Sabbath in a 24/7 Culture

“The Sabbath was made for humankind and not humankind for the Sabbath…” Mark 2: 27

A few years ago I was serving as a pastor of a church where we wanted to get a better sense of how the church could serve the community. We had a rummage sale coming up so we decided that we would stand by the exit door and ask those who had shopped there if they would be willing to take a short survey. Nearly fifty people kindly obliged.

church-sanctuaryThe survey listed about twenty choices, among them—more youth programming, Bible studies, a community garden, Sunday school, optional worship times, 24/7 church access, food pantry, etc. The top result didn’t surprise us at all given the neighborhood. Our rummage sale participants wanted more activities for their youth. But what did surprise us was the second highest choice—people wished that the church could be open 24/7 just so that they could sit in the pews and pray, light a candle, and have a sacred retreat from their otherwise hectic and overly stressed lives.

It was interesting personally doing the survey. This was the only response that almost always came with some commentary. After choosing it as a top priority they would then add, “Of course, we know that you can’t do that with vandalism and all, but if you could, we would come.”

I think this has something to do with our text for this Sunday, June 3. What I heard from our rummage sale guests was that they were looking for a place where they could practice a little sabbath in their lives. But what they also were telling us was that sabbath for them couldn’t be restricted to a certain hour on Sunday or even to a certain day; their lives were too complicated or maybe just too different to be able to commit to Sabbath at the same time that the Sunday faithful do.

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A roadside Greek Orthodox shrine in Greece

I remember in 2014 when I rode my bike through Greece as part of my Rome to Rumi pilgrimage. Two or three times per day I would ride up on a miniature shrine that was completely open to the public—no locks, no guards, no hours posted. It didn’t matter whether I showed up at 6 a.m. or 6 p.m. I was able to stop my bike, enter the sacred space and take a few minutes to pray, light a candle, and give a thanks offering. I was struck that there was still enough reverence in Greek society for these shrines that vandals kept their hands off of them. At numerous roadside intersections and at the tops of passes a person could practice a moment of sabbath in the small shrines at any time of the day or night.

It is entirely too simplistic to boil this down to one single and simple issue, but I am going to do it anyway. I wonder if we in the church have to make a little fork-in-the-road decision—maybe we shouldn’t be busting our butts trying to convince a 24/7 culture that Sabbath is most appropriately observed exclusively on Sundays, but instead should be seeing our role as nurturing Sabbath observance in a culture of 24/7 expectations and lifestyles.

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Inside my favorite Greek Orthodox shrine north of Mt. Olympus

I think people still need and want sabbath. In fact, I have even been told by people that the reason they don’t go to church is because of their need for a day of rest—sabbath! Most of these people are from two-parent households where both parents work or from working single parents. I have been told on numerous occasions that they work all week, get up early on Saturday for soccer games, football practice, shopping, and doing household chores. On Sunday they want permission to sleep in, rest, putter in the yard, take a hike, go to the beach, and visit with friends. In other words, they want sabbath.

I personally believe that whether a person is religious or not they still need sabbath. I personally believe that none of us are made to work seven days a week (yours truly included!). I personally believe that the story of God creating for six days and resting for one day is not only Biblical truth, but also biological and psychological truth. I personally believe sabbath is good for us, necessary and honors the rhythm of Creation, as God intended it to be.

I wonder if the mission of the church in this 24/7 culture is not to press people into our Sunday rhythm of Sabbath, but to just remind people and educate people that sabbath is good for the body, good for the soul, good for the family, and good for the community. I wonder if the mission of the church in this 24/7 culture is to provide more opportunities for people to observe and practice sabbath. I wonder if we need 24/7 churches for a 24/7 culture.

Of course, as my rummage sale respondents admitted, “Of course, we know it’s not possible, but if it were possible, we would come!”

“Isn’t the sabbath supposed to be made for us, not the other way around?”

