In the funeral ritual at the graveside, these words are often spoken, “in the midst of life, we are in death, where does our help come? Our help comes in the name of the Lord, who created the heavens and the earth.” On the eve of Palm Sunday, I ponder these words anew.
Ten days ago, a clergy colleague who has been ill for a long time died. Reverend Burr Crickard was a man full of life and laughter and he brought that to everything he did. The celebration of his life and spirit was held today. Clergy and others from all over gathered to remember. Not forty eight hours ago an acquaintance who was rapidly becoming a friend died unexpectedly in her sleep at the age of 50. Every one who knew her is shocked and trying to wrap their heads around a loss that seems incomprehensible.
Then I met with a family whose son and brother died of cancer last evening. His service will be this week and from there, Andrew drove me to Garden Plain. I hadn’t been to my mother’s grave since we buried her and I wanted her to have spring flowers.
For Western Christians, tomorrow begins the most sacred week of the Christian year: Holy Week. It begins with a parade and shouts of “Hosanna! Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord!” It is exciting, thrilling and the crowds are on fire for Jesus. Depending on the gospel you read, the religious and civic authorities are less than thrilled and begin to actively plan to stop this crazy uprising. This roller coaster of a week begins with such highs and ends with betrayal, death and a borrowed grave.
“In the midst of life, we are in death.” Those words have always been true. We are in death, surrounded by death or the memory of death and the hard work of grieving and finding ways to be thankful.
Today it all seemed a bit too much. And that feeling of “too much” is experienced by many on different days and in different ways. Holy Week does not minimize death, betrayal, fear and grief. Holy Week invites us to walk through that “valley of the shadow of death and fear no evil,” for God is with us. God in Jesus stared down that path and walked it and leaned into the Spirit that strengthens and comforts.
On that night when Jesus offered bread and cup, he also offered his disciples an opportunity to pray with him and lean into God’s grace. Mostly they fell asleep, but the invitation was given, more than once. It is still given.
Carrie Newcomer has a new album that includes a song “Abide” I think is perfect for this week and for the experience of life in the midst of death:
“Let us ponder the unknown, what is hidden and what’s whole, and finally learn to travel at the speed of our own souls….There are things I cannot prove and still somehow know…..You don’t have to be afraid, you don’t have to walk alone, I don’t know but I suspect it will be like home.”
Holy week in many ways is like home. There are always events that don’t make sense, are not fair and yet, we do not have to be afraid, for some how, in some ways, when we get to where we are going, it will be like home. As I prepare to lead worship over this next week, I do not intend to shrink for what lies before me, but attempt to walk not alone, but with the Christ who walks before and beside.
I am graced to serve.