Tag Archive | Holy Week

Remember Me?

Eight months ago I stopped publishing my blog every week. Now I post an entry sporadically, averaging about one a month. The one thing I’ve been consistent about is always publishing on Tuesday morning. Today that tradition ends, too. It’s Friday. Specifically, it’s Good Friday, and there’s something on my mind that I want to share with you.

SKM_C22717041309390For the past several years, our church, Messiah Lutheran Church in Madison, has published a daily devotional booklet to be used during Lent. In January, members of the congregation are invited to volunteer to write a one-page reflection on a Bible verse that will be assigned to them. Every year volunteer writers range in age from elementary school children to very senior citizens. The resulting booklet is a wonderful devotional aid for all of us to read throughout lent. Here’s a link to this year’s booklet on the church website: http://www.messiahchurch.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/2017-Lenten-Booklet-MASTER.pdf

I’ve volunteered to be one of the writers every year. But the verse assigned to me in 2014 just didn’t speak to me. I had no idea what to write about, and I discussed that concern with my partner Mim. The verse was:

Jesus crying with a loud voice said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last. Luke 23:46

Mim said, “Oh, I can write about that.” And even though Mim hates to write, she did it. She started her reflection with, “Having been a nurse for 40-plus years, I have been with many people as they have breathed their last…” It was the perfect verse for Mim to write about.

This year my verse is also from the book of Luke, and again it’s the one scheduled for Good Friday.

One of the criminals said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Luke 23:42

I decided to give my reflection double duty by posting it on this blog as well as having it appear in our church’s devotional booklet.

fullsizeoutput_204dWhy in the world did one of the criminals hanging on the cross next to Jesus ask Jesus to remember him? Why was it important to this criminal to be remembered by Jesus?  Why was the question important enough to Luke that he included it in his Gospel?

We all want to think that we matter as a person. At the women’s worship service in the Dane County Jail (where I volunteer as pianist), we take time to pray for each other.  The inmates, the chaplain, and I sit in chairs arranged in a circle. Each person shares what’s going on in her life as we go around the circle sharing our thoughts and feelings. Then we pray for each other by name. The person on my left prays out loud for me. Then I pray for the person sitting on my right. Then she prays for the person on her right, and so on. Each person is remembered. Each person is important in God’s eyes. And each person needs to know that.

I think that’s why the criminal on the cross asked Jesus to remember him. He needed to know that he mattered, that Jesus would remember him. Jesus reassured him that he would. In the very next verse Jesus said, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”

One of my favorite prayers in our hymnal is “Jesus, Remember Me.” It’s a simple Taize chant that repeats the words of this verse over and over again. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.…”

Yesterday I played the piano for the women’s worship service in the Dane County Jail again. I don’t play there twice a month any more like I used to. I just play occasionally for special services. Yesterday was a special service to observe all of Holy Week, including Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter. That’s a lot to cover in a little more than an hour. But with all of that, we took time to sing four hymns. One of them was “Jesus, Remember Me.”

There’s no doubt in my mind that Luke had a very good reason for including the criminal’s request in his Gospel. That’s my request, too.

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“Music . . . controls our thoughts, minds, hearts, and spirits”

Marian at Messiah organ 4Now is the time to start singing and playing the big, powerful hymns of the church. It all started last Sunday – Reformation Sunday. Our opening hymn at Messiah Lutheran Church was A Mighty Fortress Is Our God. I tried to set the mood for it with a much louder than usual prelude – a simple but bold arrangement of two of my favorite old hymns – A Mighty Fortress is our God and Holy, Holy, Holy. I loved the big, bold start to the service.

We continued with that big, bold style for the hymn we sang during the offering, O God, Our Help in Ages Past, and we ended the service with Lift High the Cross. I played To God Be the Glory for a big joyful postlude.

Pastor Jeff built upon the theme of boldness by talking about standing boldly for Christ, and he included I Have Decided To Follow Jesus as his sermon hymn. In his homily he included the famous Martin Luther quote, to “Sin boldly.” No, it’s not a typo and I just left off the g. It’s not “Sing boldly.” It’s “Sin boldly.” (You may want to listen to the sermon to hear the quote in context. Here’s the link to the sermons. http://messiahchurch.com/media/video/2015-homilies/. Then click on October 25, 2015.)

Personally, my favorite Martin Luther quote is, “Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world. It controls our thoughts, minds, hearts, and spirits. . . . A person who . . . does not regard music as a marvelous creation of God . . . does not deserve to be called a human being; he should be permitted to hear nothing but the braying of asses and the grunting of hogs.” Luther wrote those words in the forward to one of his books, according to Robert J. Morgan in his book Then Sings My Soul: 150 of the World’s Greatest Hymn Stories.

