You already know that I like observing Lent. Well, “like” might not be the right word for a period of self-denial in which I give up reading fiction and (try, not always successfully, to) give up eating chocolate. But it’s something that’s meaningful to me, spiritually.
I also love Easter. I love Easter church services. Sometimes my own church doesn’t do enough to satisfy me at this time of year and I visit other services. I think my record was a few years back when I made it to a Maundy Thursday service at an Anglican church, a three-hour Good Friday vigil at a United church, Sabbath morning service at my own SDA church, Easter pageant at the Salvation Army Saturday night, and back to the Anglicans for sunrise service on Sunday morning. Most years I don’t manage to hit five services of four different denominations in four days, but point taken: I do like to celebrate Easter.
This year I’m not getting to nearly as many services (though I nearly always make Easter sunrise at the Cathedral) but I did get to do one thing I enjoy and haven’t done for many years: directed a group of kids (our Pathfinders, including my own two kids) in an Easter play at church last night. I thought it made for a great Good Friday service, with drama, readings and music; everyone seemed to enjoy it and get something out of it.
As I’m still wrestling my way through my Bible-in-a-year reading project and struggling with bits of the Bible that I find difficult (another post on that coming up soon) it led me to reflect on why I love Easter so much that I seek out worship experiences from other traditions and try to enrich the Easter experience in my own church where I can. I think I’m starting to understand why it matters so much to me.
I’m very analytical. Often, I’m way too analytical for my own good. Just ask anyone who knows me how much time and mental energy I waste analyzing TV shows and song lyrics (what exactly were you and Julio doing down by the schoolyard, Paul?) When it comes to important things, like matters of faith, that analytical brain is good to have — it’s led me to learn more about Biblical studies and explore different, sometimes troubling, perspectives on the Bible. It’s also led me to examine parts of the Bible I find difficult and confront them head-on, a process that’s still on-going and probably always will be.
But in doing these things, the analytical brain often comes between me and “simple faith.” I often feel like I’m sitting back and arguing with what I want to just believe. Obviously the analytical brain is good in that it helps keep “simple faith” from sliding into “stupid faith,” but there are times I wish I could just sit in church or read the Bible and turn off the channel in my head that’s always questioning and critiquing. Or at least turn down the volume for an hour or so.
At Easter I can do this. It’s not that there aren’t things to analyze about the Easter story. I could bore you for days with analysis about penal substitutionary atonement versus other theories of the atonement, with asking what Christ’s death on the cross actually accomplished and why. But at Easter, generally, I don’t ask those questions. I just participate in the story — by singing, reading, listenng, watching as the narrative is played out. That’s why I like the liturgical seasons: they allow me to live the story rather than to analyze it.
During Advent, we act out the drama of waiting through a dark, cold time for Hope to born. Then at Christmas, in story and song and pageant, we celebrate the birth of a Baby, as everyone loves to do.
During Lent, we act out the long, hard journey of laying down self and moving toward the cross. At Easter, we experience the darkness of Good Friday, the Sabbath rest of Great and Holy Saturday, and the joy of Resurrection morning.
I need more spaces in my life where I can live the story instead of analyzing it. There’s a place for analysis, to be sure — but not at the forefront of the spiritual life. I need to rest from debate and discussion sometimes, and figure out how to simply live inside the story of Jesus — not just the Christmas and Easter stories, but all the bits in between.