There are wonderful names of people in our world. Some so unusual and full of meaning that we love to savor the name. Repeat them over and over, delighting in their sound, and in the meaning behind the names.
One such name is growing up in our family. It is the middle name of a mid-teen granddaughter who loves to use that middle name rather than her given first name. It is the word TENEBRAE. It comes from the worship life of the church. It is the word for the hushed evening service of the Thursday of Holy Week, remembering Jesus’ last night with His disciples. His dearest friends, there in the Upper Room, where Jesus broke bread and gave it to these friends, saying “This is My blood of the New Covenant, shed for you. Drink you all, of it.”
The foreshadowing of His sacrifice of His life, His body and blood, that would be given up in His death on the cross next day – His dying for the sins of the world, that those who believe in Him might be forgiven, and then their lives saved, for eternity.
That service, with the lighting of candles, and its deep remembering of Jesus’ gift of that life for them is call the “Office of Tenebrae.” It is a holy, beautiful name, recalling Jesus’ great gift of His love for the world.
That beautiful young granddaughter in our family, cherishes and holds close, without fanfare, that name of love, given her from their faith by her parents at her birth. We love to say the name with all its deep meaning in that young person’s life.
I bear my father’s name, and cling to the “Junior” that reminds me and others that I am the second in a short line of Arthurs.
And yet, despite the importance of a great variety of names, I have occasional blocks of names and places that are very dear to me. Molly and I laugh about the temporary failure to remember names of people and places very important to us, saying, “Well, one of us remembers the first name and the other comes up with the second – sometimes hours later.”
It’s a slight embarrassment common to us old folks, especially as it comes in an arena of our thinking we once were good at.
We’re perfectly aware that persistent forgetfulness can also be a warning sign of the onset of some forms of dementia, a dreaded condition that none of us wants in ourselves or our loved ones. And surely it is not something we want to ridicule in any other person’s life. Perhaps, particularly when it involves public people.
Yet, comics in the media are already asking, “Can we laugh at President Biden yet?” They want to make fun of his memory struggles. But, are they funny? Are people with speech impediments, or trouble walking, or people with any of a variety of deformities fair game for anyone who hankers to ridicule others?
It is interesting to look at Jesus’ interaction with people. He was an indefatigable defender of people – of the blind and lame, of the speechless and the infirm. He looked for signs of faith and there He gave hope.
It was the self-righteous, the mockers, the proud, and the hypocritical for whom He saved His stinging rebukes. For the helpless and hopeless, the strugglers and stragglers, Jesus had instantaneous compassion.
Do we want to be like Jesus? Then, be ready to uphold and defend, to heal and to embrace. Be a mediator and advocate.
You will continually surprise the world. You will be ever “on the Lord’s side.” And our name, whatever it is, will be honored, with Him. We can try.
The Puritans would say there is no need for Lent, for a time of “coming back” to Jesus for the Christian. After all, aren’t we supposed to be daily, and hourly, and minute-by-minute walking with Jesus?
But, though I count myself a Puritan, particularly of the Pilgrim variety, I am always grateful for the season of Lent. For the deeper devotion it really does offer. Especially for the corporate life of the church.
I think back to so many Ash Wednesday evenings, where, in the darkened, penitential light of candles and shadows, we could invite all who were ready to walk forward and kneel at the steps before the Cross and commit their lives to Christ. And, so many did, hesitantly, earnestly, sincerely take that profound “leap of faith.”
Jesus calls us “o’er the tumult of our life’s wild, restless seas.” In the midst of the toughest, strangest, most difficult times, Jesus calls us to deepest places of our troubled hearts and wounded spirits, saying He will meet us there.
And, it behooves us to go to those most hurt places, to meet Him there, and so to BE PRESENT when He comes.
