Attempt At Being Clever Part II: AVAILABLE by Bill Pike


I wonder how preachers would respond if asked to compare the activities of Holy Week to Christmas Eve services?

At our church, we have four services on Christmas Eve.  During Holy Week, we have three services on Palm Sunday. This is followed with services on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and four services on Easter Sunday.

From my perspective, whether Christmas Eve or Holy Week, preachers pursue perfection in the planning of these services. But, I think the pressure is a bit more intense during Holy Week. Maybe part of that is mental preparation, as a preacher must really be on his or her “A” game to make Jesus’ resurrection resonate with a congregation.

The ride through Lent to get to Easter is longer, 40 days. While the season of Advent is 24 days. What a church staff plans out for their congregations during Advent and Lent is also important. Those activities/events might predict how well a church does in reaching people for Christmas and Easter.

For these last seven years, I’ve had the privilege of serving on our  church staff. However, during that time frame, this was my first experience being present for all of Holy Week and Easter Sunday services. I have an excuse. My wife and I celebrated Easter either in Connecticut or North Carolina with family.

Here are some of my take aways from my Holy Week.

When Holy Week is in March keep your eye on the weather guys. They can create a lot of heartburn. One day its in the 70s and the air conditioning is needed. Three days later, a cold front pushes through, and we need the heating system again.  This roller coaster in temperature change only increases the balding process on my old noggin’.

 Back on February 14, we placed a wooden cross out on the front lawn of our church, and we draped it with a purple cloth lightly secured with roofing nails. 

Early on the morning of March 30, the purple cloth was taken off, and pieces of torn black cloth were tacked back on the cross.

Then on Easter morning, just as the light of the dawn was slowly rising from the East, the black cloth came off, and we wrapped chicken wire around the cross. The placement of the chicken wire allowed our congregation to decorate the cross with an array of fresh flowers celebrating the resurrrection.

For Palm Sunday, the focus is on palm fronds. Children parade into the Sanctuary waving the palm fronds. Members of the congregation are given a cross made from dried palm branches to pin to their attire.

The highlight of the communion service on Maundy Thursday was the gentle and compassionate foot washing.

On Friday morning, the church had a different feel— something about that cross draped in black. Later, that somberness would continue with the scripture readings and the snuffing out of candle light in the Tennebrae service.

Saturday morning brought in a group of volunteers to ready the Sanctuary for Easter. They  were focused on placing the highly fragrant Easter lilies at the altar.

Also, on Saturday, I took a break from church. I made a day trip to Snow Camp, North Carolina in Alamance County for a family Easter gathering. It was clear blue skies, and unseasonably cool when I left Richmond a bit after 7.

Heading out on I-95, it wasn’t long before I made the merge on to I-85 pushing me south.

My memory recalled an observation about I-85 from my college roommate, the Reverend H.D. Sherrill, Jr. While attending divinity school at Duke, one of his professors noted that the section of I-85 north of Durham to Petersburg was the most God forsaken stretch of interstate highway in America.

 I might beg to differ with the professor seeing how I was born in the Old North State. For me, there is something intriguing about the starkness of rolling hills and plots of thick woods that lay bare in the transition from winter to spring. I can peer into those woods, and see the heart of what holds them in place from year to year.

Occasionally, on the drive south, I view empty roadside billboards with the word AVAILABLE boldly printed. An advertiser’s scheme of trying to lure a potential customer.

But way after, a delicious southern spread of food for lunch and conversation with cousins and uncles, that word available was still stuck in my brain as I started my drive back home.

After reaching Durham, I ditched the interstate for my return to Richmond. I opted to come in the backdoor via US 58 and 360. That allowed me more thinking time about available.

What is it in our make up that pushes us to be available to attend church in significant numbers at Christmas and Easter?

Sanctuaries are near capacity for those two special days in the church’s calendar. And, I assume every pastor in America wonders what he/she would need to do to insure such noteworthy attendance the following Sunday?

After all, churches— their services and activities are available throughout the year, not just two special days.

On Easter Sunday our total attendance for our four services was: 1,173. One week later, our three services on Sunday, April 8, we totaled: 427.

That’s quite a difference.

By Friday, April 6, the once  fresh flowers poked into the chicken wire on the cross were starting to fade. So, it was time to remove the flowers, the chicken wire, and the cross.