When to Do and When to Sit

‘Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”’ Isaiah 6: 8

I have to admit that as I pondered this text that I have preached on so many times that I felt a twinge of grief. “What was that about?” I thought. I knew it had something to do with what I have been experiencing in my visits as I make my way around the presbytery. Last night I visited Savage Memorial in East Portland, my 53rd church on this wonderful and crazy tour.

But what was it about Isaiah’s enthusiastic willingness to respond to God’s call that troubled me just a bit? After visiting so many churches I had this vague sense that reinforcing the Christian obligation to “be sent out” just didn’t feel quite right for every church and everyone I met. In fact, it felt like it almost bordered on a subtle form of elder abuse.

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Prineville Community Church–“A Congregation that Serves!”

Of course, I didn’t feel this with every church that I visited nor with everyone within a particular church. The vast majority of churches still have the resources and energy to respond to God’s call to “be sent out” to do God’s work. Isaiah’s response, “Here am I; send me” mirrors most of our churches and their members. But I have also been struck by how much the spirit of Sylvia Boorstein’s quote, “Don’t just do something, sit there!” honors the life stage of many of our members and churches.

As I have visited the churches of our presbytery I have discovered a deep Isaiah-like service orientation to go out as well as more and more of a focus on reinforcing pastoral care and looking out for each other. I have been struck by the sheer volume of Sunday prayers that focus on members fighting cancer, recovering from falls, facing surgery and grieving losses. I don’t think this is a sign of spiritual navel-gazing (in most cases!), but simply a reality of the aging of our congregations.

The fact of the matter is that an increasing number of our members now shuffle into church behind a walker or use the arm of a friend to steady themselves as they make their way into the fellowship hall. Others, more able, have just enough energy to make getting to church on Sundays the one big event of the day. Still others are so overwhelmed by the responsibility of caregiving in their families that the church is their one sacred place for rest, recovery and retreat. Going out to serve on behalf of the church ignores the fact that God has already called them to serve full-time in their families.

Don't Just Do SomethingI write this post today because I want to give our congregations permission to insert the practice of the “Don’t just do something, sit there!” motto. In this time of ecclesiastical anxiety as the majority of our congregations face annual declines it is easy to think that God is calling us to work harder, to serve more, and to look at the suffering of the world outside our doors and assert, “Here am I; send me!”

But there is also suffering within the doors of our churches. Congregations, as their members age, are increasingly made up of the vulnerable populations that we are used to serving outside of our church walls. We have more homebound members. ADA approved facilities are now a virtual necessity to congregations where walkers, canes and wheelchairs are a normal sight. Hearing amplification devices are now mandatory in sanctuaries as one in three Americans over the age of 65 have hearing loss.

Like I said the enthusiastic response of Isaiah to be sent out to serve God struck a small chord of grief for me. “What was that about?” I asked myself. My answer is that sometimes we are called to DO more and sometimes we are called to SIT more. Sometimes we are called to go out and serve and sometimes we are called to let others serve us.

The trick is to know when to honor God’s call to do and when to honor God’s call to sit. This holy listening is tricky business.

Drunken Discipleship!

The story of Pentecost in Acts is one of my favorite stories in the whole Bible. When I was regularly in the pulpit I loved sharing the touch of humor from Peter as he responds to the curiosity and suspicion of those gathered on that spirited day. Wondering if the disciples’ ability to speak in many tongues was the result of too much bad wine Peter reminds them “they are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only 9:00 in the morning.”

mug of beerIt makes me smile every time because Peter does not defend the disciples by saying, “These men are not drunk. They never touch the stuff!” Rather he leaves open the possibility that if these disciples were acting in such a loose and spirited way at 9:00 in the evening then the chance that they were drunk would have risen considerably. Peter seems to confirm that the disciples do appear to be drunk, but that the source of their unrestrained behavior is not bad wine, but the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Today I will visit my 50th church as I make my way around the presbytery during the first few months of my tenure as the Presbyter for Vision and Mission. In my visits I am recognizing the spirit of Pentecost taking root. There is a loosening up of “the way things have always been done.” Congregations are experimenting with new ways of organizing and being present in the community. I have smiled on numerous occasions as church leaders have shared their desire to not let polity get in the way of good ministry. While reinforcing the need for structure and doing things “decently and in order” I also find myself being careful not to put a damper on the spirit that I can feel moving within their midst. Rules matter, but not at the cost of life-giving ministry!