The dear Lord has given me two places to be present this Lent. One, with Molly and sometimes others of you, on the Minneapolis northside for “church” with our fellow Christians of Zion Baptist Church. And, praise God, how they “do” church. The Spirit comes smiling into their worship from the first moments and the small choir, hands raised, eyes closed, sway back and forth singing to the Lord as they call Him to come. And, I think He can’t resist, for He is there in the shining faces of those people as they come, first to join in song. Then Pastor Brian Herron welcomes us all with a lighted face and a wide hands open invitation to see and seek the Spirit, in joy.
It is a moving spirit of love that calls us to be together. On Sunday last “Minister Rhonda” preaches. Young, agile, and deeply confessional, she opens her own heart to Jesus, and to us. “I have stuff,” she admits honestly, deep hurt, down inside. “I hold grudges,” she cried out, repenting. She prayed for healing, for power, for joy in Jesus. We all felt her tears, and shared them. Oh, we were “one in the Spirit, and one in the Lord,” and went home that Lenten Sunday that not only honored “Women’s Month” but drew us all together in the joy of Jesus.
The other great time, for me, came on the following Thursday, when on the Patio of Edina’s Hilltop restaurant our motley “Dawn Patrol” gathered to read the Bible, share our lives, and be led into deep recess of hurt, as we read the chilling account of Jesus’ condemnation to be crucified for us and heard His words, so humble, as we gathered at the Cross.
It was a mystical time for us all – some 20 of us – as we opened our own lives telling our stories, speaking our gratitude, and listening to each other.
When it was done, no one wanted to leave, as little clusters of tender talk formed, as twos and threes slowly made it to the door, and into that so-blessed day.
Lent gives us that chance, and how gratefully we took it, as renewed and strengthened Christians.
May you be so strengthened by Him, and renewed in heart and hope in these Lenten days.
The Bible Study I love so much was over. The sun had risen and shone into the patio at The Hilltop. I had just barely made it. The crowd of last week was much reduced. Fourteen of us were there, fitting well the neater arrangement the restaurant had prepared for us.
For half an hour this ever-motley crew told their stories, intense, personal, about their faith, about moments of transformation, about encounters they’ve remembered for 40 years. A few quivering lips. The look of truth on every face – especially on the faces of those with a story to tell, or a prayer to ask. Without embarrassment they opened their hearts.
Jesus was already there. So, it didn’t matter that we staggered from one storyteller to another. It was what we had come for. The minister could wait and lift up Jesus as he’d planned. No one protested. They listened intently. They knew why we were there. The Jesus part would come.
And it did. So, we came full circle. Those who’d reported they would need to leave early, did so. Sweet prayers were said.
I gave them my notes, on Jesus and the Kingdom. The discussions of the great identity. “Who are you? had been the question of the hour. “Are you the One Who is to come?” The answer was yes. Some were shocked. Others rejoiced.
The King had come – but oh, how disturbing that was. It did not frighten my little group. They wanted the Truth, the hard Truth.
And, so it ended, and little clusters formed – of folks, who didn’t want to go.
I had planned to move from The Hilltop to Jerry’s and its welcoming Starbucks restaurant.
I would sit alone. Get my coffee, maybe write a little. Or, just see what would happen, who would come.
It did not take a minute for a silver-haired man to rise from his table and greet me. An old parishioner, of course.
Later, he stepped away from his table to mine. He had a message to give, of something he wanted me to know. “Many years ago, you came down the aisle in church, and gave me a gift. The gift of faith, for me, and for our family. We’ve never forgotten. I want you to know, and to thank you.”
Very simple. Very short. But, important to him, and to me. Testifying to Jesus coming into his life, and the difference it had made.
We laughed. I thanked him. He departed. Not part of my plan for the day. But a gift, nevertheless, to me.
You just never know who’ll come along. An old friend. An “angel unaware.” Made my day. And my life.
Keep on the watch. You’ll never know. Praise God.
I don’t know what makes an exciting day for you. Accomplishing an important task, coffee and conversation with a good friend, perhaps. Those often really “make my day.”
But, I had been looking forward to doing Lent. Ruminating about LIFE. Jesus’ life. And my life.
