This week we call Holy is a week full of memory. As people who make their home in the Christian household, we will be gathering in various forms to remember, to re-tell ancient stories, to celebrate what it means to be people who have given over their lives to certain ways of being in the world. Depending on where you live and the role of tradition in your particular church or denomination, this remembering and celebration will look different. But the telling once again of the last days of the life of Jesus of Nazareth will be a part of the remembering. How each individual congregation makes meaning of those stories is what has divided us and what also keeps that story, and its memory, alive.
I was driving through the Ohio countryside this week looking at the rolling hills that shaped my own spirit allowing them once again to wash over me with their beauty. Something about this landscape reaches deep inside me in a way I cannot deny. The pastoral scenes are dotted with little wooden framed churches that rise out of the farmland, strongholds that have stood against change and hard times. Stopping to take a closer look at one white chapel along the road, I read the plaque on the brick entry to the cemetery and church.”Ay, call it holy ground, the soil where first they trod;left unstained what there they found, freedom to worship God.” The words were dedicated to a group of Welsh settlers who built the church in 1835. I remember worshiping at this tiny chapel in the country when I was a young girl, the Welsh voices lifted the roof in song and prayer. My mother pointed out the ‘tea room’ in the back of the church urging me to look inside. Though a CD player sat on one of the tables, not much had changed in that room in decades, and is not likely to do so.
Only a few people worship at this church now. It is served by a pastor who makes her rounds to several wooden structures throughout the countryside in addition to her Sunday morning service in town. I thought of all the tiny churches that adorn the countryside all across this land, the people who built them, who called the ground on which they stood ‘holy’. I wondered what their founders would make of the faith communities of the 21st century.
On the drive back to Minnesota, we stopped to visit my father-in-law in Milwaukee. While there I read a letter written to him by his father. I marveled at the length of the letter and longed for such written correspondence….no text ‘grunting’ here. Long, beautiful sentences flowed out as he shared his understanding of faith and the differences he had observed in the various expressions of the Christian story by faith traditions. All this he did without judgment or mean spiritedness. In today’s ways of speaking about different expressions of faith, it was a joy to read. I wondered how many people I know could do the same without creating an ‘us’ and ‘them’, could lay out the differences with such respect. His letter created another kind of ‘holy ground’ on which a life was built, a life that left ‘unstained’ what he had found in his own faith journey.
This week we call Holy provides another opportunity to till the soil of our own faith. Each year, like the spring in which it arrives, we have the blessing to turn that rich soil of memory, tradition, faith,history and longing over once again. In it we will plant the seeds of hope….for what the story will bring to birth in us this year. How have the forty days of Lent been for you? What has been itching just below the surface that has troubled you or made you joyful? What is longing to come to birth in you, through you? How are you experiencing the life of Jesus?
These might be questions to carry into this week knowing that we all come from good stock of those who have carried similar questions before us. Some built churches in the countryside to hold their faithful longings while others wrote long letters to make their way to the answers. We have been and are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who dedicated themselves to remembering, telling and living their faith. And now it is our turn. May we do this work well for the healing of our own spirits and the healing of the world.