Thursday, November 03, 2005

Lenten Chapel

I know you were all breathlessly awaiting my chapel report this week. Sorry it’s a little late – I was busy having ecstatic experiences reading feminist theologians. I’m back to my cranky self and will now comply.

So as you might guess from the title we had Lent a little early. It would have actually been a lovely Good Friday service. Too bad it’s ordinary time. But hey, we are Protestants, so what do we know?

What indeed. I’ll tell you what we know – we know crucifixion. But I get ahead of myself.

First my nitpickings, since I know people who can change things read this blog:

1. We must sing a song from Taizé at least 8-10 times for it to do its thing. 3x doesn’t work.
2. The alto mic was too loud and her harmony drowned out the melody, causing many of us not to be able to discern what to sing.
3. Standing for the one song only felt artificial – just skip that next time.
4. When the speaker uses a wireless mic, remove the standing mic from in front of her face. It’s aesthetically unpleasing, unnecessary, and distracting.

OK, now to the service in general. The posters for chapel told us the title was “Acquainted with Grief.” So what do we open with? Well, duh – a rousing call to worship from the choir extolling us to “Sing for Joy to the Lord.” Okay, guys. Classic liturgical mistake. You don’t open a service that’s supposed to be about suffering and grief with a song about singing for joy. That’s so obvious that I’m ashamed for you. I know you know better. Tsk tsk.

We did get an absolutely gorgeous vocal solo of that number from Messiah about Jesus being a man of sorrows. Way to go! Just lovely. And I love O Sacred Head Sore Wounded, but again, timing, people. Let’s not completely forget that we actually have a liturgical cycle, a church calendar, that’s awfully handy for reference (particularly when one wants to consider how much time to spend dwelling on Jesus’ death vs. other parts of his ministry and person, but again, I get ahead of myself).

The choir later sang an arrangement of Ave Maria which was much more appropriate to the mood (although unfortunately there were rather manipulative photographs running throughout, which I tried to ignore, especially the one with the big honkin’ Israeli flag – I’m sure there wasn’t a political statement meant, but it was jarring).

Now we get to the sermon. It was a good sermon – a great one, really well delivered, and obviously well-received (but would have been better on Good Friday). The point was that Jesus suffered a lot and so when we suffer, Jesus feels our pain and we can take comfort in that.

I’m down with that. But the only time Jesus ever suffered, according to this sermon and the slides of classic art running behind the speaker, was on the day he was crucified. That’s it. One day in the man’s entire 33-year life. I mean, maybe he suffered other days, but we sure didn’t hear about it. Nope, the only suffering experience that is worth our examination is that day. Because of course, that’s the day everything changed, right? That’s the thing that causes our salvation, so it’s the only thing we care about, right?

I'm gonna go out on a limb here and remind everyone that Jesus’ suffering was not only on the cross. It was every day of his life. If I cry watching the news, if my small awareness of a tiny bit of the world’s sufferings leads me into depression that my mind can barely handle…how much more the pain of God? The acute awareness of every last painful moment for every last creature in all the whole world? And this weight squashed into a mortal body, lain upon a mortal mind, contained somehow within a mortal soul…

How did Jesus survive without Prozac?

It was very moving to contemplate Jesus’ death, and a welcome change of pace. But we simply cannot accept that this was all of Jesus’ suffering – the speaker called his desperate praying in the garden “his time of agony,” as if that was the only time! Perhaps it was the worst time, but surely not the only.

Jesus suffered throughout his life. He was our example of how to feel for the world – and how to do something about it. "Let your will, not mine, be done" – God’s will couldn’t have been Jesus’ death (that would make God a masochist)! That’s like saying your child’s death or the earthquake or the cancer are somehow “God’s will.” No, no, no! BUT: God’s will was to do anything and everything to prove God’s love for us. And that overrode self-preservation. Imagine that for a moment. God. Doing. That.

God through Jesus loved us that way every day, not just on the day of his death or during his Passion. Jesus spent every day of his life sharing this love and suffering the world’s pain.

I don’t think Jesus actually feared death, but he did realize how hurtful it would be for us later when we realized what we’d done, how terrible it would be for God to have been ultimately rejected by humanity. Jesus’ suffering sacrifice did effect reconciliation, but I don’t think it was just in one moment or on that one day. I think it was his lifetime – from the first huge sacrifice of incarnation to the daily ministry to the outcast and poor right down to the final sacrifice of allowing God to be killed. Could Jesus have lived on, not been crucified, and yet managed the work of reconciliation just by the way he was living? Maybe. Maybe.

In the end, the speaker’s message was right, even though her support was not quite broad enough for me. She said that it is good for us to be afflicted, and she is right. Being afflicted, suffering, makes us like Jesus. Causes us to see the world the way he did.

Without affliction, the world is okay. And if the world is okay, then Christ – and Christians – are worthless.

1 comment:

B-W said...

Despite the criticisms, you at least deserve credit for continuing to go to chapel, which I confess I don't do very often anymore. Although my own criticisms tend to be different ones (with some overlap).

A few thoughts:
1. We must sing a song from Taizé at least 8-10 times for it to do its thing. 3x doesn’t work..

This is actually part of the reason I dont care for Taizé all that much, although I certainly conceed that if you're going to do it, you're quite right the 3x isn't enough. (I'm not a huge fan of repetition, but that's just me.)

3. Standing for the one song only felt artificial – just skip that next time.

There's a lot about chapel (and some church services in general) that seems artificial. This is definitely an area of overlap between us. Worship should be genuine, and anything that detracts from that authenticity should be removed, or at least diminished.

OK, now to the service in general. The posters for chapel told us the title was “Acquainted with Grief.” So what do we open with? Well, duh – a rousing call to worship from the choir extolling us to “Sing for Joy to the Lord.” Okay, guys. Classic liturgical mistake. You don’t open a service that’s supposed to be about suffering and grief with a song about singing for joy. That’s so obvious that I’m ashamed for you. I know you know better. Tsk tsk.

I forget who I commented this too, but I feel this kind of confliction (is that a word?) of mood everytime someone sings "Nothin' But the Blood," which is almost always done in an extremely peppy way that doesn't fit the words at all....

But the only time Jesus ever suffered, according to this sermon and the slides of classic art running behind the speaker, was on the day he was crucified. That’s it. One day in the man’s entire 33-year life. I mean, maybe he suffered other days, but we sure didn’t hear about it. Nope, the only suffering experience that is worth our examination is that day. Because of course, that’s the day everything changed, right? That’s the thing that causes our salvation, so it’s the only thing we care about, right?

VERY interesting.... I think I'm with you on this one.... If Jesus' humanity means anything, then his suffering throuhout his life is significant.

Jesus suffered throughout his life. He was our example of how to feel for the world – and how to do something about it. "Let your will, not mine, be done" – God’s will couldn’t have been Jesus’ death (that would make God a masochist)! That’s like saying your child’s death or the earthquake or the cancer are somehow “God’s will.” No, no, no! BUT: God’s will was to do anything and everything to prove God’s love for us. And that overrode self-preservation. Imagine that for a moment. God. Doing. That.

I think we just come from different backgrounds on this one, and I don't quite end up where you are here. However, I definitely have to struggle with this. Your points are certainly valid.

In any event, thanks for your thoughts.