A day of preparation

Holy Week is a bit of a marathon for us. We are gearing up for a week of continuous worship, prayer and work at the church. There will be no days off for a while. The blizzard of last week left us a little bit behind, but we will be ready for Palm Sunday worship, brunch and the community palm parade tomorrow. Then there is something every day with two services on Friday. Easter morning will begin with a sunrise service at 6 am. That means longer days for us at the church. It is a rich and rewarding week. All of the activity is not something that has been imposed from the outside, it is a choice we make for ourselves. The joy of Easter is deepened by facing the rigors of Holy Week. I routinely work with families who are going through grief. I am not unfamiliar with the connections between emotional distress, fatigue and deep grief. There are worse things in this world than being tired.

Today is a day of preparation. I’ll rehearse my sermon for tomorrow and the service of passion for Monday night. I need to make a few phone calls to make sure that some details of events occurring later in the week are worked out.

In the back of my mind, however, are the congregations of the three African-American Baptist Churches whose buildings were burned down in intentionally set fires. Police have arrested a suspect in the fires, the 21-year-old son of a St. Landry Parish sheriff’s deputy. Four days before his arrest, Holden Matthews made Facebook posts expressing disgust with the beliefs of members of those churches. He said in part that he cannot “stand all these baptists around here, bunch of brainwashed people trying to find happiness in a religion that was forced on their ancestors just as it was on mine.”

That kind of statement is not rational and therefore it doesn’t work to respond with rational thought. It is hard to understand how the thought that events in history placed people in a position where they adopted some of the religious beliefs of the dominant culture might justify forcing them out of their houses of worship by wanton destruction of the buildings. There isn’t a rational argument that justifies arson.

The history of the church and of religion isn’t without its horrors. Crimes have been committed by church leaders. People have been forced into participating in religious practices. Those in power have abused their positions. Abuse continues as can be witnessed in the shocking and devastating news of clergy sexual scandals breaking around the world. There is much that is bad that has been perpetuated in the name of religion. None of that justifies more violence. None of that justifies torching churches.

The history of bombings and burnings of African-American church buildings reveals the dark side of racism and hatred that has been a part of the relationships between people in our country since its founding. The high ideals of the founders of the United States did not fully take into account the violence and displacement of indigenous people or the cruelty of an economy based on forced labor and the denial of the humanity of slaves. It took a long time for slavery to be abolished. We are only now learning the full effects of the near genocide of native tribes. Violence continues to this day. It does not make violence the right thing.

For those who belong to the churches that were burned, it is as season of sifting through the ashes, and planning for the process of rebuilding which, unfortunately, has to begin with further demolition of beloved buildings filled with memories. In a sense Holy Week is an appropriate time to face the sadness of loss. Our faith story has death, grief and sadness at its core.

Sorrow and sadness, however, are not the end of the story. Holy Week is not all that there is to our faith. Confronting the reality of loss and grief does not give them power over us. Our God is a living God and we are an Easter People. We know the joy that lies ahead.

But we won’t rush the journey. We will take time to sit with the blues. We will give time to allow the tears to flow. We’ll allow tireless to seep into our bones.

It is, after all, a rehearsal for a reality that we all will face. It might not come at this time of the year. It might not come this year. But to be human is to face loss and grief. I’ve sat with families whose lives have been devastated by a sudden and traumatic death. I’ve been with them on the worst days of their lives. I know that recovery is possible. I know that one day they will feel better than they do at the height of their grief. But I also know that it is something that cannot be rushed. I know that making promises of better days ahead is not appropriate. Sometimes the best we can do is to acknowledge the reality of the pain and simply share the journey.

Sharing the journey is what Holy Week is all about. It is an opportunity to practice a skill that is important.

So we pray with the congregations whose buildings have been burned. We do not offer simple solutions. We do not pretend to be able to understand the senseless acts of arson. We simply grieve the loss while trusting God’s promises and faithfulness.

The stories of our people are filled with dark times and genuine loss. They are also filled with stories of the triumph of faith and the promise of new tomorrows. As custodians of these stories, we need to tell them freshly this week and every week of our lives. The journey is not a sprint that is soon over, but a marathon that must be approached with energy, enthusiasm and endurance.

Let the week begin.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!