At the same time that congregations are reflecting the slightly tipsy and unrestrained spirit of Pentecost I have noticed my own contribution to that spirit as well. In my meetings I can feel myself loosening up the system just like a good wine loosens up the party. While I don’t want to create chaos in a congregation by saying the wrong thing I have noticed that I have landed on the side of saying too much rather than too little (just like a drunk person might do!). I have decided that if a congregation dares to the ask the right questions I am going to trust the Spirit as I offer back as much information as I have at my disposal.

coloring outside the linesI can feel all of us coloring outside the lines a bit. It does feel like a Pentecostal moment. I am not in charge of the future. God is. My job is not to direct the future of the church, but to simply invite the Spirit to do Her work.

I think about that original day of Pentecost and the chaos that must have been experienced as the disciples shared the good news of Jesus Christ in numerous languages. In one fell swoop the church of Jesus Christ was initiated, but it wasn’t done as part of a long range plan or a carefully crafted strategy. It was initiated by a bunch of spirited disciples who were mistaken for being drunk.

There is a loosening up that I can feel in the presbytery. I am noticing it in the congregations. I am noticing it in my own approaches to the position as well as my conversations with congregations. I have to admit that it makes me a little nervous. I have enough Presbyterian “decently and in order” DNA to my personality that this trusting the future to the Spirit makes me a little anxious at times. Yet I also believe that Pentecost is the right season for this age that we live in.

We are going to have loosen up, get a little tipsy and trust a Spirit whose first interest is life, abundant drunken life!

Divine Randomness?

“And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.”

This single line is from the lectionary reading (Acts 1: 26) for this Sunday, May 13, which also happens to be Mother’s Day, but I am pretty sure Mother’s Day was a later addition to the calendar and isn’t found in the original Greek text.

casting of lotsI have been chewing on this line all week as words like predestination and fate and “the luck of the draw” have made their way into my meditative space. The text is a reference to the final choice (or divine act) as the early Christian community wrestled with how and who should restore the apostles back to an even dozen. The congregation clearly used some discernment and studied the resumes and the hearts of two men—Justus and Matthias—as they considered who would step into the hole filled by the disgraced disciple, Judas.

We don’t know whether the two men were equally qualified and therefore subjected to a simple lottery, like the toss of a coin, or whether casting lots was a typical way of handing such heady decisions over to God. What we do know is that the final selection came down to a very quick and unceremonious casting of lots. The coin was tossed, so to speak, it came up heads, and Matthias’ life went one way and Justus’ life went another way.

silver medalistI sometimes wonder whatever became of Justus after the casting of lots. Did he walk away bitter? Was his life never the same? Did regret chase him every day like the “if only” that chases the silver medalist at the Olympics? Did he fade into obscurity and become just a shadow of his former self? Or did he not even give his loss a second thought knowing that God must have had something special in store for him as well?

Conventional wisdom would tell us that Matthias was the luckier of the two; lots were cast and he was the lucky winner! The apostles went looking for someone special. Justus was special, but not quite special enough according to the outcome of the lottery. As luck would have it he was just a runner up in God’s story.

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But I wonder if truly neither of them were lucky or unlucky. I wonder if there were no winners and losers in this text. I even wonder if it didn’t matter whether it was Matthias or Justus who won the coin toss. Either way God’s will was going to be done. I wonder if, in that brief moment, when one man’s life went one way and another man’s life went another way if both of them felt that God had a plan for them. I wonder, even though the text doesn’t reveal it, whether there was no hierarchy of service. Matthias ended up where God most needed him. Justus also went where he was most needed by God. Two different paths equally needed by God.

