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
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.
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.
Way up at the north of the land we now call Scotland,
there are islands that lie in the North Sea.
At one time they belonged to the King of Norway, a Viking King.
He split the rule of these islands, called the Orkneys,
between two cousins,
Earl Hakon, a mighty warrior,
and Earl Magnus, also mighty in battle but gifted in peacemaking.
Together they ruled peacefully for seven years
until evil men gained the ear of Hakon and turned him against Magnus.
There were great arguments until other men, good men,
persuaded the two earls to work out their difference diplomatically.
It was agreed that they would meet on a small island
during Holy Week to make their peace.
They were each to be accompanied
by just enough men to fill two small boats.
Magnus and his companions arrived first.
He went into the small church on the island to pray.
When he returned he to the beach to wait for Hakon
he saw that there were not two boats approaching but an entire fleet.
He had been tricked.
He knew his men were out-numbered.
Again he knelt in prayer.
He sent his men back to the small church and waited alone for Hakon
in the sparse and rocky field in front of the church.
When Hakon arrived he saw Magnus waiting for him
with his arms outstretched in peaceful welcome.
“Come, cousin,” said Magnus.
“Let us sit together and talk out our differences.
Do not break our oath of peace.
I will give you three choices
to protect you from doing wrong and breaking your oath.
First, if you will keep the peace
I will go to Jerusalem and pray for us both there.
I will never return to the Orkney Islands.”
Hakon did not agree.
“What if you change your mind?” he grumbled.
Magnus said, “Then I will turn myself over to the King of Scotland
who is your friend and he can keep me imprisoned for life.”
Hakon replied, “He might change his mind and set you free!”
Magnus sighed and said, “Then I give you a final choice.
You can blind me and keep me imprisoned in your own dungeon.”
“And make you a hero in the eyes of the people?” roared Hakon.
And with that he beheaded his cousin Magnus on that very spot.
Magnus’ men sorrowfully buried their leader in that sparse, rocky field
which was full of moss and not good for any kind of farming.
It was the kind of field that fostered very little life.
However, that spring the field grew lush and green with grass.
People came there to pray and sheep came there to graze.
It was said that the field turned green with grassy new life
because not only was it the spot where Magnus,
remembered now as St. Magnus the Peacemaker,
died and was buried,
it was also the place where his soul was lifted up
to be with the Holy One in Paradise.
And so God returned the favor
and granted the Orkney Islands a bit of Paradise.
Magnus died with God and rose with God.
And the field is the witness.
[Orkney Travel Tales, Robert Bela Wilhelm, Ibooks.]
We entered Holy Week this past Sunday with all its pageantry and music and story. Church tradition is ripe with ritual to celebrate the passion story of Jesus through this central week of our faith. I hope you will join us for our Plymouth traditions. (See the box below for a reminder of all our events for this week!)
We have many events for participation. Yet I think that each year we have a choice at Holy Week. We can through the liturgical motions vaguely remembering the stories. Or we have the choice to participate letting the tangible and intangible power of resurrection sink deeper into our bones as we go through the week.
As in the story above, Hakon came to participate in reconciliation and peacemaking, yet he had not chosen those things in his heart as Magnus had. So he was not willingly to let the power of making peace take root deep down. Will you choose God’s power of resurrection this year despite the evidence in our world that conspires against it? External political and social circumstances in our world may rarely give us direct and factual cause to hope for resurrection. Will we choose fear or will we choose compassion and life? The usual stresses of daily life, family concerns and friends who are in need are never ending. Will we choose peace or further engagement in the surface turmoil?
The traditional lectionary scripture texts for Easter Sunday urge us toward hope in the midst of tragedy and despair. In the face of our “realities” we can choose to trust and affirm that God is “about to create new heavens and a new earth” (Isaiah 65:17). Choose to trust and affirm that “the stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone” (Psalm 118:22). We can choose with Paul to affirm the testimony of good news handed to him by the first disciples, testimony that he has handed on to us in I Corinthians 15. Christ died, was buried and was raised on the third day, appearing first to his closest disciples, then five hundred other followers and lastly to Paul on the road to Damascus.
Ironically the Gospel of Luke tells us that the first twelve disciples did not believe when the women who experienced the empty tomb returned and proclaimed the good news. The men thought it was “idle tales,” make-believe. Crazy emotional women! But then Peter, who just thirty-six hours before Easter morning, denied that he even knew Jesus, decided in his inimitable style to choose ACTION in response to the news. In spite of his disbelief and despair he chooses to run to the tomb to see for himself. Will we respond like those first disciples and not take the news of resurrection to heart? Or will we allow the power of God to cultivate our lives and like the sparse, rocky, lifeless soil of the Orkneys become rich, fertile soil full of prayers and promise for Paradise?
This year I challenge us all to take Peter’s choice to heart, to act on the news of resurrection. To go and see for ourselves. To let the deep roots of God’s salvation sink deep within our souls. May we choose to trust the biggest story of our faith. It is not a choice to take lightly. And it is not the safest choice. But it is the resurrection choice. And just as that ancient man, Magnus, following the example of Jesus, chose life in the face of betrayal, God will also work through us and our choice.
May your Holy Week be blessed as you walk the road into Jerusalem, find the upper room and then the garden, follow to the cross and finally to the joy of the empty tomb. We walk together with God’s presence step by step!
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. Learn more about Jane Ann here.