Easter Salvation, Easy Sticky Notes, and Extra Sleepy Sheep

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Oh – so blessed to see another Easter – even though I had one just last week! I was blessed to visit an orthodox church, Eastern European, for Easter with my friend and her daughter. She was so happy to go – and happy that I would drive – so that she did not have to, because she suffers from chronic heart failure. Yes, the Lord is keeping her alive and walking too, because she is surely doing Heaven’s work on earth, being the best mom and wife she can be for her family. She is an AMAZING Child of God – and so Holy Spirit-filled. A blessing.

The service was traditional orthodox and unusual for me for it to be MIDNIGHT to 4AM, WOW! (Good thing I am a good napper!)

At the peak moments of the service, one of the older altar servers took out a cell phone to take photos for their website or facebook. There were others taking photos on occasion, so I felt OK taking pics of what I used to think was private and secret, I was wrong, it was open and OK. Then after the service we were able to walk around the sanctuary – so very ornate and beautiful. 

Midnight – sleepy sheep – but I had a 3 hour nap – and who am I to complain about late nights for the Lord – and even the night before I got up at 130 am to see a favorite radio DJ at a record store. Life is meant to be lived!  Live it!

We are blessed to experience all this diversity – in the many churches and denominations and “movements” (which are not technically denominations). It’s most important to be in the SPIRIT OF THE SPIRIT.  This night I WAS enchanted by the ornateness – but ALSO interested in the people watching too, both their faith and their ways. I am a student of people and was kinda surprised at some church things so human and modern – like the cell phones – and THE STICKY NOTES! The priest read from the Holy Book, very ornate, but also in his small prayer book, I spied the set of handwritten sticky notes – he took one for that section of the service while we were (outside) and stuck it to the back of the ornate cross which also carried flowers. He was able to proceed with teaching and preaching the liturgy of the stations of Jesus in procession from conviction to cross – by using his sticky note and not have to hold his book too. I thought that was cool, cute, human, real, ingenious. (Jesus did say we would see great miracles, and I think sticky notes are one small ones.) After he finished that section, he simply switched the sticky note. We then went inside after a ritual knocking at the door.

It was a whole singing service – the whole thing – 3 hours – the scriptures and prayers sung – the responses sung – then in both languages the priest chanted “CHRIST IS RISEN”.  

Before the service and throughout, people continued to light their candles from the priest and from each other. My friend said that some people hope for miracles by getting their candlelight directly from the priest during the service but others think it is slightly disruptive – Well, Jesus would understand ALL OF THAT!

Sleepy sheep – there were many families with kids and teens – teens hunched over in sleep on the pews by 2AM. One baby – a crawler – was the picture perfect cherub who only cried maybe once in 4 hours? AMAZING…  Some teens were giggly and that was good relief when one caught her hair on fire – YIKES.  Well, oh the quick action of mom – the smell was real – but the giggles were bigger than it all. whew…  I also ALMOST caught my hair on fire once – but didn’t – whew. I don’t think I have ever run thru a whole candle before – it took 2 hours of burning – and there were so many candles that people would get up for a replacement candle. Even saw people leaving at 4AM still with lit candles headed back to their cars. Light is a serious pursuit. I had a second candle handed to me.  These people were generous – open – friendly – and the service was in both languages.

There was much standing and sitting – singing and solitude but also it felt super normal for a human crowd that was going to be there 3 hours. The occasional cell phone, the occasional reshuffle of seats. I also fixed candles in the windowsill near me that kept getting knocked from a non-observant man who walked back and forth like 10 times. Hmmmn.

The pinnacle moment was to be of communion being shared. And I loved the prayers, the Apostle’s Creed, the known canter. This is also where I felt my old understanding of denomination differences creep back in. See, having been raised Catholic (but then attending other denominations and community churches and church movements), I knew the prayers and knew the liturgy, and knew the motions – yet I also knew this was not an “open table” – this was one of those times of  “only those of this faith denomination who followed the rules get this communion” – and then only if they fasted (if able). Yes – I know that Jesus said “You are Worthy because of me”, but this was NOT a time for me to grandstand for a gram of bread, this was NOT that at all. Never is time for any grandstanding in Christ anyway. I felt sad only for a half-second because instead I felt that humble feeling that communion is a GIFT, like Salvation is a GIFT. Jesus is a gift and so is the ability to worship Him at His feet and to say You are worthy and I am not – but You make me worthy. 

