There’s something unfortunate about me and holidays.
Like the time my hand got slammed in a door just as I was going in to the sanctuary to preach on Christmas Eve. There’s nothing like standing in front of 500 people, who are filled with joy and excitement on that most special night, wondering if you are either going to be sick or pass out right there on the platform. I whispered to one deacon as we walked in together that the sermon was in the pulpit. “If I go down, just pull it out and read it.”
I had similar flashbacks last month as we planned for Holy Week. I was asked to participate in the Tenebrae service on Good Friday… and broke out in a cold sweat. It’s really a pretty simple task. Light the candles at the appropriate time. Easy enough. Unless, of course, you’re in your 40’s and have recently entered that no man’s land between needing glasses to read and needing glasses all the time. Some of you have been there and already know where this is going.
There’s great denial when you’re first wandering in that valley. And a lot of squinting. But one Good Friday evening I discovered a fail safe way to determine if you’ve crossed over to the dark side of the visual spectrum… and middle age.
Not having any reading parts in the service, I confidently and vainly left my glasses in my office. All was holy and beautiful as the choir sang and the orchestra played. On cue, I approached the communion table with reverence where multiple candles were artfully and solemnly displayed, a large Christ candle in the center of the table. The first sign of trouble came when the wick at the end of my long, brass candle lighter kept missing the flame atop the Christ candle.
Apparently, the difference between what I was seeing and reality was about one inch.
Though the brass lighter was eventually lit, my hesitancy deepened in that moment, as did my prayer life. Like a basketball player who misses the first of two free throws in a big game, I approached the lighting of the first candle with fear and trembling…. Literally. My one inch gap was now a one inch dancing ring of fire around the candle as I tried to find the wick to light it. Had the lighter been a sparkler on a dark night, I’m sure all of my shaking would have spelled out “Help me, please!” in the night sky. Anxious stares were coming from the front row of the choir loft. “Go left! Go left!” I’m sure I heard one soprano whisper.
I sweat blood with Jesus in the Garden that night. I can laugh about it now, on this side of my progressive lenses. But that feeling has come back to me many times since then. Perhaps you’ve experienced it somewhere along the way.
When the gap between what you see and reality is one inch, or one misunderstood conversation, or one regrettable moment, and you just can’t seem to fix it.
When you struggle to connect where you are in your life with where you want to be, and don’t know which way to go.
When the flame God seeks to light can’t seem to find a wick to take hold of in you, and you’re about ready to stop trying.
Those are the moments when we live between the tomb and resurrection. Helpless. Hopeless.
Faith is choosing to believe in resurrection when you are in the tomb. To believe that God can change your situation, though you have neither the strength nor the know-how to roll the stone away. To dare to imagine God’s dream for your relationship, for your circumstance, for all of the daily and difficult tomb-like places in your life, even when you can’t fathom what that might look like; even, and especially, when darkness seems inevitable.
Because candles get lit, so often despite our own inadequacies and failings and pride.
Our God is a God of resurrection; a God who brings new life in places where we thought new life was not possible. Holy Week calls us to believe beyond ourselves.
Light a candle today. Allow it to burn brightly as a reminder that God sees what we often cannot see, and as an act of trust in the power of the God who calls you out of darkness into his marvelous light.