Today has been a surprisingly busy day – phone calls and helping friends with projects and even doing a curbside pickup from a friend of some yummy, healthy food.
In the midst of all of that, I received an email from Jackie Taylor sharing the palm branches her household had coloured with young Kelan. How lovely! So I just had to share this with you. I don’t always know if the things I’m doing on this blog are helpful/being accessed/being used. So please, send pictures or stories or make comments or hit “like” on Facebook!
It’s Holy Week, and normally I’d be feeling nervous and excited and a little bit overwhelmed by the extra work I need to get done. And I’m feeling happy about the fact that this year, in this vastly changed reality we find ourselves in, I’m feeling nervous and excited and a little bit overwhelmed by the extra work I need to get done. Something that feels normal!
I have plans and some exciting surprises for the posts I will be doing on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. After a couple of weeks of feeling a little frozen in place, I suddenly have some forward momentum, some things to look forward to…Easter this year won’t look anything like ‘normal.’ But I am beginning to feel that’s not a bad thing.
Sure there are things that I am grieving and will continue to grieve – there won’t be a SonRise Ecumenical Service on the top of Centennial Hill this year, for the first time in 50 years (and don’t you dare try to gather there, friends. STAY HOME!); we won’t have our Good Friday breakfast; or be together to bring flowers to the cross on Easter Sunday. And all of that is hard.
But Jesus isn’t stopped by this physical distancing. Faith isn’t stopped. In fact, as a friend said to me, recently – if there was ever a time for a closer walk with Jesus, I don’t know what it is.
So that is my prayer for you this week – that you would experience a closer walk with Jesus, even in this vastly changed reality. And that in walking closely with him, you would find peace unto your soul.
While not the greatest quality video, I love Randy Travis’ version of Just A Closer Walk with Thee. Until tomorrow, dear friends!
Good morning – this is a Palm Sunday like no other. You will always remember where you were for Palm Sunday 2020. And I pray that you are in the comfort of your own home – safe and sound. Too many are spending this day in hospital or in the ICU. And sadly, we know more will become ill in the days to come. SO first – give thanks if you are at home, and pray for those who are not.
I have chosen to preach on this passage: Philippians 2:1-11 (again, I’m not reading that on the video, so I encourage you to read it out loud in your own home).
Here is a prayer for this Sunday, which I found on re:Worship (a resource I use regularly for calls to worship and prayers):
O Lord, you rode on. You rode over the cloaks and under the branches,
You rode through the shouts and past the praises,
Receiving the praise that you deserved,
but not confusing our praise in your presence for your purpose in coming.
O Lord, you rode on. You rode towards the controversy and the cost,
You rode towards the curses and the cross,
Receiving the stripes you didn’t deserve,
to give us a reward that we couldn’t earn.
O Lord, you rode on. You rode through the tomb and the grave,
You rode through our time and space,
Ascending to a throne that will never decay,
A priesthood that will never pass away,
A life of love that will always remain,
And hearing us even now as we pray.
O Lord, you rode on. We remember the journey you have taken
as we commit ourselves to walking in the same way.
Give us the strength, hope, and joy we need as we follow. In your name we pray, Amen.
~ written by Pastor Joe Welty, Broadway-First Baptist Church, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
Our organist, Eric Medhurst recorded a hymn for us, from the comfort of his home, in his own words: On many Sundays I have played a short contemporary arrangement of a familiar Hymn prior to the service which I think many people have enjoyed. As my contribution to Rev. Rebekah’s ongoing and much appreciated effort to keep the spirit of worship alive during these trying times I will be providing a short video each week. This weeks selection is “Lamb of God” by Twila Paris in a sensitive and thoughtful arrangement by Lloyd Larson. This beautiful hymn is unfortunately not in our Hymn Book but it may be familiar to some.
When the Session and Board of Graceview Presbyterian met after worship on Sunday March 15th, we really hoped it wouldn’t come to this. We really hoped we’d be able to gather in worship for Palm Sunday. Well…we all know now that isn’t going to happen. In fact, it may be a long while before we are safe to gather together again.
But here’s the thing – Holy Week is still happening. Remember how in The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, Christmas came even without all the trappings that the Grinch stole? How he began to think that Christmas was more than presents and decorations and STUFF?
