Invitation to Holy Week
I resonate with the words of Rev. Sarah Are, the poet in our Lenten devotional materials this spring, who writes in her Palm Sunday poem (on page 37 of the devotional book):
I wonder if Jesus could feel his heartbeat
In his throat, the way I do when I’m afraid.…
I wonder, because time has taught us
That it is not uncommon
For a peaceful protest
To start or end
With an unjust death.…
I want to hold what matters most with both hands.
I resonate with these words and use them to invite you to hold Holy Week in both your hands this year and in your heart as we revisit again the story of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection. Time has taught us in the past year that peaceful protests are deeply connected with unjust deaths. That they may start peacefully and end in violence. That while we must band together in abiding by safety protocols to create herd immunity to a virus, the measures to combat this pandemic do not soften the anger festering under the surface of our social structure. Instead, isolation and fear exacerbate the dis-eases of racism, mental illness, gun violence and distrust of our neighbors.
That is why I want to hold Holy Week in both hands to experience and, perhaps, understand more deeply than ever that the unconditional love of God is tangible in the life, death and new life of Jesus of Nazareth. I want to open my heart to this Love that is God who abides with us in the depths of our pain and the heights of our joy. I invite you, along with all the Plymouth staff, to join me in holding Holy Week with both your hands. Even though we must stay socially distanced, Love will join our hearts through the stories and the music of this week.
Here are the highlights:
Hope to “see” you during this holy and fateful week!
Blessings on the journey,
PS!! The celebration of Easter does not end on Easter day. It continues into the 50 days of the Easter season. Join with your faith community for “Plymouth Reads” in preparation for our first Visiting Scholar day of 2021, May 16th, with Wes Granberg-Michaelson, author of Without Oars: Casting Off into a Life of Pilgrimage. Books available in the church office (call to make sure Barb or another staff person is there), $10, cash or check! More info on book group discussions coming in the Thursday Overview.
The Rev. Jane Anne Ferguson, Associate Minister, is a writer, storyteller, and contributor to Feasting on the Word, a popular biblical commentary. She is also the writer of sermon-stories.com, a lectionary-based story-commentary series. Read more
Grieving for Boulder
Dear Plymouth Family,
Again, I write to you in the wake of another shooting in Colorado. And as I said in my sermon last Sunday, I will continue to be vocal about the need for sensible gun legislation in our nation.
Last night I was in a meeting with our Strategic Planning Team, one of whose members is a Public Defender, providing legal representation for people in a range of cases, including murder. Something she said really struck home: Many of the people who commit horrendous acts like the one at King Soopers in Boulder last night have severe mental illness and they do horrific things…and the availability of guns makes the fallout so much worse.
As a moral question, I wonder what it is in our society that causes so much mental distress (especially, it seems, among young White men)? What message is our culture sending to people that says violence and mayhem are the only answer? Where are the faith communities in all of this? Why are we a lone voice among faith communities for sensible gun laws?
From a spiritual perspective, I cry out, “How long, O Lord? How long?” What is it in the spiritual lives of Americans (who some claim are a Christian nation) that allows us to tolerate shootings again and again and again? What is NOT being said from the nation’s pulpits?
Columbine. Aurora. Colorado Springs. Thornton. Highlands Ranch. Boulder.
Friends, we in Colorado are at Ground Zero for public shootings. Let’s do something about it. Here are steps you can take:
This hits close to home for Jane Anne (who served Community UCC as an interim minister) and for me as a former resident of that neighborhood in Boulder.
In the coming week, many churches will hear the story of Jesus and the Empire’s myth of redemptive violence…that executing Jesus will make it all go away. You will hear about a triumphal parade that led to desertion, betrayal, sham trial, and crucifixion. That should speak loudly to every person who claims to follow Jesus that violence is not his way, nor should it be ours. And we will also hear the story that violence and death is never God’s final word.