I have a handful of dear friends who have made up a little company of friends who loved to gather early morning, mid-week, at a local restaurant during the seasons of Advent and Lent, to be together, to have a light breakfast of a roll and coffee, to greet each other with news of their lives, to read the Bible, hear the life and love stories of Jesus in His ministry, pray for each other, and find the presence of the Spirit among them in real and personal ways.
This went on for a decade or two. But suddenly, in this year of pandemic, it wasn’t so simple. An enemy was abroad in the form of a hostile virus. We could only meet wearing masks and keeping a 6-foot social distance from each other.
For a while we discontinued. Thanksgiving, Christmas, Epiphany came and went. Our churches were closed with only high-tech “zoom” contact. It was too hard. We missed church. Social and political change overtook whole cities. And peaceful protests turned to riots. Stores were burned. Police precinct stations were burned. Calls were raised to “defund the police.” The news was about violence. About racial tensions. About America as a white racist society.
Churches tried to respond. To have discussions of race and racism. We were called to “cancel culture.” To wipe out precious traditions. There was anger by church leaders, and by protesting responders. Many felt grief about their churches, their communities, their own lives.
With COVID vaccines being given to thousands, it seemed possible we could try and find each other again.
We found the Hilltop would take us again for four early Thursday mornings of March, heading straight for Holy Week and Easter.
We explored tentatively trying again to gather as a Lenten discipline. Ten or fifteen said they’d be game. They would welcome an abbreviated Lenten gathering at dawn, facemasks, social distancing, and all. To those who didn’t want to take the risk, we would send by email the presentation notes all written out, after each of the four gatherings, so we could make our Lenten Pilgrimage together.
This week the day came – March 4th – for our first gathering. A woman who lived in our part of the city volunteered to pick me up at 6:30 am and so she did. We drove through dark streets at first light, talking of many things.
As we arrived at the restaurant, other cars were already pulling in. As 7:00 am approached we walked toward the door, not yet opened. But waiting there to hold the door was a dear friend, one of the cities’ most distinguished dermatologists. He had never been before. But as the sun rose, he was there to be part of our little company.
His wife was in the gathering crowd, as were others, determined to share this early morning experience with their fellow Christians.
Soon, 7:00 came. The door opened. And amid early greetings and introductions, the comrades of the “Dawn Patrol” poured into the restaurant to gather by the fireside on the inside patio.
A few tables were moved so we could see and hear each other as we came together, and read, and prayed together. Cheerily a group of first-timers helped with arrangements, found seats, met others they didn’t know – all the while everybody talking excitedly.
I found my place, greeted those dear Christian friends, and welcomed them all to this time of friendship and faith together.
There were more than 10 or 15. By final count our crowd was 26 – all glad to be there, sensing they would not be alone, but very much in the presence of the Lord Who had invited them.
We went round the room, one man remembering the March day when he with his family and a boatload of fellow Latvians, fresh from their refugee camp in Berchtesgaten, Germany, had steamed into New York Harbor and saw the Statue of Liberty for the first time. Another, just in from Arizona told how this gathering had so nurtured her, that she had come all that way for the first gathering. Her grown daughter was there, too.
My own “boss,” President Jim Olson of the Pilgrim Center, had driven across two cities to come. Members of my first Confirmation class were there – my friends of over 50 years. A flight attendant just in from far places spread her lighted smile across the room, saying what this meant to her. One man told of the stroke he’d suffered and his children who called 911 and got him to the hospital in time to forestall the effects of a stroke. He praised the Lord.
And so, on it went. We talked of Jesus’ journey of three years, ministry to every sort of person with a need on His way to the climax of His life on earth at Golgotha and THE CROSS outside Jerusalem.
I found trying to imagine Jesus’ life and the many confrontations with Pharisees and other leaders of the church, as He followed the instincts and insights of the love which God had given Him, breaking through to meet the deepest needs of the broken world around Him. It was an exciting journey for me among these friends who needed to see the absolute claim of Jesus’ life of courage for each of them.
