Church Year

The Waiting Place

Advent is something of a waiting place – a place where we are waiting for Christmas, waiting for the birth. We anticipate the holy Event; we get prepared for it. And just as a child longs for Christmas morning to come or a pregnant woman longs for delivery in the last few weeks of pregnancy (Sister Dena Moore comes to mind for some reason!), so we long for Christmas.

You may have seen Dr. Seuss’ book Oh, the Places You’ll Go. In his wacky wise way, Ted Geisel acknowledges that in every life there are places we go that don’t feel positive – or which don’t feel like we’re getting anywhere. One of these is The Waiting Place:

The Waiting Place…for people just waiting.
Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come,
or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or waiting around for a Yes or No….

 

 

We have many waiting places in life. The doctor’s waiting room, with the same old magazines we saw last time, surrounded by sniffling people and crying children, is a place that we wait. Flying somewhere on an airplane is less fun now than ever before, especially when the flight is late and we have to wait far longer than expected. When the waiting is finally over, we are really ready to see the doctor or to get on the plane and reach our destination!

Our instant culture is not one that likes to wait. The microwave is no longer fast enough for us. Instant gratification is the hallmark of our internet economy. But sometimes we need to slow down and wait.
“The greatest revelation is stillness,” said Chinese philosopher Lao-Tse. But how often do we slow down to have a few moments of silence, of time to prepare for God? These moments don’t just happen for most of us – they have to be intentionally set aside. The world and even the Church has filled Advent with busy-ness and noise and things to do. Yet it should be a time when we have some stillness to prepare for the spiritual event of Christmas.

“Those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength” (Isaiah 40:31). Waiting in silence is not a waste of time if it prepares our hearts for what is to come. This Advent season, set aside some time to wait upon the Lord, set aside some time to have silence, to have prayer, to read a meditation. Make this time a waiting place – a place of preparation for joy.

- Pastor John

All Saints’ Day and Thanksgiving

November is a month bracketed by All Saints Day (November 1) and Thanksgiving (November 22) and ends with our move into the season of Advent. Just like the changing weather, November is truly a change of seasons in the Church!

All Saints’ Day began back in the Middle Ages when the Roman Catholic church began to run out of calendar days for Feasts in honor of lesser saints. While it began as a sort of catch-all festival to acknowledge lots of lesser saints who didn’t have their own feast day, in the Protestant church it became a chance to celebrate and reflect on all the unacknowledged saints who have passed the faith on to us and now are in the more immediate presence of the Savior. Many of these are folks who would never have been recognized as “official” saints, but they are the true working Christians who have lived out the message, passed on the love, shared a cup of water with the thirsty and bread with the hungry. On the first Sunday in November, we’ll come together and remember those saints who have touched our lives.

On November 11, we will celebrate Holy Communion in remembrance of the 1741 announcement that Jesus Christ had been elected as Chief Elder of the Moravian Church. While the election happened in September of that year, the celebration was delayed to make sure that all the mission outposts in far-flung parts of the world could receive the word and celebrate on the same day. This very peculiar Moravian tradition is a powerful symbol that we follow Christ and Christ alone.

The modern celebration of Thanksgiving has moved around a bit from time to time, but has generally been the fourth Thursday in November. Once again this year, we will join with other neighborhood churches in a Community Thanksgiving Eve Lovefeast on Wednesday night, and take a special offering that will be used to benefit the needy in our area. This is a wonderful service to invite friends, neighbors, and family to – a time of thanks and praise to our creator God!

- Pastor John

Holy Week

As Holy Week begins, Moravians around the world spend some time each night reading and experiencing the events of each day of Jesus’ life leading up to the Cross, the tomb, and the resurrection morning of Easter. We begin with the joyful experience of Palm Sunday, singing together the wonderful call-and-response of Hosanna. We share a simple meal of lovefeast as we begin our week of Passion Week readings together. Then each night, we will gather in the Rights Chapel to read the events of each day together, alternating readings, hymn verses, and times of prayer. On Thursday we solemnly share in the simple meal of the Last Supper, reading together the words of Jesus on that night. On Friday morning, we will share in the 35th annual Cross Walk, carrying the cross in silence through downtown Winston-Salem. Then Friday night at our Tenebrae Service, we will read together the words from the Cross and remember the crucifixion and extinguish the lights in symbolic memory of the death of the Savior. On Saturday, the Great Sabbath, many of us will gather at Home Moravian for a service of prayer and musical meditation to honor Christ’s rest in the grave. Then, on Easter morning, we will gather with thousands of other worshippers in the darkness to hear the sunrise proclamation: “The Lord is risen!”

This experience is central to who we are. If you ask me if I understand Easter, I’m pretty sure my answer would be “no.” Certainly not in the same way that I understand where to put a comma in a sentence or how to fix a broken light switch or why putting Mentos in Diet Pepsi is so much fun. After celebrating many, many Easters I do not seek to explain Easter as much as simply experience it. That is why Moravian practice is so experiential: Easter is not a factoid to be documented and explained, it is a turning point of the cosmos to be experienced. Easter is something that we do together; and in the doing, we tap into a deep understanding of the Resurrection that cannot be explained in words or in books.

If your Easter does not include the profound experiences of the Last Supper, of the Cross Walk, of Easter Sunrise, then you have missed a part of the spiritual depth and wisdom, you have missed a part of what Easter really is about.

This year, come to the Table with us; carry the Cross with us; experience the sunrise with us as we proclaim “The Lord is risen!” Make this year the year that you truly experience Easter.

- Pastor John

Ash Wednesday

February marks many things – Groundhog Day, Valentine’s Day, and since this year is a Leap Year, February has 29 days. But it is also this year the beginning of Lent; Ash Wednesday is February 22. So, February also marks the traditional parties before the beginning of Lent – Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Carnivale in Brazil, Pancake day in many places, Fastnacht Day in Pennsylvania.

The day of Ash Wednesday, forty days before Easter (not including Sundays, if you’re counting the day!), is meant to remind us of Noah’s forty days in the Flood, the Hebrews’ forty years in the desert, and especially Jesus forty days in the desert at the beginning of his ministry. Lent is intended to be a special time of prayer, mediation, and spiritual preparation for Easter.

But our busy, smart-phone buzzing world filled with sound and interruption has little space for the kind of meditation that allows Lent to unfold with spiritual benefit. In 1943 during the height of World War II, poet T. S. Eliot caught this dilemma in his poem Ash Wednesday:

Where shall the word be found, where will the word
Resound? Not here, there is not enough silence
Not on the sea or on the islands, not
On the mainland, in the desert or the rain land,
For those who walk in darkness
Both in the day time and in the night time
The right time and the right place are not here
No place of grace for those who avoid the face
No time to rejoice for those who walk among noise and deny
the voice.

We need to carve out some Sabbath-time in our noisy lives to truly experience Lent in a real way; and a gift we can give others is the reminder that they, too, need that quiet Sabbath-time to hear “the voice.”
Though our world seems disruptive and intrusive, most of the noise that blocks out our spiritual time is voluntary. But Eliot wrote this poem during wartime, a time when he served as an air-raid warden. So it is in the midst of rationing, blackouts, and bombs that he wrote:

Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks

I pray that this Lent, you will be able to set aside a space of quiet time for mediation, but also for service to others.
- Pastor John

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