Like I said this text got me thinking about such words as predestination and fate and “the luck of the draw.” It got me thinking about the apparent randomness of divine favor—why one person would become an apostle and the other relegated to a footnote in history; why one person is given a long and prosperous life and another dies of cancer before retirement; why one church grows and another declines; why the future sometimes turns on something as random as the toss of a coin and the casting of lots.

I wonder, “Is the fate of our lives as random as the casting of lots? And, if it is, does it matter? Does it diminish our intimacy with God?”

 

What a friend, what a friend

I don’t know about you, but on a first, just-at-a-glance reading of this Sunday’s gospel lesson I find myself cringing at Jesus’ definition of friendship: “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” Eek! I am not sure I could get away with that with any of my friends nor would I appreciate my friends making their friendship conditional upon following their orders. “John, I want to be your friend, but who died and made you king!”

lectio-divinaOf course I don’t think that is what is really going on here, but I do think that in order to get to the heart of a scripture lesson it is important to be honest about our own reactions and feelings before we can find the real truth and the motherlode of spiritual wisdom in a text. This is one of the reasons that I have enjoyed in recent years the lectio divina approach to scripture where the personal encounter with the text is as important (if not more so) than getting the one right perfect interpretation.

A too literal interpretation and gut level response to this text seems to have two definitions of friendship colliding with each other—friendship as the result of obedience and friendship as the result of mutuality. I am not opposed to obedience and following commandments from an authority figure, but I also don’t put authority figures and friends on the same list of people important to me.

But underneath this text, I think, is something more important that gets right to the heart of this Jesus thing, this Jesus way of life. This line actually reminds me of the changing relationship that I have experienced and enjoy with my own children.

My children are now hovering around the late 20’s and early 30’s. The truth is I consider my children more friends now than my children. Of course I know that they will always be my children. I still call them “kiddos” on occasion and remind them (much to their embarrassment) that they will always be my “little babies.” This is especially annoying to my 6’ 3” son.

mother daughterBut despite the fact that I will always have a parent/child relationship with them the quality of our relationship is more along the lines of two mutual friends. I feel less inclined to have to offer life lessons and spiritual wisdom to them than I do the desire to just share my experiences with them, listen to their experiences and trust that both of us are richer for the experience.

The funny thing about this is that I don’t think that this is just the result of them having aged and matured. I think it is more a function that they have adopted the values and have assimilated the lessons that I taught. In other words, they didn’t just grow up, get bigger and get older. They transformed the parent/child relationship into one of friendship by equaling the playing field. By adopting my values they shifted our relationship from one of obedience to one of mutuality.

generosity handsValues such as compassion, kindness, generosity, respect and tolerance were central to my parenting of them. They could have chosen any profession or any hobbies or interests and I would have still considered them my friend as they grew up. But if they had dismissed the central values of our family and chosen paths that did not reflect compassion, kindness, generosity, respect and tolerance I think I would still feel like I was parenting them. As much as I would desire a mutual friendship with them, mutuality would not have been possible. My children became my friends because they got the basic lessons right. Had they not I would still only be their parent.

I like this friend business. But I don’t think I will be able to sing “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” the same way ever again. This is heady stuff. Am I really ready to put myself on equal footing with Jesus? Am I ready to claim that I have lived up to what he commanded of me to love and lay my life down for others? Am I ready to step clear of my childhood dependency and become an adult in the faith? Am I ready to claim true mutuality with Jesus and shed that parent/child relationship with my Savior?

I am not interested in having friends who order me around. But I am very interested in a Savior whose deepest desire is that I would become his friend. I also know that I have a long way to go. And I know that Jesus is awfully patient.