I felt the same spirit of God’s love reaching out to all of us “in that very room” as we talked and confessed the love of Jesus we were each feeling.
Well! - It “made my day.” It lifted my spirit. It gave me the restored sense of purpose for my own life as I was privileged to be among these brothers and sisters of faith in the single most important thing in my life in these days of its final stage.
Here was my own reason for living writ large for me. It made the whole day one of exhilaration and exultation in being blessed by Christ, Lord of my life. And, it has continued in the days since. A way to live. A recognized gift of God – seen so clearly in the lives of these lifetime friends who were finding their own lifetime call as we were privileged to walk together with the One Who gave His life, to be our Lord.
Wonder. And privilege. Along the trail of Jesus’ own walk to the Cross.
Bless you all.
The deep mid-winter is the birthday season in our family. That means that someone you love’s day of birth comes swooshing along – truthfully – when you least expect it. When you’re not ready for it. As a big surprise.
It’s the grandmother who thinks about presents – the right, the perfect present. And the daughter.
My job always, is to write a birthday letter. To make it half-card, half-letter. To tell the birthday person who they are to us. What their character, their spirit means to us. What they mean to the world. What their “presence” means in our life.
And, you have to get it right. To be sure your description rings true. For the young especially, need to be affirmed. To be reminded you really know who they are. That you know their heart, and helping them be true to that inner self. That spirit that they recognize.
The grandmother, who makes the assignment, doesn’t really read the letter, I’ve discovered. “Well, what if I get it wrong?” I’ve protested. She just looks knowingly at me, and more or less says, “You get it, don’t worry.” So, I do it, each year, hoping I don’t repeat myself.
This year, a granddaughter who lives at the other end of this country, turns 15. Oh, so many thoughts – and memories – about being a dead-center teen-ager.
At a Sunday lunch at a restaurant we love, I turned to the 63-year-old birthday person, and said, “Do you remember 15?” Without a moment’s hesitation, she shot back “Yes!” Which could have meant a lot of things.
I remember 15 as a trying time of a first girlfriend, of being uncoordinated, of going away to a private school, and being lonely but saved by going out for crew, and learning to row, and singing in the Glee Club of that boys’ school.
Even learning to write, happened there, where Porter Dean Caesar made us memorize Shakespearean sonnets and other poetry. It was a new world of literature I wouldn’t have had at home in Portsmouth.
I remember that the body sort of came together that year. Both rowing and wrestling helped. And – strange for me – I began to win. On the water. In a racing shell. Even gaining the stroke seat in that four-oared shell, a leading of others. It all just changed for me.
And now, at 91, things are different again. My body won’t do just what I want it to do. Parts hurt – hands, back. Many muscles shrunk away. Molly and I work at figuring out this stage. The dying decade, most likely.
It is what people where we live are doing: dying. And staff folks help us “go easy into that night.” From chaplain to exercise people.
You can do something with hair in this decade. It’s all white now. You can let it grow long – or short. Or – grow a beard.
It’s a time to stand straighter – regaining a few of the six inches you’ve lost.
What means much to me, is thinking. Including praying. And writing, like these weekly, meandering blogs. Oh, bless Laury, who types and computes, and makes communications work.
Writing and thinking and helping the body change and grow were part of that decade where 15 comes in the middle. It wasn’t quite so serious as the twenties. The nineties are most like the twenties; very serious.
Because now, it’s for keeps. It’s forever. There’s a finish line up ahead. But, you don’t know where it is. I want to cross it with my head up, and my heart full. And my faith more and more wonderfully alive. Filled with Jesus. That’s the most serious part. The forever part. My dear partner in life helps me cling to that.
Is it different? Oh, yes. What about change? It’s all around me. My job is to love. And so live. And keep going, till the “roll is called up yonder.” High adventure I tell you. - As actually, every age is.
Love you, pals!
Arthur A Rouner, Jr -
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ARTHUR ROUNER MINISTRIES