2015-10-26 Stone Meadows Pond

A picture of autumn in our back yard. I took the photo yesterday when I was grilling hot dogs for lunch.

It’s almost November, and autumn is finally here. Most of the leaves have turned from all shades of green to brilliant shades of red, orange, yellow, and brown. One day last week I picked up the biggest, boldest maple leaf I have ever seen in my life. I brought it in for 94-year-old Anna to trace and color. I had to give her an 11” x 17” sheet of paper for it to fit.

The leaf has started to curl, but Ann was able to trace it when it was still fresh.

The leaf has started to curl, but Anna was able to trace it when it was still fresh.

Big and bold. That’s what I associate with autumn. Big pumpkin fields with thousands of bright orange pumpkins. Acres and acres of golden corn fields and soybean fields. Bold, blustery winds making corn husks fly from fields into back yards and streets in the neighborhood – keeping Floey busy chasing them during our walks.

Big and bold. That’s the kind of music I associate with November. Hymns of Thanksgiving for God’s wondrous love and caring, for God’s generosity to us. Hymns like Thanks Be to God, Now Thank We All Our God, Come Ye Thankful People Come, Count Your Blessings, and We Gather Together.

I spent Sunday afternoon at the piano, playing all the big, bold Thanksgiving hymns I could find to begin planning the preludes and postludes for the rest of the year until Advent, which starts the end of November this year. I had a great time.

Speaking of Advent, I used to be quite self-disciplined and I didn’t let myself play any Christmas music, even at home, at least until after Thanksgiving. But there is so much wonderful Christmas music, one month isn’t enough time to enjoy it all. Now I let myself start playing it the first of November (at home only). But I need to be careful not to allow Christmas music to take away from the big, bold music of autumn and Thanksgiving. God gave us music for all seasons of the year to enjoy and ponder.

I totally agree with Martin Luther. “Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world. It controls our thoughts, minds, hearts, and spirits. . . .” Thanks be to God!

Ann coloring the huge leaf she traced on 11x17 paper. She told me she wants to include all the colors of fall in the leaf.

Anna coloring the huge leaf she traced on 11×17 paper. She told me she wants to include all the bright, bold colors of fall in this leaf.

Observing Holy Week – Jail Style

City-County Bldg 2Last Thursday I participated in the women’s worship service at the county jail. I’ll be doing the same thing again this Thursday, Maundy Thursday. Women inmates have the opportunity to go to worship once every other week. The women from half the cell blocks are given the opportunity one week, the other half the next week. Last week four inmates chose to come to the worship service. With the chaplain and me, six of us sat in chairs arranged in a close circle with a small table in the center that served as the altar.

We observed all of Holy Week in about an hour. We started with one woman reading the story of Palm Sunday, of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Then we jumped ahead to Maundy Thursday. The chaplain explained the two key events that happened that evening – Jesus washing the disciples’ feet, and Jesus sharing bread and wine with his disciples – the first Last Supper. That was a natural lead-in for us to share communion with each other.

potters crackersUsually in the past when we’ve shared communion, the chaplain has provided elements that are commonly available in jail – saltine crackers and a plastic cup of grape juice from the canteen. But this time, she brought something special – Cranberry Graham organic artisan crackers from Potter’s Crackers and organic grape juice. The chaplain had picked up the gourmet crackers and organic juice at the Willy Street Co-op.

The chaplain explained what communion represents in her faith tradition and asked each of us to explain what communion means to us. Then the chaplain held the basket of crackers and the cup of grape juice and offered “the Bread of Life and the Cup of Blessing” to the inmate sitting at her right. The woman picked up a cracker from the basket and dipped it in the grape juice. As she ate it, we all smiled as she crunched and ate the cracker. The crackers were really crunchy, but oh so tasty. Then the first inmate held the basket and cup, and offered the crackers and grape juice to the woman sitting at her right. We kept smiling while we waited for her to finish eating her crunchy cracker.  Then she offered the holy meal to the next person, and so on until all of us had been served.  I’m glad there were just six of us sitting in the circle so we could truly savor this moment of holy crunching and sharing.

When all had been served, we ended the meal by singing a hymn, just like the original disciples at the first Last Supper. The hymn we sang was “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” I wonder what hymn Jesus and the disciples sang.

Hands playing pianoSince we were trying to observe all of Holy Week in that one worship service, we read more Scripture and talked briefly about the crucifixion and resurrection. Then, as usual, we went around the circle with each of us talking about what was on our minds related to the readings or other thoughts. All four of the women were thinking about being released from jail. One woman was going to be released the next day, and she was really anxious to see her little boy again, and her boyfriend. The three others were going to be released within a couple weeks. All four women were concerned about being able to turn their life around so that they would never have to return to jail, and so that they could live a good, meaningful life. Then we prayed for each other out loud. We went around the circle again, praying for the person on our right, by name. After praying, we sang “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today.” We ended the service by reading a blessing as a benediction.

