Thursday, April 05, 2007

Faith Works 4-7-07
Jeff Gill

Holy Saturday Anticipation

Even those who aren’t in the mainstream of Christian observance have some knowledge that we just had Maundy Thursday and Good Friday on the liturgical calendar.

Tomorrow, of course, is Easter Sunday, where the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth on the “first day of the week” is celebrated not only once a year, but in each Sunday worship celebration. Jesus the Christ, the “anointed one of God,” proves the truth of all he’s said in the days before by living out his truth in rising from the grave, leaving behind an Empty Tomb.

But what’s today?

If you check out the calendar pages of this paper or most Christian church newsletters, you’d be forgiven if you thought it was the liturgical holiday “Easter Egg Hunt Saturday.” Folks of all sorts of faith perspectives hold this date as the sacred obligation to sugar up the little darlings as much as possible, from Kiwanians and Rotarians to Presbyterians and Free Will Baptists.

That actually isn’t what the day is for. Long enough ago, the eggs were rolled and hidden and hunted for after you got home from Easter worship and had a big family dinner – and many families do this themselves.
But with the advent of ending Lent with an outburst of nice clothes and flowers for mom, people didn’t want the chilluns rolling in the fresh, green grass in their powder blue slacks or white dresses with pink bows. That, and the big Easter egg hunt folks wanted to get it over with so they could go home and eat their ham with their family (and watch The Masters’ golf tournament on TV in the afternoon, falling asleep around the 14th fairway).

Any preacher worth their salt, or sugar, can justify the connection of bright colors, eggs, and rebirth, new life, and Easter. NASCAR theme pre-decorated eggs and Spiderman gift baskets, maybe not so much.

I have no concern with Easter Egg Hunts per se. But there is something reflective and profound about thinking, in the context of Holy Week, what this day really represents.

Yesterday, Good Friday, Jesus died. Were you there? . . .as the song says. We saw the centurion drive a spear in his side on the cross, and carried his lifeless body to the tomb.

Just the day before that, on Thursday, we celebrated the Passover with him, in a borrowed upper room, but with the timeless story of Egypt and the Red Sea and Mount Sinai. The Talmud teaches that we were there, that “all mankind was present at Sinai, at the giving of the law.” And we were there in Maundy Thursday services, as Jesus pointed out a different way of looking at the loaf of bread, and the cup of wine.

Today? Today he is dead. And we don’t quite know what to do. Some of us have hope, some have already lost it. Some know what to do, going around and gathering up spices and oils to prepare the body for the long sleep until the fullness of God’s plans are revealed, and others of us are just sitting, staring, wondering.

Were you, are you there? In Holy Saturday is a reminder that, even for all those whose faith is strong, there is the reality that death comes. Could God have raised Jesus in the moment the cross was lowered and the body touched the ground? If one, why not the other.

There is a significance, and importance that was hinted at with the references Jesus made to “the sign of Jonah,” to the “three days” from Friday noon to Sunday morning. There is an interval, a space set apart, and while we might want it arranged some other way, there is this pause, when all creation seems to stop breathing for a moment. Waiting to see what will happen, and only understanding it truly when -- what has already happened is accepted for what it was. Easter needs Holy Saturday for it to be fully what it is.

And what is that? Well, I suspect there’s a Sunrise Service somewhere near you, or you are most cordially invited to come to downtown Newark, before the sun rises, and join us in the Midland Theater at 6:30 am.

The Newark Area Ministerial Association is hosting a community service, and joining Second Presbyterian after to sponsor a breakfast whose proceeds go to the Licking County Jail Ministry. I hear that the sermon is on “Resurrection, Right Now!”

And if you don’t want to hear me preach, there’s going to be some joyful music and other prayers and dramatic readings shared. Wherever you go, may tomorrow be a day when new life and the rising of the Son be a Light for you and yours.

