Jesus Wept. Today, our tears are CHRIST’s tears!

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“Can these bones live?” It’s a bit of a stretch to compare physical distancing and self-isolation to the valley of dry bones. If you are watching this, chances are you are safe and warm. The ability to shelter in place, or to self-isolate is a blessing afforded to the privileged. Mindful of our many blessings, we still cannot ignore how we are feeling right now. Our bones may not be dry, our hope may not be gone, and we are not doomed. But many of us are longing to return to our lives. In many ways if feels like we are in a  Valley of Dry Bones, and I long to return to the life l knew. 

For many of us it has been about two weeks since we began to seriously distance ourselves from one another. Stay at home orders have physically separated us from our families, friends, neighbours, work, our congregations and in many ways our lives. I don’t know about you, but his enforced separation has brought with it all sorts of emotions. In the scrambling to discover new ways of staying connected, I neglected to allow myself the opportunity to do the very thing that as a pastor, I often counsel others to do. I wasn’t paying attention to how and what I was feeling. I confess that there was a big part of me that was afraid to feel; afraid that given half the chance, my feelings would cause me to curl up in a ball, assume the fetal position and weep.

Weep for all that we have lost.

Weep for those who are suffering.

Weep for those who are dying.

Weep for the dead.

Weep for the healthcare workers.

Weep for the children.

Weep for the people of my congregation.

Weep for my loved ones.

Weep for myself.

I was doing a pretty good job of keeping busy, tending to what needs doing and then I sat down to write this reflection. The words, “Jesus wept.” unbound me and my tears began to flow. As I wept, I tried to figure out, why? I know that this, whatever this is, this too shall pass, and I know that all shall be well. So, what do I have to cry about?

It wasn’t until the tears subsided that I began to recognize that what I am feeling is grief. In all sorts of online conversations this week, people have mentioned “that uneasy feeling that I can’t quite figure out.” People have described having a “foggy brain” or the inability to focus or to concentrate.” I particularly resonate with those who have mentioned a “low-grade, stress headache.” I now suspect that these are the tell-tale symptoms of grief.

Grief comes in all sorts of ways for all sorts of reasons. Our world has changed so rapidly, and we all know that there will be many more changes before this is over. We may not know what is coming, but we know it’s coming. It’s like waiting for the other shoe to fall. We know that this too shall pass. But we also realize that things have changed, and many things will never be the same again. The loss of the everyday stuff that we all took for granted, our economic fears, the loss of connection, all these things are hitting us all at once and we are grieving. As we imagine what our future holds, we experience what is known as anticipatory grief. There is more to come and even our primitive minds know that something bad is happening, something we may not be able to see. Our sense of security is under threat.

Waves of grief can overwhelm us. Grief can cause us to deny our reality: the virus won’t affect us, it’s just like the flue, don’t worry. Grief can make us angry: how long do we have to stay home? Grief can make us strike bargain: If I stay home, follow the rules, me and mine, we’ll be ok. Grief can make us sad. Grief can also help us to accept what is happening, feel our feelings and help us to hope. It has been said, by the grief experts that:  acceptance is where the power lies. But the thing about grief is that it comes in all sorts of waves, following no specific rhyme or reason. One minute we are able to accept what is happening and the next moment we are in denial, or sad, or striking bargains.

Underlying all our grief is fear. Fear constricts us, binds us up in ways that make life impossible. Bound by fear, feels to me like being trapped in a tomb. Jesus says, “Lazarus come out!”

Lazarus is the Greek for the Hebrew name Eleazar, which means: “the one who God helps. In this parable of the raising of Lazarus, Lazarus is us, for each one of us is “the one who God helps.” By God I don’t mean a personified, super-hero, out there, or up there. By God I mean the ONE in whom we live, and move and have our being; the ONE who lives and moves in, with, through, and beyond us. By God I mean the one who is in here, and the ONE who IS beyond here; BEYOND, the BEYOND, and BEYOND that also.

One name for this God of whom I speak is CHRIST. When I read or hear the words “Jesus wept”, I know that CHRIST wept, just as surely as I weep, for our tears are CHRIST’s tears. In the words of St. Paul, we do not grieve as ones without hope.

I keep hearing “Stay home! Stay safe!” Yes, this is good advice. But please be kind to yourselves. Be gentle with yourself. Take time to grieve. Feel what you feel.  Weep when weeping comes.

We grieve as ONE, for there is nothing in heaven or on earth, that can separate us from the LOVE that IS God, no virus, no isolation, nothing in life or in death, that can separate us from the LOVE that IS God. This too shall pass. All shall be well. Today, our tears are CHRIST’s tears.