The Case for Bilingual Churches

“I am the vine and you are the branches”–John 15: 5). I have repeated those words hundreds of times over the years as I presided over the Lord’s Table in a number of churches.

vine tattooA few years ago I was serving in a congregation where I knew many in the community and, quite honestly, some in the congregation would have defined themselves as being “spiritual but not religious.” On more than one occasion I found myself adlibbing a bit at the table by saying, “2000 years ago Jesus said, ‘I am the vine and you are the branches.’ Today he might have put it this way, ‘God is in you and you are in God.’” Same sentiment, different words.

I bring this up as I reflect on the conversations I am having with leaders and members of our congregations around our presbytery. One of the many things that has emerged has been an obvious need to help our churches become bilingual as the gap between the church and the culture grows.

Of course, I am not speaking specifically of learning Spanish or Russian or Somali (although that can’t hurt!). I am talking about learning to share the essence of our gospel story, our faith tradition and our Christian values in language that the surrounding culture can understand. In this case I used the Biblical image of vines and branches and translated it for people who might think of themselves as spiritual but not religious.

bilingual picturesBut it brings up the point, “Is it our ultimate responsibility to share the gospel story as it is written or is it our responsibility to share the good news as it can be heard?” I believe it is the latter. I believe that saying it is not enough. Having it heard is the ultimate goal. I believe that we are going to have to learn to become bilingual, trilingual and multilingual. I believe our pressing modern question is, “How do we translate the God-speak that we use on Sundays into people-speak the rest of the week?”

Shoot! I just realized that this should have been my Pentecost blog! (Translation to non-religious—the story of Pentecost is when the disciples were given the gifts of multiple languages in order to share the good news with people in a dialect they could hear).

Shalom, Salaam and Peace to you. God bless and good luck.

Brian

Presbyter for Vision and Mission (in other words, “the big picture guy”)

Attracting the “other sheep”

Today I marked off visit number 35 to our churches as I make my way around the presbytery during what is beginning to feel like a whirlwind tour. I had always heard that the geographical nature of our presbytery was a challenge to making meaningful connections and now I have the worn tires and the aching back to prove it as I shuttle my body around this beautiful place we call home.

I have promised you that for a time—whether that is for a few months or a few years—I am going to write my way into our emerging vision. Each week I am writing this blog post as I reflect on our lectionary texts, the conversations I am having with churches, the experiences I am having in your communities and good old-fashioned prayer and discernment. This week the lectionary text collided with what has become the most common question that I am hearing from our congregations.

“Brian, what can you tell us about how to attract the people of our community to our church?”

Isn’t it interesting that in our lectionary text for Sunday, April 22 is this juicy tidbit from John 10:16 where he says, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”

It is interesting to see the contrast between our question about trying to attract people into the fold and Jesus’ promise to bring people into the fold. There seems to be something missing in translation, right? If Jesus was serious about this “one flock, one shepherd” promise then why isn’t he doing more to fill our Presbyterian pews. Or maybe the problem isn’t Jesus. Maybe we should be doing more to make sure that Jesus’ voice is heard loud and clear. Or maybe we aren’t the problem. Maybe those “other sheep” are just more stubborn than Jesus and we ever imagined.

Or maybe none of these are the problem. Maybe we have forgotten that the fold is not a church, but is a community. Maybe we have forgotten that the “good shepherd” wasn’t interested in membership, but seemed more interested in bringing people together in unity (one flock, one shepherd). Maybe we need to remember that Jesus didn’t expect people to come to him. He went to them.

Maybe sheep prefer pastures to buildings!

Breaking News! Jesus Ate Broiled Fish

couple-at-altarImagine if Martin Luther King, Jr. suddenly had a nasty coughing fit in the middle of his “I Have a Dream” speech. Or if the beautiful bride had to suddenly run off to the ladies’ room right before the exchange of wedding vows. Or if Jesus needed a bite to eat before he could continue his resurrection monologue.