Same is true about Easter, friends. We are an Easter people – every season of the year, every day of week, every moment of the day. With or without being together, with or without all the trappings and the stuff.
We can do this – we can observe Holy Week from the comfort and safety of our homes. We can sacrifice our own wish to be together in order to save lives. I think Jesus would approve!
Having said all that, I’m going to be supplying some extra stuff during this week, to try and give you some resources for Eastering-at-home.
Included in that file is a palm branch drawing that you can print and colour for yourself. There’s also a little lesson and reflection – if you have kids at home, please feel free to use that to have a Sunday-School-at-home.
And if you’d like something a little different from the traditional hymns, here is Andrew Peterson, singing his original song, Hosanna. (I would say, too, the intro he gives to this song is SO topical, and touches on things I’ve been thinking about and writing about on the blog this week – there’s even a preview of one of the things I’m going to say in my sermon tomorrow. So now you HAVE to watch!)
The news was pretty bleak today…I mean, hasn’t it been for days and days on end? But today Ontario released projections of how much this pandemic could cost our province. And the numbers were overwhelming.
I’ll admit to you that I sat, watching Premier Ford and his health ministers during today’s 2pm briefing and sobbed. It was so weird – on the one hand, they weren’t saying anything we didn’t know: this is bad, lives are at stake, we are in unprecedented times. But on the other hand, it all felt a little more real hearing the projected numbers. And I guess I just needed to let that emotion out.
And as I sat there – overwhelmed with emotion and not able to stop sobbing – I got thinking a bit about lament. Lament is the Biblical practice of turning to God in the midst of our sorrow. It is the practice of crying out to God.
In this article, pastor and author Mark Vroegop says that lament has four elements: turning to God, bringing your complaint, asking boldly for help, and choosing to trust God. I like that, very much.
You can see this process play out in Psalm 13:
On the one hand it shows us that it is Biblical to feel overwhelmed, to have that moment when you can’t stop crying. On the other hand, the Bible teaches that we aren’t to stay there. To stay in that place is to give in to despair. And despair is not faithful…despair says that there is no hope, there is no help, and things will never get better.
If you listened closely to Premiere Ford’s update, you might have picked up the impressive detail that the measures taken so far have saved thousands of lives. Without the things we are all struggling with – staying at home, the loss of all our gatherings, social distancing when we have to go somewhere, having chapped hands from all the washing – thousands more people would have died by now. That’s a silver lining – the things we are doing are making a difference!
So there is hope, there is the ability in each of us to make a difference, and things will get better.
Cry when you need to, friends – but I encourage you to remember to make the effort to not just cry, but to lament. To turn to God, to ask for help and to continue to trust in Him.
(And just so you’re not too worried about me – at the end of the briefing, I turned off the tv, put on my running clothes and headed out for 3 miles with Koski. You can’t sob when you’re running! I got back home, made a healthy (and delicious) burrito bowl for dinner. And then I sat down to write this. And as always, in trying to write something that might help others, I found God whispering into my soul, also. I choose to trust Him.)
Today I had an errand to run that took me out of the house. I decided to do my grocery shopping at the same time, so that I’d only be going to the one store, and only going out once. The whole process ended up being a bit more complicated than I initially expected – it resulted in me being out of the house for close to four hours.
And during that time, I spent much of it alone (well, not alone, Koski was with me of course!) in my car. I used the time to listen to some treasured music (The Man from Snowy River soundtrack…a glorious instrumental score that brings to my mind the beauty of that movie which my Dad and I love).
It was a ridiculously sunny day – one of those days you’d describe as “not a cloud in the sky.” And my route took me along the Lakeshore, near the mouth of the Humber River. I smiled, looking at the way the sun sparkled off condo windows, and the blue of Lake Ontario. And for the first time in many days, I spent hours not listening to CP24.
Now, you might expect this to be a post about how being away from the news helped me relax. But it really didn’t. I’m learning about myself as we move through these days of physical distancing. And one of the things I’ve learned is that my imagination is far too active. If I don’t have good, solid reliable, steady information about the state of this pandemic, I imagine that which is so much worse. I begin to panic, thinking that while I’ve been away there’s been a turn for the (unimaginably) worse, or that I’ve missed some vital piece of information.
