Tuesday, March 25, 2008

assorted thoughts during the octave of Easter

Traditionally, as far as the church calendar goes, this week is actually a day. To denote the profound change that Christ's resurrection has wrought in our lives, the first week after Easter Sunday comprises one metaphorical day. Time itself is altered by this news. In the early Church, those baptized on Easter wore their baptismal robes in public this whole week to signify this. They didn't take off this sign of their new life until the second Sunday of Easter--Quasimodo Sunday, or White Sunday--when the "day" had come to an end. The setting for the gospel text for the second Sunday of Easter (John 20) underscores this passage of time. All of this, of course, is not law. One must not follow it to celebrate the resurrection (and I know of blessed few congregations who still do); it shows that over the years, however, church tradition has thought of creative ways of showing how significant this change from death to life is. It shows how the Church has invented thoughtful methods for indicating that the life of faith is altogether different from the life without it.

And I can't help but think of these rich traditions that have gone by the wayside in light of our own congregation's struggles, for example, to keep lightbulbs changed in the sanctuary and a full roster of committed Sunday school teachers. For a long time I've thought that, in order to function fairly well, a congregation needed a substantial number of its members to make it a priority in their life, ranked above sports and making money, to name a couple of competitors. Church needed to be the Primary Community. Rather than being another organization to "belong to," the congregation needed to be the main gathering place, the chief social group.

Now I'm amending that approach just a little. In order for a congregation take up God's mission and embody his incarnate love robustly and most faithfully, I believe its members really need to think of the Church as their way of life. If that sounds drastic, it's because it is. In a sense, it is cultic (in that it is something that must be cultivated). I'm not suggesting that we re-institute, for example, celebrating the octave of Easter with baptizands' wearing of their white robes in public, but perhaps we should challenge our people to think of church as a way of life, rather than a hobby or a membership. The church constantly needs to remind itself that it is a Way, it is a way of living that permeates all other aspects of one's life. Church is not merely a way we should spend our every Sunday morning (although, at the very least, it should be this), but it is where an individual's life is rooted. The Church is new clothing, in a sense: we receive Christ's robe of grace and love and thanksgiving and we are bid to wear it all the time.

I know I'm not saying anything new here, but as a pastor, I constantly feel guilty for asking members to contribute their time and resources to church, whether or not I do it directly (by asking them outright) or just by providing them myriad opportunities to "get involved." This sense of guilt comes from my own deep-seated belief that Church is still an "extra" for so many people. I fear they will be turned off by this strange modern-day affliction known as "burnout." How can church leaders effectively convey to the congregations they serve that church shouldn't just be a priority, but a complete way of life---and do it in a loving, graceful manner? To be sure, holding onto the traditions is one way, because I think they evoke emotions and communicate the nature of faith in ways that mere words often can't. But in what ways can we reclaim this sense of church as way of life?

(image: Russian icon of the resurrection of Christ, 16th cent.)

1 comment:

Matt said...

We have Good Friday activities on the morning of the day for children, to tell the Crucifixion story. I wore my cassock and crucifix all day, even for this program. Your comment about baptismal robes was echoed for me in this practice, for it made me think differently about the day.

I have also taken to wearing a small cross on the outside of my clothing, even when I wear a clerical shirt. That too has helped me "wear" my identity as one baptized into Christ.