I have always stumbled over Jesus mundane question to his disciples in this passage from Luke 24: 42 where the disciples can’t seem to make sense of the fact that Jesus had died and yet stood before them. In order to put two and two together they had to either confirm that Jesus was a Zombie (in other words, actually still dead, but acting like a sleep-walking human) or was actually a Jesus-copying ghost—something along the lines of a Star Trek hologram. Being formally dead and now fully alive was not an option for them!

The mundane and ordinary exchange goes like this. Jesus asks the disciples, “Have you anything to eat?” The disciples give him a piece of bland, broiled fish. Jesus sticks it into his mouth and eats it while the disciples watch.

Broiled fishI wished I could say that I am exaggerating how utterly uninteresting this text is. There is no dressing it up all. Jesus could have asked, “Do you have anything good to eat that will make my special once-in-a lifetime resurrection visit worth my time?” The disciples could have said that they had a piece of leftover fish from the catered wedding reception from the night before. The author could have said that Jesus dipped the fish in a rich, creamy full-bodied tartar sauce made completely of locally grown organic ingredients.

There could have been something to make this text worthy of the Holy Bible, the Word of God, the very ground of our spiritual existence. But no! All we get is a simplified children’s book version of the most mundane events. Jesus asked for food. Jesus got food. Jesus ate. Disciples watched. C’mon!

spiritual and humanOr COULD IT BE that I have fallen for the same spiritual trap that this text is attempting to address? COULD IT BE that I am guilty of thinking that something can’t be truly spiritual and also mundanely human at the same time? COULD IT BE that I just can’t seem to accept that a piece of broiled fish and resurrection life can exist in the same moment and the same person? COULD IT BE that I expect God to act like God and people to act like people and neither to act like each other? COULD IT BE that God also has a boring, mundane, and uninteresting side?

COULD IT BE that the distance between God and us really isn’t all that far?

Becoming a “Weird” Church

“There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold.”  Acts 4: 35

tent citiesThere, in the above words, is a picture of the early church as portrayed in the book of Acts. I suppose it depends on which side of the tracks you live on as to whether this is received as good news or bad news. If you are surviving in an REI tent along I-5 the possibility that a redistribution might put you in a clean and sturdy one-bedroom apartment is pretty good news. But if you are lounging around in a 4-bedroom condo overlooking the river and that same redistribution also puts you in a clean and sturdy one-bedroom apartment this text might sound like bad news.

I love the invitation of this text: true communal, connectional living—that is, until I ask myself, “Does that mean I have to share some of my pension earnings?” “Do I have tell my grandchildren that the couch is good enough for them when I lose my guest room?” “Does a night out on the town now constitute a few games of pool at the local bar rather than a mid-priced ticket to the unstoppable Blazers?”

luxury homeLike I said, I love the invitation of this text until it asks me to trade in my creaturely comforts for Christian mutuality; until it asks me to downsize my worldly possessions in order to upsize my spiritual connections; until it asks me to give up my socio-economic standing in favor of standing with the formerly poor and oppressed. Until it asks me to step out of what feels normal and acceptable into something that is strange and weird.

I was struck when I read this text that as foreign as it felt to our current church culture I also recognized that we are, in our own way, letting the radical call of this text call us into a new and possibly more authentically Christian future. Yesterday when the Omnibus, our presbytery’s monthly newsletter, was published there was an article highlighting First, Portland’s experiment with a “Presbyterian Community of Practice.” The experiment seeks to bring four young adults together to live, work, eat and pray in an Acts-like intentional community at Menucha.

taize groupOrganizers at First and Menucha were inspired by the community in Taize, France. They write, “As at Taize, participants in this community will live together, study together, eat simple communal meals, and worship regularly together.” The Rev. Spencer Parks, Menucha’s Executive Director, was quoted as “describing the year-long community’s purpose as spiritual development of young adults in a world where they hunger for authentic ways to live their faith.”

