Tonight, our oldest will accompany me to our Tenebrae service. Seated next to me, I will envelop him with my black-robed arm wrapped around his little body, as he watches the scene that unfolds – haunting melodies, dramatic scripture readings, descending darkness. I wonder how wide his eyes will become when we reach the pinnacle of the service and the Bible is slammed shut, the candle extinguished, and we sing in the dark.
By the time I reached the car, rain drops had already began their assault. I quickly started the car, opened my phone to detect GPS’ best route home, and set out down the block. My weather app struggled to pull up the radar, as if it sensed all the dark greens, oranges, and reds would be just too much to handle.
Soft green bundles hang outside our upstairs window with stringy tufts dripping below. Our grand tree in our backyard is coming back to life. It has been a long winter. Its bare branches have survived the winter winds and freezing temps. The tree’s trunk has survived with the melted snow, even if it took weeks to seep into the frozen ground.
It has not yet reached its full maturity of summer leaves that will sway with the summer winds and give shade to the summer play of young ones below.
These soft green bundles speak the promise of its coming. They whisper to me that even if not fully formed, there is already promise of summer. There is already resurrection.
The youngest rises early and is fully alive at 6:15 a.m. Perhaps he is his mother’s son. Breakfast consumed quickly, he begins his play. He shouts at objects in repeated indecipherable words. They are unknown to the untrained ear. But to us, with visual cues of context, we discern what they mean. As he shouts in repeated fashion, we echo back our confirmation that we heard.
His attempt to name is intense and urgent. He shouts them like cannonballs hurling towards the target until affirmed that we heard and understood him.
May my prayers be the same – eyes open to the world, to that which delights my eyes and that which frustrates my heart.
May I launch it all, in few words, towards the Eternal Listener until I hear it reverberate back my way.
The two men carefully bend sticks and tie them in place. Held together with scraps of clothing and rags, the sticks create a frame for a tent in the midst of the Gourougou Mountain. Random pieces of tarp tied onto the frame transform into a shelter. Meticulously, with patience to execute it well and urgency because their well-being depended on it, they turn nature’s leftovers and human leftovers into a home. The Land Between, a documentary we’re showing at Highland on Sunday as part of our Moroccan partnership, tells the stories of those who are stuck between the home they have fled and a future they cannot grasp.
I sat in my office as I previewed the film and I marveled at their survival skills, ingenuity, and teamwork. Then I marveled at their suffering and resiliency when the journalist takes us back a few days later to see the bare bones of the shelter. The sticks stand but the tarps so carefully tied have vanished. The men share the story of how the authorities chased them out of the camp and burned all their things.
The journalist leaves the camera unnervingly on the framework of sticks. Hollow. Empty. Bare to the bone. It tells of the death chasing after them AND the life enduring despite it.
I fill my days rushing around, worshiping the gods of efficiency and productivity. I thrive off of checking the boxes on my to-do list and I plan my day down the hour. I value a clean house and an empty counter.
So when the morning comes with the child hot with fever, my whole day feels ruined and I spend the next hours attempting to work and watch kids, aware that any attempt to juggle kids, my computer, and all the germs spreading is impossible.
Thrashing around, their little bodies twist and turn. Couch cushions lay on a heap in the floor – collateral damage from brothers wrestling. I’m in the thick of it, tickling belies and shielding my face from injury. It is raucous and joy-filled. It is a moment of brothers let loose to be brothers… living this life together that is messy and dangerous and beautiful.
It is love on the edge.
My mind wanders to the sanctuary, where we sat last night in darkness at the end of our Tenebrae service. A service of shadows. A service of death. Black fabric still drapes the communion table and pulpit. As the birds began their day’s song, I know that the darkness sits in silence even now.
The complex theological questions of Good Friday swirl in my head (where was Jesus’ father, Joseph, while Mary wailed? Where was Jesus’ father, the Holy One, while love and sorrow flowed mingled down?). Yesterday the questions seemed important to think through. Today, they seem rhetorical. On the silence of Holy Saturday, faith is not about understanding the mystery. It is about communion with the mystery.
Even now, the ashes cling underneath my thumbnail. When you have the responsibility to spread the ashes on the heads of your congregation, the darkness has a way of seeping into the crevices and indentations where nail meets skin.
Person after person comes before us and we smudge the ashes on their forehead and we visualize the reality that this church will bury each one of these precious, beloved souls. A young girl in leggings. A man in all his strength. My own father. It’s all too much to bear in that moment. Should we let it truly sink in, each one of us as ministers would be a pool of tears before the congregation.