were back working as pastors, serving the congregation we had joined. Although our role was as Faith Formation ministers who planned educational events and not as worship leaders, I had responsibility for delivering moments with the children during regular worship and we planned Lenten activities including leading a group preparing for confirmation, family Lenten activities, and other events.

And now I am retired once again - perhaps this time for good although I say, when asked, that I am “mostly retired.” I still provide pulpit supply on occasion when asked by neighboring congregations. Holy Week came and I have just been out of touch with the cycles of the church. Part of my problem is that I am so used to the readings of the Revised Common Lectionary that I can’t seem to get into the rhythm of the texts that have been chosen for our congregation this Lent. They have seemed to me to be random readings from the Gospel of Mark rather than texts that lead up to Holy Week by recalling events in Jesus’ life as he prepared to enter Jerusalem and face his crucifixion.

I need to find ways to set aside my old patterns and notions and simply participate in the life of the congregation without criticism. It isn’t as easy as I had imagined it would be. After all, I’m more than a thousand miles from the congregation I led for twenty five years. I’m in a new church in a new place. And now I have lived here long enough for me to have become involved in a new congregation. Nearly all of my new friends in this place are part of the congregation to which we belong. I look forward to seeing friends each time I attend worship. I feel like I am a member of a community. I belong.

Sometimes, however, it feels like I’m not really plugged in. Sometimes it feels like that lack of involvement is what the pastor wants of me. I know it is just my outsized ego that wants to somehow still be the center of attention. I know that is far less than the humble role to which I aspire. The problem isn’t with the pastor or the church. It is with me.

As I live into the new realities of my life, I have at least maintained a sense of contemplation during this Lenten season. I confess that feeling a little down during Holy Week is part of the process of immersing myself in this season of the church. Resurrection is coming, but this week we are asked to be patient. Those following Jesus during his last week had their patience tested and were quite uncomfortable with what was happening to them. As a follower of Jesus it is appropriate for me to feel uncomfortable this week.

I will wait. I will pray. I will read the familiar grief-laden texts. I will remember. And once again I will be reminded that the mood of this week is not the final word on the meaning of life.

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