Hours after seeing the connection between our lectionary text and Menucha’s experiment I came across another article in The Guardian with the title “So Christianity is no longer the norm? Going underground will do it good.” The article points to the trend in Europe where young people have largely rejected Christianity yet still seem to yearn for the kind of mutual community portrayed in Acts where “there was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold.” The author concludes that maybe it is time for the church to once again live into its radical “weirdness.”

I admit, it’s not a very American ideal. But it may be more Christian.

Sorry, gotta run. My brand new luxury car is being buffed and polished today.

“The Rising”

I know in recent years I have become a bit of stick in the mud when it comes to Holy Week. While I always relished the increased attendance and enthusiasm of Easter Sunday I also have been known to make snide comments to a few confidants about the trend to skip straight from the high of Palm Sunday to the even higher high of Easter. It seems that many in our culture pretend that Good Friday is just a typographical error on the calendar.

sugar and spiceI have always been a sensitive type, but without leveling too much guilt I have also been known to admonish people, “If you really want the Easter experience you have to be willing to slog through the despair of Good Friday.” Without Good Friday Easter is just “sugar and spice and everything nice.”

I love Holy Week—all of it! The expectation and hopefulness of Palm Sunday, the intimacy of Maundy Thursday, the deep, dark despair of Good Friday and the stunning ecstatic appearance of resurrection life on Easter. I used to believe, before I knew any better, that the Holy Week narrative was just a story. I have come to appreciate that it is a mirror for life.

Another person whom I think sees the Holy Week narrative as a reflection of our lives is The Boss—the rock and roll legend, Bruce Springsteen. A few years ago I preached a sermon series on the faith of our contemporaries. I was serving a congregation that was comprised of members who spanned the theological spectrum from evangelical conservative to progressive. Trying to give expression to the variety of spiritual orientations I chose as my subjects the Rev. Billy Graham, President Jimmy Carter, Mother Teresa, the poet, Mary Oliver, and finally The Boss himself.

springsteenI had already had an intuitive sense that Springsteen poetically and lyrically played with the same themes that we often preach from the pulpit—despair, hope, faith, love, and justice. What I wasn’t prepared for was how one his albums would feel like it was lifted straight out of the gospel narrative. When I listened to his 2002 album “The Rising” I found myself exclaiming out loud, “This is just a regurgitation of the Good Friday/Easter story!”

As I researched it more I was struck by how much this album was the product of our culture’s yearning for Easter in the midst of a Good Friday experience. The album was released within months of 9/11. Springsteen recounts the moment he knew he had to do this, saying, “A guy drove up next to me, rolled down his window and said, ‘We need you now.’”

Springsteen has been called an American poet, prophet and priest and this encounter supports how many people look to him in the same way our church members look to their pastor. In times of grief and tragedy our priests, pastors and prophets are called upon to speak the message of Easter—sometimes from the pulpit, sometimes from the street corner, and sometimes from the rock and roll stage.

Silhouettes of Three CrossesI won’t go into all the lyrics that point to “The Rising” being a contemporary reflection of our Holy Week narrative (seriously, with a name like “The Rising” is there a need to!). But just a quick review of the song titles reveals how much this Catholic boy was shaped by the narrative of Holy Week—Lonesome Day, Into the Fire, Waitin’ on a Sunny Day, Countin’ on a Miracle, Empty Sky, Worlds Apart, Mary’s Place (a veiled reference to Jesus’ mother and the Kingdom of God), My City of Ruins, The Rising, and Paradise. Every title has Good Friday and Easter allusions.

While Springsteen, when asked, just smiles but never confirms the religious parallels, writer Jeffrey Symynkywicz writes of “The Rising” that it is “an Easterlike anthem arising out of the darkness and despair of September 11, a national Good Friday experience if there ever was one.”

To all the priests, pastors, poets and prophets out there this Holy Week this is your moment. We need you now.