Sweet Resurrection Joy

Friday, March 3, 2017

Is. 58:1-9a; Ps. 51:1-10; Matt 9:10-17


I recall a special Lenten season 25 years ago at a church in Louisville, Kentucky.  The worship committee designed Lent to mirror Advent.  So the Lenten wreath was a crown of thorns rather than evergreen boughs.  It held seven candles, one for each Sunday of the season, with a Christ candle in the center.  We began with all candles lit, and every Sunday, we recited a confession of sins followed by “Lord have mercy, we have put out the light of the Gospel.  Christ have mercy, we have put out your light.  Lord have mercy.”  Then one candle was snuffed.  One by one we extinguished every candle until only the Christ candle remained.  On Good Friday, a dramatic reading recounted Jesus’ last days.  One reader ended with Jesus’ cry from the cross according to the Gospel of Luke: “Father!  Into your hands I commit!  My!  Spirit!”  The one who shouted those words into the black-draped sanctuary snuffed out the Christ candle.  We left in silence and darkness.

When we returned for worship on Easter morning, bars of sunlight crossed the sanctuary while people placed flowers everywhere.  People wore bright colors and a happy murmur filled the space.  Children received small jingle bells, and their tinkling sounded like tiny wind chimes in a spring breeze.  “Alleluia” is forbidden during Lent, but it crowds Easter hymns and litanies, and the children gleefully rang their bells every time we sang or said the word.

That Easter, I felt the joy of the resurrection more sweetly for having grieved more bitterly my own sins and Jesus’ atoning death.  My recent divorce had torn away my happiness and my identity, and I wondered if I would ever get either back.  These years later I think I began to find them again because of that Lent.

–James Riley Strange