Today, reflect on the story not quite completed, and the place of Holy Saturday in that tale.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him a story at

Monday, April 02, 2007

Notes From My Knapsack 4-8-07
Jeff Gill

Life Doesn’t Live Itself

Your lawn doesn’t need much to start growing.

If you want lush grass instead of a full crop of spring beauty (those lovely little white flowers), clover, and the nascent buds of crabgrass that will cover half your yard by July, you need some help. Bags o’ chemicals, all of which come with college textbooks helpfully taped to the side of the canister, sack, or jug, come in colors not known in nature.

These colors conveniently stain your skin, reminding you to wash up thoroughly before eating nachos. If you later fall ill, know that the corporate lawyer will introduce into evidence the fact that you “knew” this was an acceptable risk from the multi-fold label (“purchase of this product constitutes waiver of all rights and acceptance of all provisions of this document unless a notarized letter affirming your waiver of the waiver is received at our offices in the Turks & Caicos within two days of purchase, provision as such void in Vermont and Quebec”).

If you like a diverse ecosystem right in front of your front door, just let it go. If you live in a municipality, you’d better mow (six inches and then notes from the health dept. could show up on your door), but you’ll have something to mow no matter what you do.
Unless you spray wide-spectrum U-Kil-It on the whole deal.

Then you have a window of barren soil to look forward to, and then a sudden infestation of stuff only Howard Siegrist could love. Purslane and hairy dock and three kinds of plantain plus the inevitable dandelion army.

“Life will out,” or so it seems, and it takes a great deal of chemical death to stop life from growing in the patio cracks and through the mulch and along the fencerow. Some of the startling appearance of the drive along 161 to Columbus is from the wall of foliage coming down, revealing abandoned houses as disturbing to the eye as the recent family homes now gutted and gape-mouthed. A structure just left to overgrow a decade ago looks like Sleeping Beauty’s castle in the middle of the story, with no help from the spells of evil stepmothers, just the persistence of life.

Tell all this to the gardener, even now roto-tilling and planting peas and ‘taters. Life may run amok, but not necessarily the life we desire. The most organic of gardeners is still seeking a different equilibrium, placing marigolds to counter deer and corn where beans will later climb. You try to grow some things, and not others; that’s what sets gardening and farming apart.

Life alone is not quite a value; ask someone fighting cancer. Cancer is life and growth without control or intention, just for it’s own sake. When tumors thrive, “life” as we really mean it may be threatened.

Emerson famously said “he who is not busy being born is busy dying,” and the statement holds up in a variety of settings. What undercuts that paean to growth and life is when life chokes off more life than it promotes. This is the question and concern we feel as we drive along the Rt. 161 and Rt. 62 corridors. Seeds and sprouting are not always good news.

For much of the Christian world, this springtime weekend is a celebration of the victory of life over death, seen blossoming in the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Some ask why a gift of new life would be so rarely given if a loving God actually could give it, usually with their own ideas about when and where they’d like to see life returned anew.

I don’t mind the question at all, but wonder if we really know what it would mean for rebirth from death into life to be more common. All the billions who have lived, and died, brought back to walk the earth again? No, just the “right ones,” most would say, with myriad definitions of who that would be.

Each of us has a person or people we would bring back, if only for a time, to share a last laugh, to clear up misunderstandings, or to help them finish uncompleted business. However we think that would work, it wouldn’t work very well in practice. There is new life, and harvest, and there is winter. We take in each in turn, and go through them as well.

Life is remarkably persistent, but has a cycle with an individual end, with those cycles tied into a larger weave rolling out longer (and stronger) than any one thread. Some of us see resurrection as part of what empowers this plan, but even if you don’t: Go easy on the pesticides and fertilizers, value each day you get out under the sun, mowing your lawn or hoeing weeds, and remember to plant some trees for the shade of future generations.
That’s a life plan all of us can agree on.

And a happy and blessed Easter weekend to everyone!

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; share a story with him at