My friend said: “Stay here”, not judging, just factual. I guess I forgot for a second of our differences. It took me only a second to snap out of sadness because I switched importantly to WATCHING – and appreciating people of faith. Some of the ladies covered their heads with scarves – many kissed the portrait of Jesus, then took communion from the cup directly from the priest who used a stick that he placed in their mouths, then they kissed the cup, and kissed the priest’s sleeve. On the side there was a portrait of Mary with a bowl of “extra” bread cubes – not sure why there were there but people took a handful if they wanted and kissed that portrait too. ( I later got a cube of that bread so I considered it my communion this night, but my communion really was remembering Jesus). I watched in grateful joy that there were people of faith who were able to express it by devotion. I was able to walk around the church with the people at the beginning of the midnight service (about 200 to 300), and then I was able to have a seat inside. I was AT the TABLE – no need to be ungrateful – we ARE at the Table with Him – and Jesus says – you don’t need to worry – you are IN because of ME.

Happy – my friend came back and she was HAPPY! She was happy and said “I MADE IT!” – happy – she was able to come and stay 3 hrs for communion at the end – and happy that she was alive to be here – rough in her ailments but strong in her faith – the Lord HAS held her together. Happy – I was happy to hear “I MADE IT” – and we surely will say those EXACT words when we get to Heaven and say to each other; “I MADE IT!!!” Jesus, You Make our Lives Complete in You. Jesus, you will say: “You Made it!”

A cup of communion dessert? Well, at 3AM we finished the 3 hour service and got to go downstairs for fellowship – and after 2 covid years, you could feel the relief of fellowship. They had plastic cups, hundreds, of bread cubes in wine. wow and YUM, and the Priest blessed these all as well as baskets of food that the people brought for sharing with their family members. He spoke a few words of blessing then took the holy water and sprinkled all of us. I crossed myself in catholic fashion and many there crossed themselves over and over in orthodox fashion with hand to head, heart, right then left shoulders. In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.

A gentleman shared some of his blessed basket of goodies – some chicken and other meats and cheeses – so nice of him. A few ladies of the church brought gifts for my friend’s family, bread and toys. Many came to bless her. She blessed one person in particular on our way leaving at 4am. She stopped to console a father who had recently lost his young son (I am not sure, maybe cancer), he touched his fist to his heart in thanks to her – in praise to the Lord for support – in sadness but acceptance. 

Isn’t that what we must all have – some sadness for we only have a short walk in this world – sadness in brokenness – but acceptance that this IS our walk and we will not be without suffering just as Jesus was not without suffering. We DO have salvation as sheep – as sheep of OUR Shepard – salvation in sweetness of sorrow.

Sheep – we are not all the same sheep and we are also of many flocks but with one ultimate Shepard. We are to embrace the diversity of the world (not conform to it) and to share love with the people. All knees will bow at the Lamb of God one day. It reminds me of the sheep in Ireland, they roamed fairly free, and were marked with color spray paint on one patch of their wool. This meant that if they intermingled with other farmer’s sheep, they could just continue to live and then at the end of the season, the farmers would get together and exchange the sheep back. All sheep – all unique – all loved – all owned. We ARE able to be invited in to other sanctuaries and we should invite others into ours. We ARE those sheep – we are all unique and loved and owned by our Lord God and Father God, and we are all to be collected at the end. (We are to avoid being goats which Jesus will separate one day as non-sheep). We can be unique sheep. I know that the women who went to the front of the church who wore their scarves and sang their songs could easily be my cousins and ancestors in the Eastern European country of my ancestors. The women and men our brothers and sisters in Christ. Just because they have different colors of sheep paint on occasion, we are all sheep. All Sheep. One Shephard.

One last bible lesson, how sometimes we think we have to be dressed a certain way for church – or act a certain way – or fast even if physically not able – well, NO. We talked about the scripture that the thief to the side of Jesus on the cross came to Him at the last minute, came as he was, came a sinner, yet when he asked to be with Jesus, Jesus said TODAY, you will be with me in Paradise. Our SALVATION does NOT rely on us – only on our Shepherd who laid down His life as the Lamb Sacrificed. 

Sheep, Souls, Singing, Scarves, Sticky Notes, Singed hair, Sharing, and Salvation.

May we realize we are all sheep of our Shepard. 

Sleepy Sheep awake, Jesus came for us all. He IS coming again to judge the quick and the dead.

Jesus says: YOU MADE IT!

Amen! CHRIST IS RISEN! HAPPY EASTER!

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