Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Subtle Changes,

Poinsettias adorn our sanctuary every year as Christmas nears. Then on Christmas Eve, after our candlelight service, most Plymouth Creekers take home the plants they ordered. One exception this year was for perhaps the largest and reddest flower. Its owner/order-er graciously allowed the church to enjoy its beauty through the year’s end, into January, until Ash Wednesday, and, well, it’s there still!

This longevity surprised me. After all, I’m the guy who, my first Christmas here, left a poinsettia in my car for two hours during cold weather, thinking all would be well. It wasn’t. I returned to a car filled with wilted, dead leaves. Thus, my astonishment that our large poinsettia has endured through nearly three months! I figured we’d have it until Epiphany, Valentine’s Day if lucky. So every Sunday before service I’d throw away the couple wilted leaves that had fallen that week. I’d turn the pedestal so the most vivacious side faced the congregation, and assumed that next week would always be its last. But to my wonder, the following Sundays, while the plant wasn’t so grand as at first, it wasn’t yet a complete eye-sore. It kept fending off the compost pile, until after Palm Sunday, when we’ll finally remove it to make room for Easter flowers.

I recently decided that’s a great metaphor for what it’s like to follow the Christian Calendar. You know, that decision church leaders made way back whenever to structure Christian time not just on earthly, but spiritual cycles too. Essentially, we relive the same story annually. Christ’s conception opens the year, then the kid’s born, then adult Jesus does some neat stuff, then he upsets some brutal jerks, so he’s killed, but then- God is really awesome- He’s Alive! He’s Alive!

At least, that’s the rhythm of half our year, celebrating the basic narrative arc of Jesus’s birth, life, death, resurrection. Other important stuff comes up too, obviously. Yet Christians really like this story.

But it can get somewhat tedious, right? Reciting these moments over and over. Seriously, there’s only so much meaning you can forcibly extract from that weird Palm Sunday tale. Don’t get me wrong. I love Christmas every year, and not (only) because I get presents. Honoring Jesus’ birthday is meaningful and profound. We should observe it annually. Same goes for Easter.

It’s the middle stuff that drags. Like that poinsettia, Christmas kicks off each year with a blazing red bang and then, over subsequent weeks, the sheen of church slowly wilts and fades until… Well. For some, until it’s thrown onto the compost pile. They won’t do church unless it’s at its Biggest and Best! They have little patience for the mundane stuff of meetings, cleaning coffee cups, breaking down tables, attending Sunday School. That’s not always powerful like candlelight Christmas Eve (though our Sunday School often is…), but it’s what allows Christian community to exist, grow and thrive. Of course, others dwell only in those details, define their spiritual life purely through meetings, routines and tasks that (only they!) do. This keeps God’s wonder and awe from barging into their faith like a cannon of grace and light, alas.

The fading poinsettia shows me another way through our Calendar. We basked in its beauty at Christmas, then in its afterglow ever since. And it’s slowly faded, sure, the effect reduced. If we were Christian perfectionists, we’d have dismissed it weeks ago. If we were Christian drudgery artists, we may never have noticed it. But hopefully we’ve enjoyed the lingering effect. Yet little lasts forever. Renewal is ever needed. Thankfully, that’s built into the Christian calendar too! Annually, we celebrate new life at Easter, its persistent possibility. So at Lent’s end, a lovely new flower will replace the decaying body of one we received at Christmas. Maybe our own spirits will, then, feel a fresh push of beautiful grace that could inspire us to work harder again for God’s Kingdom come.
I’m certainly looking forward to that boost! I do annually. Thank God for the wonder of special moments in the rhythm of Christian time, the daily work of good workers, and the promise of new life. Available always.

Grace and Peace,

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