Gaudete in the Midst of Tragedy, or, Why the Pink Candle Will Bring Me Comfort This Year

I don’t preach as often as I used to when I was in a local church, so this blog has sort of become an outlet for me.  I’m not preaching anywhere this morning, but if I were, here’s some of what I would say…

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Today is the Sunday of the pink candle–that confusing Sunday every year when someone will ask, “why are all the candles in the Advent wreath blue (or purple) except for one?  Why one pink candle?”  Some have (erroneously) assumed that it is because we focus on Mary this Sunday.  If that were the case, then blue would be more appropriate, since that has been Mary’s color for centuries, and is actually one of the reasons we use blue in our Advent wreath now.

No, the pink candle goes back to the old days of when purple was the standard color for Advent, as it is for Lent. At the time, people used to fast during Advent–no pre-Christmas Christmas parties for our ancestors in the faith!  Like Lent, Advent was a time for reflection and introspection, a time to prepare oneself for the glorious things that would be celebrated at the time of the great feast.  But on the third Sunday of Advent, the theme was joy, a short respite in the middle of the Advent fast (there’s a pink Sunday in Lent, too…but more on that another time).  Thus, the pink candle–rose, actually–purple which has been tempered just a bit to lighten the mood, and remind us that even in the midst of great darkness, God brings Joy into our hearts.

This Sunday is traditionally called “Gaudete Sunday.”  “Gaudete” is the Latin word for “Rejoice,” and is the first word of the Latin introit for the Mass on the third Sunday of Advent…”Gaudete in Domino Semper: iterum dico, gaudete…” (“Rejoice in the Lord always, I say it again, rejoice…”)  These words from Paul to the Philippians remind us as Christians that we are to seek the joy that only God can bring, and to seek it continually, even when the world is at it’s darkest.

And the world is a pretty dark place right now.  The sadness that has overwhelmed our nation at the tragedy of Newtown Connecticut is palpable.  Everywhere–in churches and synagogues, in homes, in schools, on Facebook and Twitter–people have been asking those age-old questions that come around at times of great tragedy:

Why, God?
Where was God in all of this?
How could such a horrible thing happen to innocent people?
How can we move on from here?

These are all appropriate questions, and they  need to be asked.  As a nation, we also need to be asking ourselves about our relationship as a people to the violence that seems to pervade our culture, and the love affair we have with weaponry.  We need to have a serious talk about how guns are tools for specific purposes, that they may be necessary at times (though I would never own one myself), but that they should be treated very carefully, and only for specific purposes.  We need to have a conversation about how our country was founded by men who had a very different relationship to guns than we have today, and that while the principles they laid down are still true for us, the practices of the late 18th century hunter/militiamen are not our ways today.

But we also need to have a conversation about Joy.  Some have said that after a tragedy like the one in Newtown, we should cancel Christmas–take down the decorations, forget the pageantry, put away the expressions of Joy.  And some of that might be happening in Newtown, and I could understand why.  But for the rest of us, sad as we are about this tragedy, we cannot–we must not–let this deter us from understanding the true source and object of our Joy during this season of waiting–our great and loving God, who gave us the greatest gift of all–God’s self in our form, a Son to whom we could relate, One who would come to teach us to love, who would suffer along with us, and would provide us with a path to community with God.  Our joy as Christians doesn’t come from the superficial–the trappings and trimmings of Christmas are merely outward signs of our inward joy.  No, our joy comes from the Lord Jesus Christ, and his love and presence are needed now, just as much as they have been needed all along.

Paul said, “Rejoice in the Lord always…” Always.  Not just when we feel like it.  Not just when there is lots of money, and we can buy a ton of presents.  Not just when all is well with the world, and no one has been hurt by a sick man who needed help long before he got his hands on a gun.  No, Joy is needed always–especially in the midst of tragedy.  Joy is not an emotion, but a state of mind, a way of being in the world that says, “Love wins.  Hate will come to an end.  Everything we build or cherish in this world is ultimately temporary, but the Love of God will never pass away.”

Love wins, and though it may be hard to see now, Joy is the watchword of this day, as it is of every day lived in the light of God.  May this Gaudete Sunday be a reminder to us of this truth, and may our lives be examples to everyone around us of the Joy that comes from knowing the One who brings the peace that passes all understanding.

Thanks be to God.

Amen.

An Order for Prayer for Final Exam Week

As this is exam week, it means that things are pretty quiet around the Chapel here at ONU.  So, I’ve offered myself as a personal “prayer warrior” to our students and faculty.  I’ve already had a few take me up on my offer to pray for them during specific exam times, and I hope more will do so as the week progresses.

I’m a liturgical “nerd,” so I like making things like prayer services.  It provides a bit of structure for my oft-wandering mind.  So, here’s an order of prayer for those praying during exam week (either for yourself, or others).  Enjoy!

Blessings,

David

An Order of Prayer During Final Exams

O Lord, open our minds.
And our pens shall show forth knowledge and praise.

The Collect (In unison)
Almighty God, giver of all Knowledge and Wisdom,
we have come to a place where our knowledge must be tested
to prove that we have learned all we can.
Grant us the strength to endure long essay questions,
the clear thinking to tackle tough problems and formulae,
and the wisdom to rest between periods of intense activity.
As you led the people of Israel through the desert, show us a way
through this time of academic intensity,
that we may emerge on the other side, singing and dancing
your praises, all the days of our lives.
Through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Psalm 34
I will bless the Lord at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the Lord;
   let the humble hear and be glad.
O magnify the Lord with me,
and let us exalt his name together.
I sought the Lord, and he answered me,
   and delivered me from all my fears.
Look to him, and be radiant;
so your faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor soul cried, and was heard by the Lord,
   and was saved from every trouble.
The angel of the Lord encamps
around those who fear him, and delivers them.
O taste and see that the Lord is good;
   happy are those who take refuge in him.
O fear the Lord, you his holy ones,
for those who fear him have no want.
The young lions suffer want and hunger,
   but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.
Come, O children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
Which of you desires life,
   and covets many days to enjoy good?
Keep your tongue from evil,
and your lips from speaking deceit.
Depart from evil, and do good;
   seek peace, and pursue it.
The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
and his ears are open to their cry.
The face of the Lord is against evildoers,
   to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.
When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears,
and rescues them from all their troubles.
The Lord is near to the broken-hearted,
   and saves the crushed in spirit.
Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
but the Lord rescues them from them all.
He keeps all their bones;
   not one of them will be broken.
Evil brings death to the wicked,
and those who hate the righteous will be condemned.
The Lord redeems the life of his servants;
   none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.

The Song of Zechariah
Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
and has remembered his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,
to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,
in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins.
By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.

Gospel Reading:  Luke 4:1-13 (Jesus is Tested by Satan)

The Word of God for the people of God.
Thanks be to God.

Prayers

Together, let us pray:
For those who have exams in subjects they love, related to their major…
For those who have exams in subjects they loathe, unrelated to their interests..
For unfinished or poorly finished work…
For the grace to accept when we have completed our tasks…
For the strength to carry on and do what needs to be done…
For professors and instructors, who must grade our exams and papers…
For our families and friends, and stresses they may be going through…
For those who are not privileged enough to have the opportunity to attend college or university…
For the Church and the World…

Lord’s Prayer

Closing
Go now in peace, and as you learn more and more, may you be blessed to know that you understand less and less, and be comfortable knowing that God is in it all.  And may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you now and always.  Amen.

Let us bless the Lord.
Thanks be to God.