“Johnson’s song concerns a situation he faced many times: nightfall with no place to sleep. Since humans appeared on Earth, the shroud of night has yet to fall without touching a man or woman in the same plight.”

Carl Sagan on why he chose Blind Willie Johnson’s “Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground” as the song to be loaded on the Voyager Space Probe

I wrote this last year on Holy Saturday, 2013. 

Today is Holy Saturday. 

At the start this was the day after the crucifixion of Jesus, the day when his disciples and friends walked around in a fog, not knowing what to think or do. As for the onlookers and cynics and skeptics, they could finally move on as well, another would-be messiah was gone, and soon to be forgotten. 

There was a tradition within these messianic movements to “capture” the brother of the deceased leader and make him the new messiah. But no one went looking for James, the brother of Jesus. A movement had come to a sudden stop. 

Jesus had talked about a return of sorts, of a tearing down and rebuilding, but his close friends and students were lost on that one. And So Saturday was a day of waiting, that kind of waiting when you question a lot of things about the past, and about what to do next with your life. It’s a season of doubt and confusion, but with glimpses of faith and hope, because you can’t completely forget what you’ve seen and experienced.Those who had trusted Jesus to be who he said he was were now waiting. 

We live in Holy Saturday every day of our lives. Our past testifies of the presence of God, and to his works in our world. And we carry around a hope of his return. But living between the two comings, as it were, is not easy. It’s often very quiet. Our prayers are not always answered. There are long seasons of nothingness. We tend to idolize our past or idealize our future, but fail to experience to the moments we’re in, because we’re not always certain God is in them alongside us.

N.T. Wright said: “Sometimes, though, we Christians need to observe a Holy Saturday moment. On Holy Saturday, there is nothing you can do except wait. The Christian faith suffers, apparently, great defeats. There are scandals and divisions, and the world looks on and loves it, like the crowds at the foot of the cross.” [Full post here

Today, the day before we remember the resurrected Jesus, is a day to focus harder than ever on the presence of God in our lives. It is Holy Saturday, a day of wandering and wondering, a wilderness of faith and doubt, a life we’re all very familiar with. 

Grace & Peace. 

If the gospel story is true, and if renewal (relational, spiritual, cultural, and ecological) is possible, then every local church should guard itself from using language that promotes exclusivity and smallness. There mustn’t be any bragging about keeping things intimate. Filling a room and calling it a day isn’t the work the church has been given. To be the voice of resurrection and new creation is in itself growth-oriented. Say it with me: “The church growth movement is the right movement.” It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Those are words we aren’t supposed to say anymore, though no one can give a good reason as to why. The work of the Spirit is explosive, not controlled. The renewal of all things is underway. Decline is not the plan. Scarcity is not in the cards. Building walls won’t work anymore. God has a thing for “every knee,” that his grace and mercy would be such good news that the world would buckle under the weight of its glory.

[Thoughts on ecclesial adventure]  

[Scenario One] 

Person: So what is the name of your church again? 

Other Person: Oh, it’s First Church. 

Person: Cool. What’s it like? 

Other Person: Yeah, it’s a cool place. Lots of stuff going on for kids. The music is right on. And the preaching? Man, our pastor kills it week after week. Real challenging and insightful. Lots of small groups to connect with too. Oh, and we just built a new building. You should really come and check it out sometime. 

Person: Yeah, sounds good.

[Scenario Two] 

Person: So what is the name of your church again? 

Other Person: Oh, it’s First Church. We’re…

Person: [Interrupts] You don’t need to say anything else. I already know everything I need to know about your church.

Other Person: Really? 

Person: Yeah, some of your people work in my office. When my dad was really sick in the hospital, they were there. Brought food and stuff. Prayed with him, too. 

Other Person: Man, I didn’t…

Person: In fact, one of your people lives in my neighborhood, too. Yeah, he and his wife are always helping out this old lady with her yard. Oh, and last year they set up a collection for the homeless. I even gave something! 

Other Person: So…

Person: Yeah, I already know about your church. I’ve met its people. 

Easter. It’s the one Sunday a year when the church universal stands together and stares at the same thing. We’re an odd reunion, with our robes and fog machines, our liturgies and freestyles, our suits and jeans, our choirs and bands, our buildings and living rooms, our gatherings and sendings, our rural and urban, our Orthodox and wayward, our old and young. For all that divides us, resurrection forces us together, out on the front lawn, holding Dixie Cups, and catching up with family. And family doesn’t mean sameness, but it does mean oneness. We are adopted, all of us, and adoption is hard. Space in the home diminishes, rooms must be shared, meals have to go around, and unity will be learned, not inherited. We were brought into this family. And though we do our thing in separate buildings in separate towns and often in separate ways, the Easter reunion takes all of that away. If only for a moment in time, we all sit together at the same table, a moment of joy for the Father who prayed that it would always be this way. We come to the banquet Jesus has thrown, and at his banquet we eat and dance with strangers, and strangers become family.

[Thoughts on Easter Sunday, 2014] 

If you serve on a church staff you already know that Sundays can be a blur of information. All sorts of things come your way that you may or may not remember in detail the following morning. The problem with this is obvious: those things will need your attention in the coming week, and if you can’t really recall everything, then the appropriate follow up can’t happen. Simple enough. 

As leaders, we are supposed to keep our eyes on the moving parts of our ministry areas, looking for things that need attention, as well as, the wins that need celebrating. It’s not just the follow up that needs to take place with the volunteer who showed up late (again) or not at all (again), or that the bulletins ran out or that the mic didn’t work or that one of the coffee pots broke. It’s also the volunteer who went above and beyond her role who will need recognition, enough that says to her, “I saw what you did, and it made a big difference.”  

All of these things (and much more) happen in front of us every Sunday morning, and it’s hard to remember them. 

Here’s a tip. 

Carry a small journal with you every Sunday, and use it to capture all the areas of follow-up that you’ll need to attend to in the coming week. 

When you notice a volunteer performing well, or even above her role, write it down.

When you notice that same volunteer showing up late again, write it down. 

When you notice a host team member walking a new person to a seat in a full room, write it down. 

When you notice that the bulletins ran out (again), write it down. 

And so on. 

Your Monday morning routine just shifted.