If you have to do Lent, this is the one to do: story after story of God's abundant, overflowing, profligate grace. These stories from the Gospel of John have been surprising, startling, long, complicated stories showing that God's grace and love and truth have no limits. We started with the establishment Nicodemus; Jesus' admonition that even he must be born again showed the grace of God as the great leveler. Jesus discussed great theological truths with outsiders -- with the Samaritan woman at the well – an outsider in many ways. She, the first missionary, told this good news of the waters of eternal life with such conviction that many became believers. The man born blind, another nameless nobody, gets grilled over and over again about what happened to him, and his story never changes: the man put mud on my eyes; I was blind and now I see. He is who he says he is.
Jesus does good works, and he does them to reveal that the glory of God is here. Now. With us. It's a new day, a new world. Or rather the world restored to the way God created it to be.
All this work of truth-telling and restorative justice comes at a cost. The story of bringing Lazarus out of the tomb is followed by the grumbling and conspiring of those who are angry at what Jesus is done. The raising of Lazarus sets in motion the events of the passion – the arrest, trial and crucifixion which we begin to read on Palm Sunday.
I feel better prepared for this Holy Week – spiritually anyway; not at all in terms of all those tasks that need to be done before next Sunday!!! – than any other year. It's these lessons, of surprising, unending grace, that have done it.
Our Lenten exile in the side chapel has worked as well. We returned on Lent V to the nave, to a wide open space – we removed the first third of the church's pews. We have a new free-standing altar, with a muddy-Lenten Jacobean frontal. We have two large pots with bare branches. The lectern is the one the church already had, a 4-foot tall angel.
People liked it. The high altar can stay the same. We can have the same Easter lily arrangement. Everyone could come to communion as equals, with no steep steps to climb. We had space to move, space to breathe, space to greet each other.
The educational process was key: I did a power point slide show of other churches with renovated liturgical spaces, and showed the very good "St.. Paul's Pew Project" from St. Paul's Chapel of Trinity Church, New York. It was convincing that sacred space could change and still be sacred.
Without this shock of the new, I don't think this little church could ever move on from its troubled past. It's like Daylight Savings Time: at 6 this morning I was none too pleased but at 6 this evening, with the sky still light and a touch of spring in the air, I see the value of the change. Born again, living water, sight to the blind, life to the entombed. Hosanna, hosanna, even the stones cry aloud.
The Adventurous Parson
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