I became an Episcopalian after having been raised in a non-liturgical tradition. A couple of things surprised me as I began to understand our tradition. One of the biggest surprises was how important the church year has become to me. Of course, it didn’t happen right away. It happened over the course of two church year cycles.
The first time I went through the church year, I didn’t participate in any of the Holy Week services except for Easter. One year later, I participated in Good Friday but not Maundy Thursday. I remember walking into church and being struck by how strange it seemed with the altar being completely stripped. The quietness. No procession. The priests just sort of “showing up” in their seats. Kneeling not on cushions but on the hard stone floor. After having experienced liturgy in the same way for almost two years, the starkness of the services hit me like a ton of bricks. I remember sort of shuddering and thinking, “Oh, my God. Jesus was killed today.”
I grew up in the church. I have an undergraduate degree in religion and a master’s in theology, but the reality of the crucifixion had never felt as real as it did at that very moment. Because of that awakening, Easter Sunday was absolutely glorious that year.
When I think about healing, I think about that day. I also think about the trend toward immediate gratification in many of today’s churches. I was talking to someone who goes to a church with a rock band, power point presentations and perpetually positive sermons, and she said that she liked her church because every time she left church she felt better. I remember thinking, is feeling better what church is about? I don’t expect to get immediate gratification from church. I don’t think we participate in a worship service to “feel better”. I think we go through the repetition of the church year so we can “be better”. I’m entering my 13th cycle of the church year and every time I complete a cycle, I stop and take stock of where I am spiritually compared to a year ago. Last year on Good Friday, I thought about how much I’d changed since that first revelation on Good Friday.
You’re reading this article after Advent. However, as I write it, I’m in the middle of Advent and the presidential election is still fresh in my mind. Some of you who are reading these words are happy with the results of the election and some of you who are reading these words are sad. Regardless of whether you now see a bright future ahead or if you fear the worst, one thing that is certain is that we are as deeply divided now as we were before. I don’t suppose this is a surprise to anyone. It’s just an observation.
As I move through Advent and prepare to celebrate the birth of God’s love incarnate, the ritual helps to put things into perspective. If you’re happy with the election results, then I think the incarnation reminds us that there is something bigger than ourselves. That to look for hope and for salvation in another is idolatry. If you’re sad about the election results, then I think the incarnation teaches us that we’ve survived many challenging things through the years and with God’s love, we will make it through this as well. Ultimately, God’s incarnate love tells us all that we must allow that love to fill in the gap that divides us so that we can begin to heal the divide.
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David Dreisbach serves as Director of Communications for the Diocese of Southern Ohio. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.