Earlier in the morning, I had cleaned up the 4×4 marker post that I would slide back into the hole that had been dug for the cross. Hoping to eliminate a long search next spring to find the hole filler, I spray painted the square top with a bright orange paint. Also, I used longer screws to reattach the handle back into the top of the post.

Our head building caregiver, Ronnie Johnson, helped me lift the cross out of the ground. We carried it around to its resting place in the Eaton Hall mechanical room. 

I came back out with my non-patented “hole filler” and dropped it gently into the opening. Quietly, I thought—just like at Christmas, now all of the signs of Lent and Easter are neatly tucked away.

Is that the way God and Jesus want things to be? Do I want them to be neatly tucked away in my life until Christmas arrives again?

My mind wandered back to the empty billboards on I-85 with the boldly printed: AVAILABLE.

It is clear that I need to make myself available, more accessible to the teachings of God and Jesus.

 And, this also means peering into myself, like I scanned those uncovered hills and stands of trees along that God forsaken stretch of interstate.

When I look inward, I find stacks of excuses like unread magazines piled on a table.

What’s in the heart of those excuses? 

Do I take for granted Hebrews 13:8:  Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Do I make a similar assumption regarding Matthew 28:20:  “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

I don’t know about you, but I need something in my daily living that is consistently available. 

Meeting that need really comes down to this— am I willing to make myself available?

Waiting for Christmas, or next Easter can’t be my answer.

My excuses need to be put away, I must be available, and I must remember—“I am with you always”.

March and Its Madness: “It’s Crazy!” by Bill Pike

Recently, in the comic strip Frank and Ernest, creator Bob Thaves, shows his two characters outside shooting hoops on a partially snow covered basketball court. They are shivering in their shorts and t-shirts. One character comments: “It’s crazy! One day it’s 70 degrees and sunny, then the next day there’s a foot of snow! This is the real March Madness.”

While March has become famous for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament and the madness it brings to college basketball teams and their fans, March is also known for the transformation of winter letting go and spring trying to arrive. Toss in St. Patrick’s Day, the season of Lent, maybe Easter, and March can be a bit chaotic.

But, if we really took time to think about our twelve months, I think we might discover bits of madness in each one.

For example, back on February 12, I went for an early morning run. I noted in my running journal entry—it was 65 degrees, and I ran in shorts. I’m not supposed to go for a run wearing shorts in February—that’s madness!

But back to March for a minute. This year, Spring arrived on Tuesday, March 20.

That night, we had a local forecast for snow. Sure enough, Wednesday morning snow was falling. The heavy wet snow fell with such a burst of sustained tenacity that superindendents closed schools for the day.

Daffodils, flowering trees and shrubs, along with the birds didn’t know what to think about this madness.

Thankfully, this was a true southern snowstorm. It disrupted Wednesday. But, by late Thursday afternoon, bright sunny skies with rising temperatures had melted the snow—it was gone.

Now, we were back to Spring attempting again to emerge.

We want winter to be a disappearing speck in our rear view mirrors. This change is needed. Come on winter let go, and let spring have all of its allocated days.

Perhaps, the seasons of the church also have a touch of madness.

The commercial trappings of Christmas can create an unbearable madness.

No matter when it falls, March or April, Holy Week is madness.

Palm Sunday arrives full of vitality, followed by the challenges found later in the week.

The “it’s crazy” comment from Frank and Ernest seems appropriate for Holy Week.

Just like the seasonal tugging of territory between winter and spring, understanding Holy Week remains an internal tug of pondering for me too.

It is a question I ask alot—how could this happen to Jesus?

I ask the same “how could” question about our recurring tragic headlines— Parkland, Florida, Syria, Charlottesville, Virginia.

Sadly, no matter where I look meanness, hate, and incivility appear to dominate.

At times, I wonder if the world has really changed that much since the death of Jesus?

It is a crazy world.

But, does it have to be?

Sadly, the world seems incapable of change, and you know who else is incapable of change—me!

If I want meanness, hatred, and incivility to tumble forever over the horizon, I must change.

If I want to find hope in the resurrection at the end of Holy Week, I must change.

If I want to change me to become part of the solution, then I must sacrifice.

And for that to happen, I must completely embrace Romans 12:12:

“Love puts up with all things, trusts in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things.”

Happy Easter!