Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Spring Colors at Home

This year, the 40 days of Lent seemed to drag on for me. I had more on my plate than ever before, and at times it felt as if I didn't even have time for the things that bring me life and sustenance.  Cooking, tending my home, spending time with close friends over copious cups of tea, and getting outdoors - all these things got waylaid in favor of long workdays and nights watching some of my favorite TV shows on the PVR. 

I admit, it wasn't the best way to spend my evenings. But, I tell you, it's what I could handle in the midst of rehearsals, planning, concerts, more planning, meetings, more rehearsals, and finally, Easter services. 

So when I woke up yesterday morning, the Monday after Easter, I had high hopes for my day off. My houseplants were in desperate need of some TLC, so I was going to trim and repot the overgrown ones, nurturing new little shoots into full grown plants. My bathroom and kitchen floors needed scrubbing, my recital rep needed rehearsing, my friends needed phone calls and tea dates, my bookshelves needed organizing, and my laundry needed laundering. 

What I didn't realize was that I, personally, was leaping from the drudgery of my Lenten season right into the celebration of Easter resurrection without first allowing myself to stop, to rest, between the cross and the empty grave. 

Holy Saturday gets little "airtime" in the church year. Some churches host Holy Saturday vigils, but these can be elaborate affairs that tire out church workers rather than still and quiet the soul. Because here's the thing: on Holy Saturday, all we can do is wait.

On Good Friday, the day Jesus was crucified, there was a flurry of activity. Crowds milled around to gawk at the spectacle.  There were people wailing in grief and anger. The soldiers tried to hurry on the gruesome process of death. But for Jesus, there was no need for that. He had already slipped into death. I imagine there was a brief moment of dumbfounded confusion when the soldiers realized he was dead. Then they might have shrugged their shoulders, and moved on.  But Jesus' death spurred on even more activity. A man named Joseph made arrangements for Jesus to be buried right away, before the sabbath began that very evening. Nicodemus brought what seemed to me an obscene amount of spices - 75 pounds of it! - to wrap up Jesus' body. Perhaps in his grief, he was a big spender. Perhaps, being a man during a time when burial rites may have primarily been the work of women, he just didn't know how much to buy. But, they were quick and efficient, and Jesus was buried before the sabbath began. 

In the gospel of Mark, the story skips directly from Jesus' burial the night before the sabbath to the morning after the sabbath. Mary Magdalene and Mary, Jesus' mother, watch as Jesus' body is laid in the tomb. The very next verse begins, "When the Sabbath was past..." (Mark 16:1). The flurry of activity begins yet again as three terrified, grief stricken, trembling women make their way back to the tomb to anoint Jesus' body. You know what happens next. Instead of finding Jesus, they find a young man in brilliant clothes who tells them, absurdly, not to be alarmed that there is nothing in the open tomb except the cloth Jesus was wrapped in. The gospel of Mark ends with the women running away, and the other gospels describe even more astonishing events as the disciples wonder at and realize what has happened. 

But what about that Sabbath day, the single, holy day embedded between grief and surprise? 

It is a day to wait.

For Mary Magdalene and Mary, Jesus' mother, their waiting was motivated by the rhythm of resting and abstaining from all forms of work on the Sabbath day. It must have been an impatient waiting, which apparently could not end soon enough - "very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb." They did not anticipate the surprise they would receive there. They went seeking to embody their last expression of love and care for a man who had changed their lives, but found that even death could not keep the Lord of life.

We also are tempted to wait impatiently, to hurry through a day that cannot end soon enough, so that we can celebrate the victory of Easter morning. And - too often! - we hurry through the sure and measured steps of the season of Lent, sometimes skipping the grief and pain of Good Friday entirely. But the thing is, no matter how much - or how early! - we celebrate Easter, with trumpets and Easter lilies, chocolates and roast chicken, the only one capable of bringing about Jesus' resurrection life in us is the Lord of life himself. And He tends to do it in his own sweet timing.

But Holy Saturday, from a post-Easter perspective, teaches us to wait for God to bring about his resurrected life in us.

For me, as for many church workers around this time of year, getting through Easter season was a challenge. It requires stamina, hard work, lots of planning and attention to detail. (And a little bit of time for spiritual reflection, if you can manage it.) For me, the workload of Lent and Easter is not unlike a kind of death. It requires a sacrificial pouring out of my time and energy, in slow, measured steps. Likewise, the days after Easter promise a new sense of freedom, with more time and less work to fill it, allowing me to once again embrace those things that bring me life and joy - cooking, tending my home, spending time with close friends over copious cups of tea, and getting outdoors.

But even I had forgotten the patient waiting that needed to happen before that new life could spring up again. On Monday, I found that every attempt I made to return to "normal" life and activities was thwarted by my own exhaustion. On top of that, I found myself getting frustrated with my inability to embrace the new sense of freedom my newly lightened workload offered me. What I needed was the waiting of Holy Saturday.  I needed the stillness, and the quiet that can only be found between the effort and pain of Good Friday, and the glorious, surprising victory of Easter Sunday.

So my own Easter story goes like this: It was not until this morning that I had the desire or the joy to attempt decorating my apartment. But once I started, it was delightful. I replaced dark and tired winter decorations with fresh spring blooms and bright colors. Plants that were crowded in their pots now have room to grow and sprout.  Even a set of tulip bulbs that were stored away in the laundry room had audaciously and optimistically sprouted without my noticing! Now they are potted up and watered and awaiting the spring sunshine to coax out their blooms (in the purple pot below - they look a little like albino rhino horns).

But the best part of my own Easter story is this: The season of Easter lasts 7 weeks! Easter Sunday is only the beginning of new life. After all, it takes a full month for the little tulip buds to blossom after they've poked out of the ground. This blossoming of resurrection life is worth the wait.