Deep peace and more action,
One of the most bewildering elements of prerecording the worship services is the nonlinear nature of the experience from our perspective. For example, we taped the interior portion of the Maundy Thursday service last Thursday. I will record the Prelude and Musical Meditation for that service today, four days later as I write. In addition, we have a weekly template of prerecording the following Sunday service on Wednesday and Thursday. As the music for the 6:00 p.m. Zoom service is now also prerecorded, that necessitates a weekly evening recording session to accommodate musicians’ schedules. Musical Offerings for the 10:00 a.m. service are typically recorded at night as well and sometimes weeks in advance to account for travel schedules and availability. This week, I am also recording the Good Friday Musical Meditation. Simultaneously, Anna Broskie is assembling the virtual choir anthem for the Easter morning Musical Offering, which is a time-consuming task. So, it is not unusual for me to tune in to Sunday worship and be completely surprised by the Prelude (“Oh, I remember playing that one!”)
Now, I do thrive in the abstract as part of my vocation, even unofficially living in my own time zone (approximately 15’ behind: HST— Heiskanen Standard Time!) And this writing is not meant to be a complaint either. One does what you must during these strange times to make it work—that’s it! But this dizzying experience does make you that much more long for the community and connection of in person worship.
I receive my first shot of Moderna on Thursday this week! Many of us in the Plymouth community and millions around the nation are fully vaccinated or soon will be. Isn’t that amazing?! While we all have our head down in being creative and undertaking the work at hand, it is nothing short of awesome to have an eye wide open to the return of physical connection in our church community. And without the assistance of those adept at technology (Anna, Dean Wallace, Stuart Yoshida, Jim Medlock, and others…thank you!!!), none of our online worship services would even be possible.
As a fan of Dr. Who and his/her time machine the TARDIS (Time and Relative Dimension in Space, don’t you know!), I can’t help but feel as if myself and the staff are bouncing around through time but just a week or two into the past or future. I would prefer to just walk at this point—and wait. Soon, that will be the new norm.
Dir. of Music
Mark Heiskanen has been Plymouth's Director of Music since September 2017. Originally from Northeast Ohio, Mark has experience and great interest in a diverse range of musical styles including jazz, rock, musical theatre, and gospel. He is thrilled to serve a congregation and staff that values diversity and inclusion in all facets of life. Read his mostly-weekly Music Minute here.
Standing at the Threshold
Each morning we stand on the threshold of a new day with its possibilities for change. Some changes we celebrate. Others we mourn or regret. God is with us in each and every change.
Moses stood at a threshold of change as he gave his farewell address to the Hebrew people before sending them across the Jordan River into the land of promise. He led them for forty years, out of slavery in Egypt and through the wilderness pilgrimage. Yet, he could not go with them across the Jordan. At one hundred and twenty, he was on the threshold of death, and God gave the people a new leader, Joshua, for the new pilgrim journey. Change! At a very tough time.
Moses told the people that God would be with them as they encountered enemies in the new land. Don’t we often think of “change” as an enemy? I do…it can be jarring when I want to be comfortable, it can engender hard work when I think I am tired to the bone, it can stir up emotions I don’t want to feel. Yet change has also provided the threshold for the most life-giving events that have blessed me beyond measure. Not that I always recognize the blessings immediately. That can take a while.
Change also teaches me that I am not in control. I am not the Queen of the Universe that someone forgot to consult. (And would I really want all that responsibility anyway?!) I am a pilgrim on a journey through this life with the Holy One as my guide. I make choices, yes, however, my highest calling is to respond to the calling of God that may lead me into unknown territory, to thresholds that I did not expect.
As a congregation we have been called to face SO many changes over the last year. I know that has been exhausting and still is as we look for the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel. We have also faced church staff changes. Three of our staff who were with us a year ago, Mark Lee, Mandy Hall and Yendra Tenzca, have answered God’s call to work and ministry in settings that may have surprised them as much as us. And now, we face another staff change with the departure of Carla Cain. I hope you join me in praying for Carla as she moves toward new ministry opportunities back in Iowa and give thanks for the many gifts in ministry that she gave Plymouth in her time here.
Our Leadership Council chose a theme for Plymouth this year that is telling, "Standing at the Threshold: The Pilgrim Journey Continues." Moses would have understood this theme when he addressed his people. I leave you with his words – adapted just a bit by me.
Be strong! Be fearless! Don't be afraid and don't be scared by your enemies, [by change], because the [Holy One] your God is the one who marches with you. He won't let you down, and [She] won't abandon you. (Deuteronomy 31:6 from the Common English Bible).
With you on the journey,
Holy _ _ _ _ (Week)!
You may have wanted to fill those blanks in with a four-letter word other than “Week,” but resist the temptation! The last year has been filled with more “pivots” and “adaptive challenges” than any in our lifetimes.
