Out of season

How do we celebrate the joy of Easter when tragic events like the bombing at the Boston Marathon play out in slow motion before our eyes?

By Elizabeth Evans Hagan

At the church I currently attend, they take the concept of Easter-as-a-season quite seriously.

The scriptural phrase “He is not here, he risen as he said” is printed on the front cover of each week’s bulletin. The benedictions each week speak of going forth as “people of the resurrection.” And not only did they sing “Up From the Grave He Arose” on Easter Sunday morning, but on the third Sunday of the season too.

Though not every Baptist church leans into the concept of liturgical seasons, a growing number do. Liturgically minded pastors often find these broad seasons helpful as teaching tools about what it means to move within the spiritual life.

In our life with God, we rejoice sometimes like Christmas and Easter. We wait in anticipation sometimes like Advent. We re-evaluate with somber hearts sometimes like Lent.

But, last Sunday, as I sang the third chorus of “Low in the Grave He Lay” and saw a woman a pew over from me crying for some reason I do not know, I couldn’t help but wonder what happens when we find ourselves out of season.

How do we live together as a church community when our own lives have no regard for where they are on the liturgical calendar? What happens when we aren’t happy at Christmas? Or reflective during Lent? Or full of life-changing illuminations during Epiphany?

What happens when tragic events happen during Eastertide like the bombing at the Boston Marathon, playing out in slow motion before our eyes? What happens when our minds fill with memories of similar April or Easter season events in places like Oklahoma City and Virginia Tech?

How do we worship with Easter’s directives then?

Besides the obvious reaction of responding to moments of crisis with hope from the gospel that never changes, no matter what time it is, I believe our community life must make space for the fact that none of our worshippers are ever in the same place. No matter how hard we try as pastoral leaders to get everyone on the same emotional page, it’s never going to happen.

A couple of years ago, while visiting two older married friends of mine around Thanksgiving, I inquired why the Christmas tree wasn’t up yet. Usually, their house looked like a winter wonderland by Halloween. I couldn’t wait to see what glittery garland and dancing Santas they’d added to the collection for this year’s roll out, but there was nothing up at all.

The wife soon declared: “With my husband in and out of chemo, we just didn’t feel like doing Christmas this year. We’re doing Lent instead.” And with this piece of shared news, I changed gears; Lent it was. I did not ask about their upcoming Christmas plans. Instead, we spent the rest of the afternoon talking about living among ashes. We talked about the physical, emotional and spiritual pain of what feeling forsaken by God felt like. We prayed prayers of lament together.

As I keep learning about spiritual rhythm alongside friends like this, it’s the authentic edge that seems to make more sense than anything I learned in seminary.

Sometimes Lent is more like 100 days than 40. Sometimes Easter surprises a frigid January. And even yet, sometimes August’s heat feels like Advent. And it’s OK.

We all travel at our own pace and in step with whatever curve balls life throws our direction.

For as much as the seasons of the Christian year give us mindful awareness of what relationship with God looks like, it’s never about rushing through.

Our loving God never asks us to muster up any emotion which we do not feel, or make confession of a sentiment that we do not have. We are asked simply to come to worship just as we are -- even if tears are shed during the happy songs, or if Pentecost day feels to us more like Good Friday. God welcomes us in every season.

OPINION: Views expressed in Baptist News Global columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.