A prison cell doorWhile we were waiting for a deputy to come to escort the inmates back to their cell block, one of the women asked if I knew how to play the song “This Little Light of Mine.” I started to play the tune and she sang along. Then we all sang “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.” Both songs seemed quite meaningful for young women about to be released from jail, and about to go back to the rest of their lives.

I left jail that day thinking about lots of things –

  • What kind of bread did Jesus share with his disciples in the first Last Supper? Was it really crunchy and flavorful? Do church worship committees think seriously about the kind of bread they serve for communion – and what that could symbolize on multiple levels?
  • What hymn did the disciples sing before leaving the meal? I can’t believe that I never noticed before that it says in Mark 14:26 that they sang a hymn! That gives me a new perspective to keep in mind when I select music to play as background music during communion in the churches where I play organ.
  • How will God take care of each of these women as they return to their lives outside of jail? After all, “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.”
  • Why do I feel so thankful and invigorated by the prayer the inmate sitting on my left had prayed for me and my family? And, do all the inmates and the chaplain feel the same way when someone prays for them by name? I bet all people (or almost all) are inspired when they know that someone is specifically praying for them…

I’m truly grateful for the opportunity to get together with these women to read scripture, share communion, express thoughts and feelings, sing hymns, and pray together. I need to write up a note about this to drop in my Gratitude Jar.

Gratitude Jar w note 4

 

 

 

Do This in Remembrance of Me

Mint-CandyI think I was four years old the first time I wondered about what was going on in church when my mom and dad left Danny and me in the pew with strict instructions to “sit still” while they walked up to the front of the church in an orderly line with all the other adults. I tried to see what was going on up front, but we were sitting in the back pew, and I really couldn’t see anything except the heads of all the people in front of me. In a couple minutes my mom and dad came back and my mom gave me a few of those little pink and green and yellow pillow mints – the kind you used to get at weddings. Oh, that was it – they went forward to get some candy, and my mom brought some back for Danny and me.

That’s my earliest memory of what “Holy Communion” was all about. Communion didn’t happen very often in our church back then – maybe three or four times a year. It took me a while to learn that “communion” was about something other than getting candy, but I eventually caught on, especially when my mom stopped bringing back those pillow mints, and she looked for whatever candy she could find in her purse to reward me for “sitting still.”

When I was a kid, we didn’t take communion until we were confirmed, which was in eighth grade. By that time we had learned that communion was a time to remember Jesus’ last supper with his disciples, a time to remember how much Jesus loved us.

One of the most memorable times I took communion was when I was in high school. I was with a group of ten kids and a youth pastor (my brother-in-law) in Mexico at the jungle base of the Wycliffe Bible Translators Missionary Training Camp. We were on a week-long trip to learn about all the different kinds of jobs missionaries held. We happened to be at the jungle base on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. For our communion service we sat on stumps in a small clearing in the thick jungle growth. For the bread and wine we had tostados and grape Kool-Aid. It was a very moving experience. I thought about God’s love for all people, including people all around the world, some who lived in the jungle and didn’t even have a written language – which meant they had no way of reading the Bible, or anything else. What was God like for them?

More recently, I’ve been thinking about communion from a little different perspective. For the past thirteen years I’ve been a church organist. In the Presbyterian church, we had communion once a month. In the two Lutheran churches where I play now, we have communion every Sunday. Usually I’m “working” (playing the organ) during communion, and the main thing on my mind is: How can the music I play prompt people in the congregation to think about how much God loves them? Sometimes it’s by trying to set the right tone and tempo for a reflective hymn that the congregation is singing. Sometimes it’s by playing an old familiar hymn that has words that might bring Jesus’ love and suffering to mind.

holy-communionThis Thursday is Maundy Thursday, the day we commemorate the original “Last Supper.” I’ll be “working” double duty that day. I’ll play the piano for the women’s worship service at the county jail in the afternoon, and I’ll play the organ for the Maundy Thursday service at East Koshkonong Lutheran Church in the evening. I’m looking forward to both services. This is my first year playing at East, so I don’t know quite what the service will be like, although I expect it will follow the traditional Lutheran liturgy fairly closely.

