Friday, February 22, 2013

Christmas, Lent and Easter

I was thinking about lent, and then a good friend of mine wrote an excellent blog post on the topic. Summer actually was my first inspiration for writing a blog (if she can do it, maybe i can too!)- though I am not sure if I am as successful at it as she is- her blog is candid writing on her marriage with my other good friend Owen- a neat reflection on a young couple making marriage work in modern day America. Anyway, here is her recent post on lent:

This reminded me of a story I have wanted to write about for awhile- the Christmas service I enjoyed with my family. Christmas and Easter have become the two pinnacle church visits for many Christians- they may not frequent church otherwise, but they do make it on Christmas and Easter. Several more regularly practicing Christians have a problem with this, saying its a washed out version of faith. Personally I don't know if I agree- I know I personally benefit from going to church more often and having God in my life on an intrensic level- does that mean I have a right to evaluate the faith of others? I mean I believe they may be missing out on a great opportunity, but I also am happy many make it to church that much! It signifies there is something still important to them within the tradition, within the faith. I read an article recently by the Gallup group citing America as one of the most religious western nations. Something like 83% of our population believes in God, whereas only 9% claim to be Athiests.

On a side note, I actually am not resolved about Athiesm. Agnosticism I can understand and sympathize with. I also have a certain understanding for choosing a different religion outside of Christianity. Athiesm from what I have studied of it I cannot relate to. That is not to say I think Athiests are bad people, in fact a lot of Athiests I have discoursed with have more intellectual knowledge about religion then a lot of my spiritual friends. I understand from a high level the belief set, but I cannot relate- but that is a whole different debate that I would be happy to take up if someone prodes me/is interested :).

So anyway, back to the church service on Christmas eve. It was one of the most genuine services I have been to. There were no pretences or business as usual approach that I am used to. Yes we sang the hymns and lit the candles and read allowed all the regular Lutheran liturgy. But the sermon was what set the service apart. The pastor at St. Andrews Lutheran church stood up and immediately had 1) all the athiests raise their hands 2) all the people who had only come to church once that year 3) all those in the church of different faiths and religions. He then stated "you are all welcome, thank you for being here". He acknowledged the medley of reasons people come to church on christmas- family tradition, so as to not upset one's parents, because that is what you do etc. etc. He then told a story (which I will do my best to retell well):

Turns out the pastor had adopted a foster son several years back who proved to be a handful. He did his best to love him, but the two regularly fought. At one point his foster son ran away, got into drugs etc. etc.- it was bad news. Eventually the pastor and his wife got their foster son involved with the army (navy?), and the pastor described how he felt like a failure as a father sending off his son (I think because he felt he hadn't built the relationship the way he wanted, not because of any issue with the navy), but that he knew it was the best thing for him. He watched him drive away expecting to never hear from him again.
5 years later, the son showed up on the pastors doorstep. He had graduated, made it through his four years of service and came back to thank his foster father. The pastor then spoke of how elated he was, how thankful he was to reconnect with his son and be able to express his love for him. He spoke of embracing his son, and of how this day was the happiest of his life- having someone who he imagine lost to him return as a family member.

I know this story rings hard of the prodigal son, and is not the only story of its kind. And the parallel here may be all too obvious: each of us distancing ourselves from God, and him then welcoming each of us back joyously. But the way the pastor shared it was so genuine, and the story naturally inspired authentic hope. Within me was kindled the possibility of many others- after whatever journeys they have imparted on in life drifting from God, whatever convictions they hold against him, being able to reunite with him; and have a relationship with him, and to feel his love as a real, tangible experience. That is a bright outlook to have to look forward to.

So maybe this Easter, for those who go to the service because it is ritual, or for whatever other reason- maybe this time they go will make the difference. Or maybe they will find God some other time in a walk in the forest or in an experience in some other unexpected place. You never know in life where God will show up, where suddenly the spiritual is present in real time. So for me, I am going to rejoice in all of those who go just 2 times a year, because maybe the visit this Easter, or next Christmas, or some far out service in the future, will be the one that makes all the difference.


  1. Your blog inspired me to write about my faith in my blog! How wonderful that inspiration can be so circular.

  2. I enjoyed the story about the sermon that was given that paralleled The Prodigal Son. That will always be the most powerful theme possible for us, and we understand how our loved ones who are lost and distanced can be reunited and relationship restored. For us, there is now the hope of reunion with Jonathan in eternity, and we live for that wonderful moment when restoration will be complete!
    It is beautiful the way that the pastor at St, Andrew so openly welcomed all who were attending the service, regardless of their belief system or lack of any faith. That is the wonderful thing about the Christian faith, it welcomes all to God's table of grace without judgement. One never knows when God's word will penetrate and reach a person who has a seeking heart.
    Sadly though, many mainline denominations (including Lutheran)are struggling because there are many who attend only at Christmas or Easter, or for "marrying and burying". This has put many denominations in a terrible bind, and they simply cannot afford to keep their building and ministries going without a steadier commitment than this. The church needs people who are committed to serving and leading, and without this they will cease to exist.
    So I guess that behooves us to question our own role in the church, and how we might contribute so that those who choose to come only occasionally will still have a place to worship and seek inspiration.