That’s not the case for everyone – I’ve heard so many calls across Social Media to walk away from the coverage, to get out from the endless data and updates. And if that works for you – then God bless you and go to it. But if it doesn’t work for you – that’s ok, too.
We all react to things differently. And as we move through these unprecedented days, we each need to figure out how to be kind to ourselves. It’s one of the pieces that we sometimes forget in all this. You are God’s creation, dearly loved – so dearly, that Jesus laid down his life for you. You are precious in his sight, so be kind to yourself.
On that note, I want to share with you this song that Andrew Peterson wrote for his 12 year old daughter, when she was having trouble being kind to herself:
Until tomorrow dear friends – remember that you are beloved, and be kind to yourself!
The feedback from those reading my daily blogs has been really outstanding – I am glad that this blog is helping you! But every once in a while I get a little wordless. That’s what is happening today. So instead, some images I’ve gathered during the week…
This great advice:
This fun take on some of the hymns we don’t want to be singing right now:
This hopeful look at what is going on right now:
And finally, my Koski, who’s been the best quarantine companion ever:
One of the realities of this time of pandemic and crisis is that everything is so serious. The tone and the facial expressions of our politicians and health experts help to convey the seriousness of this situation. And that’s good – non verbal cues are a huge part of communication. I think our officials are doing an outstanding job.
But man, sometimes I just get tired of grim faces and grim tones. I crave silliness and joy. I miss joking around with my friends – you know those times you’re making each other laugh so hard you have tears running down your face and you can’t breathe? Thankfully I have had some of those moments over text and messenger. And I’m grateful for those funny, silly conversational moments.
We were made for joy.
So to bring you some joy in these trying times – I dare you not to grin while watching this:
And if you haven’t yet picked this up over Facebook or from a news source, I love this video put together by actor John Krasinski:
Keep smiling, keep finding reasons to experience joy, my friends. This, too, is holy.
Here is a prayer from the PCC that I thought might be helpful:
God of the past, present and future,
God in whom all things are renewed, we praise you.
In the face of all that wearies us and worries us,
your words echo through the centuries with love and hope.
As we follow the footsteps of Jesus in this Lenten season,
His Cross stands before us.
And so we trust you are never far from our sorrows.
In him you walk with us; you share our tears.
You stand beside us when we don’t know which way to turn.
In this hour of worship, renew our trust in your resurrection promises
and draw near to us when we need you the most,
whenever we can’t even find the words to call on your holy name.
God of our lonely places and hard times, there is no place dark for your presence. There are no situations beyond your grace. Yet we confess we sometimes lose track of you, when sorrows stack up or loneliness surrounds us. Forgive us our hopelessness. Stay with us as we go through every valley of shadow. Bring life where there is death, healing whether there is pain, and courage where there is fear. Stay with us as we make our way along the path Jesus walked.
There are lots of churches that have been able to put together either a video service or are live-streaming a service during the COVID-19 pandemic. At Graceview, we simply don’t have the ability to do that well. My Dad is known for quoting Clint Eastwood movies, and this line from Magnum Force applies: “A man’s gotta know his limitations.” There is wisdom, sometimes in knowing our limitations.
I’d also remind you that I will be posting a video sermonette here, and you are welcome to view it as soon as it is live and to share it with friends and family. I’m hoping (HOPING!) that I will be able to have the sermonette ready to go by 10:30am, but I ask for your patience if it takes me longer.
If we were able to meet together to worship, at Graceview we would have been singing a couple of my favourites tomorrow (ok, I have a long, long, long, list of favourites!). But I thought I’d share a couple of them. Perhaps you could listen to them just before and after the sermon, to make your own little worship service at home!
Ancient Words was recorded by Michael W. Smith on his live album, “Worship 2.” You can listen to Smith’s version from that record here. This song reminds us that the ancient words recorded in Scripture “resound with God’s own heart,” and have the power to change us. In these strange and unimaginable days, may the Ancient words impart strength and peace and an abundance of hope to each of us.
Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne is a traditional Lenten hymn (yes, it’s still Lent!). You can listen to a lovely a cappella version here. This hymn reminds us to make room in our hearts for Jesus – for the man, his mission, his teachings, and of course, his resurrection.
I hope these hymns uplift you and help you experience worship even in this time of physical distancing!