Soon, we shall hear Jesus’ call, “Lazarus come out!” and we shall emerge unbound free to live and be LOVE in the world. For now, our hands are CHRIST’s hands. So let, us be CHRIST in our care for one another. Resurrection, just as surely as springtime, resurrection is coming. Let it be so. Let it come soon.

Always Reforming: Freedom and Loss

Jesus said: “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples: and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  Semper Reformanda – always reforming! Reformation has a great deal in common with freedom.  Whenever I hear that word “freedom” the lyrics of an old folk song pop into my head: “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”

I suppose there is always a price to pay for freedom. A church that holds up the value of always reforming, is a church that will choose freedom over tradition.     Sometimes, choosing freedom over tradition can feel like losing; losing traditions that once seemed precious to us.  When it comes to worship the truth has set us free from all sorts of traditions that we once valued. Sometimes we discover that the traditions we once believed were so very important fall away.

What follows is a reflection on what we have lost and what we have found.

They Don’t Go Home Humming the Sermon!

humLiturgy has the power to from us in ways that preachers can only dream of. The truth is worshippers don’t go home humming the sermon. What we sing in worship matters precisely because music has the power to both open us up and shut us down to change. As our theology evolves, so too what we sing in worship must evolve. But familiar chestnuts  are familiar for a reason. Our favourite hymns are singable! Sadly, so many of the best loved hymns inscribe theologies that posit a god that few of us are willing to worship. But rather than throw the babies out with the bath water, we can give the best loved hymn tunes a new lease on life with texts that do not re-inscribe theories of atonement that we are trying to leave behind. I have been asked to share some of the resources that we have found helpful at Holy Cross and over the next few weeks I hope to post several resources.

Inclusive Hymns Aldredge-ClantonIt hasn’t been easy to find new words with which to resurrect old hymns. But there are two resources that warm the heart of this particular worship planner. Both “Inclusive Hymns For Liberating Christians” and “Inclusive Hymns for Liberation, Peace, and Justice” are the work of Jann Aldredge-Clanton who is responsible for the hymn texts and Larry E. Schultz who provides a few new tunes for Aldredge-Clanton’s texts. I highly recommend both volumes for those progressive Christian worship planners who seek to use music to open people to the possibilities of  more expansive theologies. Aldredge-Clanton’s texts go far beyond “inclusive language” for God and for people.Inclusive hymns for liberation

Jann Aldredge-Clanton currently serves as adjunct professor at Perkins School of Theology and Richland Community College, Dallas, Texas. Her vivid imagery opens the mind while familiar tunes comfort the spirit.  

The good news is that although these resources are not easy to get in Canada, I ordered mine from Amazon.com in the U.S. and the shipping charges were minimal. Better yet, with the purchase of 10 or more you get permission to reproduce hymns for worship.

Here are two videos that provide of just two of the pieces sung in very different worship styles.

Progressive Christian Prayer

Praying a new storyA few years back, I came across Michael Morwood’s book “Is Jesus God? Finding Our Faith” and his insightful and concise articulations of a theology which speaks to the heart of this 21st century follower of the Way, led me to his other works:  “God Is Near: Trusting Our Faith”, ” From Sand to Solid Ground: Questions of Faith for Modern Christians,” and “Tomorrow’s Catholic: Understanding God and Jesus in a New Millennium,” for which Morwood was silenced by the Roman Catholic Church in his native Australia.  Subsequently, Morwood  resigned from religious life and priestly ministry with the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart. While I find his theological work both refreshing and enlightening,Is Jesus God? Morwood’s prayer books “Praying a New Story” and “Children Praying a New Story – A Resource for Parents, Grandparents and Teachers,” to be a God-send in my work as a liturgical planner. (for more info follow this link Over and over again, I have turned to Morwood for assistance as I struggle to write public prayers which do not re-inscribe old theologies in their language, imagery and metaphors. I have used and adapted Morwood’s work and been inspired to compose new prayers.  

Here’s a sample of Morwood’s work: A Christmas Prayer which we have used at Holy Cross Lutheran Church as an “Affirmation of Faith” during the Advent and Christmas Seasons.

A Christmas Prayer

Are We Ready for Liturgies of Unknowing?

Do we have the courage to confront our doubt in worship? This is the challenge that Peter Rollins who describes “the game” of certainty and triumphalism that passes for worship and insists that God must function as a “feel-good” entity rather than One who helps us engage our suffering, the Mystery, our doubts and uncertainties. Rollins calls for worship leaders who are willing to engage the dark night of the soul and create liturgies of unknowing.  Are worshippers ready? Perhaps their hungry for opportunities to confront their realities in worship.