Monday, March 16, 2009

Lamenting our way to the Cross.

I am now part of a congregation that does very little with the traditional/formal church calendar. I would say we are very casual--we don't dress up, we have little scripted in our gatherings, we speak extemporaneously in the Californian vernacular, and we don't follow a lectionary. Having served and worshipped in churches with more formal habits, I understand both the blessings and perils of a more overt formalism. One of the perils, for example, is that it can very easily lead to a kind of legalism, where anything outside the norm is inherrently disruptive. One of the blessings, however, is the discipline of encountering all of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ, including the parts that make us squirm. Lament can be one of these parts.

So I am happy that my church is taking the journey with Christ into the desert, a 40 days of facing the difficult realities of following Jesus. I am happy we are exploring what it means to surrender our whole selves to God, including the times we are angry, disappointed, and full of dispair. I am leading my congregation in a segment of the service after the message, using the Psalms as inspiration. Much of what we are doing is a kind of lament.

The first Sunday, I did Charlie Peacock's "Down in the Lowlands," based on Psalm 69, invited them to sing along. This is not because I expect everyone to get into the same emotional place as the song, but because it is good practice, if you will, to learn how to call to God when he seems distant or unconcerned. Too, it is a good reminder that our mission is to welcome the brokenhearted, to mourn with those who mourn.

The second Sunday, I did an original song that I wrote after reflecting on the message, based on the passage in Mark 8 where Jesus rebukes Peter ("Get behind me, Satan") right after Peter has confessed Jesus as the Messiah. My pastor's take was that following Jesus means we must accept and follow Him on HIS terms, not according to our own expectations. The song is called "Still I come." Here's an excerpt:

This is not how I hoped it would go
I triumph much less than I fail

Still I come--where else would I turn?
Still I come; for you my heart yearns
Still I come, though I cannot discern

This past Sunday, I led worship for the whole service, and came upon the idea of using Psalm 40 as a blueprint for ordering the songs. I had been wanting to use U2's "40" in worship ever since my friend Dan did it at Rivercity Community Church in Kansas City. The Psalm worked as a blueprint, in part because it has such a range of emotion. The other song I used was one written by my friend Dan, called "I confess, " a fantastic song that speaks of bringing everything we have to the cross.

That's ultimately where we're headed--bringing everything we are and have to the cross. And that means not just our sins, but our righteousness, too. We repent not only of our failures, but also of trying to be our own savior. (I like how this idea is expressed here.)

I have one confession: I was pretty casual about the start of Lent myself. I have just come upon what I will fast from during Lent: chocolate, and specifically the chocolate that sites in the candy bowl that is in arms reach of my desk at work. But whether formally or casually, with deep piety or near apathy, we will, together with all the saints, come before the Lamb on Good Friday and remember what is is to share in the sufferings of Christ. On Easter, then, we will invite Him to turn our mourning into dancing.

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