Our very first livestreamed service was on March 15 (the Ides of March!), 2020, as we started to learn more about the spread of the novel coronavirus that would change so many lives, as well as changing our nation, community, and congregation.
And while it may seem slightly premature, I want to express my gratitude to each of you for being patient, keeping yourself and others safe, demonstrating flexibility, and going with the flow as much as you have! Please keep up the great work…we’re getting closer to the end of the pandemic day by day.
I just returned from a meeting in Santa Fe with two of my three UCC CREDO colleagues (and am self-quarantining), and even though ours is the largest of the four congregations, ours is the only one of those four UCC churches that has not lost a member to COVID. That has required sacrifice and selflessness and generosity of spirit…way to go, Plymouth!
Our Pandemic Team continues to monitor developments and is taking a deliberately slow pace in restarting our in-person activities. This month, our Middle School and High School Youth Groups are having their first gatherings with ten or fewer participants, masks, distancing, and open windows in the Fellowship Hall. If that goes well, we’ll extend that opening to other fellowship and spirituality groups within the congregation.
Holy Week is not far off — there are only two more Sundays in Lent! And we are busy planning for an online Maundy Thursday Tenebrae service, a noontime organ concert on Good Friday, and an online ecumenical Good Friday service at 7:00 p.m. Easter Sunday will feature three different services: a drive-in service in our parking lot at 8:00 a.m., a recorded service (with brass!) at 10:00, and an interactive Zoom service at 6:00 p.m. (And for the kids there will be an in-person Easter Egg Hunt on Saturday…sign up by March 28 at plymouthucc.org/kids.)
We’ve had to make adjustment this year…lots of them. Thank you for hanging in there and being part of the solution rather than part of the problem. I’m very grateful to you and proud of all of us at Plymouth. Blessings as we walk through these final days of Lent.
Reflection on Eggs at Church
What is a 21st century, nutrition-minded, progressive church thinking in sponsoring an Easter Egg hunt? What do eggs have to do with resurrection anyway?
The Venerable Bede may have gifted us with the goddess of spring and fertility, Eostre, back in the 700s. Eostre’s traditions may even date back to Ishtar in ancient Babylonia. Eostre’s ancient fertility symbol, eggs, were simply folded into the pagan/Christian mix of “oh, why not?” like evergreens and a donkey at Christmas.
At least Santa has some attachment to St. Nicholas who was a real, fourth century, church person, who did gift people in secret. Nicholas just got adapted over the years by a poetic professor, newspaper editor, soft drink manufacturers, and an economy that soon became based on Christmas and fourth quarter earnings.
So, back to Eostre/Ishtar and eggs. Why bother if it isn’t even Christian?
Cue the fiddler--because it is tradition, and traditions hold us together--especially in pandemic times. Maybe even more than we care to admit. I remember the smell of vinegar while coloring hard boiled eggs at my mother’s kitchen table, and with my children at our kitchen table. I remember churches smelling a bit too much of lilies, and helping my dad slice ham for my grandmother’s Easter dinner. Tradition.
I’ve smiled at many parents who are far more enthusiastic about their toddler finding a plastic egg than the child, who is still focused more on just staying upright. But the parent is also remembering Easter traditions and celebrating another milestone with their child.
And theology? Personally I can see Jesus at an egg hunt cheering the children on, pointing the overwhelmed child toward an egg the others have missed. Jesus would keep an extra egg or two in his pockets to hide just for the child who has arrived late.
And I can certainly see Jesus wanting young children to understand Easter not in terms of victory over humiliation, torture and death, but in terms of pure joy in new life. As the hymn says, “Every Morning is Easter Morning.” What if we lived everyday as if our basket were full of our favorite chocolate eggs? And what if that joy happened with our church family?
To maintain social distancing, you must sign up for the 2021 Plymouth Easter Egg Hunt. I’ll see you Saturday, April 3 between 10 and noon. It’s BYOBM (Bring Your Own Basket and Mask).
We can make Easter a celebration of joy that passes understanding, even in this crazy time of pandemic.
Tricia Medlock is returning to the interim position she held between Plymouth directors Sarah Wernsing and Mandy Hall. After leaving the Plymouth staff, she served as director of Children’s Ministries at St. Luke’s Episcopal for four years. Read more.