I know what to expect for the service in jail. Based on my experience the last couple years, I expect the service will be quite informal and very meaningful for everyone involved. There will probably be about ten of us sitting on wooden chairs arranged in a circle in the jail chapel. After the chaplain explains what communion signifies, she may invite us to share with the group what communion means to each of us personally. After this time of sharing, the chaplain will bless the bread and “wine” (grape juice); we will pass the cup and bread around the circle; and we will offer communion to each other. As the inmate sitting next to me holds the bread and cup for me, she may say, “The body of Christ, given for you; and the blood of Christ, shed for you” – or something similar. I will pick up a small piece of bread, dip it in the cup of juice, and eat it. Then I’ll take the bread and cup and hold them for the inmate sitting on the other side of me and offer the bread and “wine” to her. The process will continue until everyone has offered and received communion. Then I’ll go back to the piano and we’ll sing a hymn.

Of all the weeks of the year, this is the one to especially remember how much God loves us. Jesus gave us an important tip when he said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” The important thing that happens whenever we take communion is that we are prompted to remember how much God loves us – even more than my mom loved me when she showed her love by giving me pink and green and yellow pillow mints.

“Emma” and the Love of God

“I love you. I’ll be leaving soon. I’ll be good.” Those were Emma’s last words to me. She told me those things Tuesday as I was sitting beside her bed, holding her hand. On Wednesday afternoon Emma passed into her next life.

[Note: I’ve changed the name of our assisted living resident to “Emma” to protect her privacy.]

Emma’s last few weeks had been hard. She was 91 years old. She suffered from severe arthritis that was very painful, especially in her knees. She had somewhat advanced dementia which made it difficult for her to say what was on her mind. But Emma still enjoyed life. She didn’t want to die yet. She had a loving family – daughters, grandchildren, and great grandchildren – and friends who visited or called her often. She fought death as hard as she could. But by Wednesday she was ready to be born into her next life. She was ready to be held “Safe in the arms of Jesus” as the old Fanny Crosby gospel song describes.

As Emma’s life transition occurred, and as we’re moving into Holy Week, I’ve been thinking about how much God loves us and cares for us. Not only did Jesus suffer and die on the cross for us a couple thousand years ago as we remember particularly during Holy Week, God is still with us today – helping Emma through her life transition, helping us through our grief, and blessing us with many gifts including the gift of love.

One song that my mind has been singing a lot this past week is “The Love of God” by Frederick Lehman. This song tries to answer the question “How much does God really love us?” In the third verse, Lehman paints a word picture that I really like.

Could we with ink the ocean fill
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill
And every man a scribe by trade.
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole
Tho’ stretched from sky to sky.

Forty-two years ago when I graduated from college, I moved to Connecticut and was a high school English teacher for a couple years. My favorite thing to do in my spare time was to drive an hour to East Matunuck State Beach in Rhode Island and walk to the tip of the breakwater. That took 45 minutes of scrambling over huge rocks, occasionally getting sprayed by an extra big wave crashing into the breakwater. By the time I reached the tip, I felt that I was completely surrounded by the vast ocean. On one of these mini-pilgrimages to the furthest boulder of the breakwater, the ocean looked different. It was the beginning of the hurricane season, with some activity along the Mid-Atlantic coast. As far north as I was, the ocean was churning more than usual, but not threatening any hurricanes locally. The water wasn’t blue or green; it looked black – like an ocean filled with ink.

That’s the image that comes to mind for me when I sing this song. Could we with ink the ocean fill … To write the love of God above would drain the ocean dry…

How did Lehman think up that image? He acknowledges that it wasn’t original to him – he just wrote down some of the lines he recalled hearing in a sermon, and made it the third verse of a song he had already written. He tried to find the source of the lines. What he learned was that it was written on the wall of an insane asylum by an unknown inmate. However, more recently, the lines have been traced back further to an eleventh-century Jewish poet in Germany named Meir Ben Isaac Nehorai.

Obviously, we aren’t the only ones pondering the vastness of God’s love for us. This image alone has been helpful to our catching a glimpse of God’s love for a thousand years. From a medieval poet, to an inmate of an insane asylum, to a 19th century writer of gospel songs, to becoming a theme song of a 20th century evangelistic crusade ultimately reaching hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of people – all wanting to understand and express their appreciation of God’s love. Last week I was able to understand a little more about God’s love as I saw Emma comforted and at peace as she passed from this life to the next.

There are several different versions of “The Love of God” on YouTube. This song was one of the signature songs of The Billy Graham Crusades. Below are two links to the song, both performances from Billy Graham Crusades.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&feature=endscreen&v=dzDLLSTR9yY
This video begins with about half a minute of Billy Graham preaching about God’s love. His words are immediately followed by a group of Christian musicians singing “The Love of God.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eKgIb5g21Eg
The second video is from an earlier crusade (1983) and features George Beverly Shea singing the song.

The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell;
It goes beyond the highest star,
And reaches to the lowest hell;
The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
God gave His Son to win;
His erring child He reconciled,
And pardoned from his sin.

O love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure –
The saints’ and angels’ song!