Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter in grad school

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
He's not here...and neither am I?
(Photo by Kodi Tanner)
Just over a month ago I wrote a post about the rhythm and rule of Christian life, aka spiritual disciplines. That post then got picked up and put on my seminary's blog. Looking back on it now, the post seems a little too confident on my part. Like I have my life together enough to be able to speak authoritatively about spiritual discipline.

Holy Week fell at an interesting time this year: right before finals. And if there's anything that the past month has shown me, it is how deeply bound I am to academic disciplines and how they enforce the rhythm and rule of my life. So Lent and Easter this year seemed as if they were playing second fiddle to grad school's bombastic tune.

But here's a gift from God: For the first time in five or six years, neither my wife nor I were responsible for any sort of worship planning at a congregation. So this past Maundy Thursday we drove out west of Harrisonburg, climbed to the top of a hill and roasted hot dogs with our Sunday school class and took in the beautiful view west to the Allegheny Mountains just a few miles away and looking up and down the beautiful Shenandoah Valley that is absolutely bursting forth with new life this week. Then we washed each other's feet and took communion together, praying just as the sun dipped behind the mountains. I missed Brethren Love Feast, but I can't think of a better alternative.

The congregation we've been with for a few months now, Park View Mennonite Church, is one of the larger Mennonite congregations in town and it's what I playfully call a "full service" church, strikingly different than the last tiny congregation we worshiped with. So Holy Week at Park View is a big deal with stuff going on from Maundy Thursday through Easter worship, including a Tenebrae service on Friday night and a midnight service to end Lent and bring Easter on Saturday night/Sunday morning. Then a sunrise service, followed by a breakfast, finally followed by Easter worship services.

But even after our wonderful time on Thursday night, the trials of grad school pressed back in on my wife and I, and we had zero energy to engage in more Holy Week worship practices until this morning. We skipped everything but the final worship service. And boy was it a service! Park View's sanctuary is large by my country-church-upbringing standards and it was packed out completely this morning. The music throughout the service was powerful, especially the very end of worship when 400+ people belted out Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus." As the pipe organ notes and voices faded from the final note, the hairs on my arm were standing on end.

Yet this evening there is still this perplexing sense of Christian discipleship and worship caught in the strong currents of grad school (seminary, even!). As I contemplate the significance of the empty tomb and place myself within the biblical narrative for today, I feel like someone standing outside the narrative's frame. A curious onlooker perhaps - a gardner? - watching these people run around all anxiously, talking to people whom I can't see.

Resurrection signals the first fruits of the new heaven, the new earth. A foretaste of that new creation is what we hope for in our Christian walk this side of our own resurrection. So I hope now for a bit of that foretaste amidst grad school. This semester will be over in a few days and that will certainly feel like new life...for a week. After that, I have 12 credits worth of classes this summer, including a trip to Ethiopia in July to teach a class as my practicum. A class whose syllabus needs to be written in May and whose lesson plan needs to be written in June. Once we're back in the States, we have month off in August and then it's on to both my wife's and my final two semesters at Eastern Mennonite University. The grind will continue almost tirelessly until a year from now.

Christ is risen! Hallelujah! Please, God, let us live in the light of resurrection amidst this trying time. Amen.

[Update: An hour later...]
A seminary friend posted this snazzy reflection from Rob Bell on resurrection. I'm not always jazzed about Bell but this helped offer a shaft of light...

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