The Morning after Easter… With Lots of Gratitude

Thanksgiving this past year (2010) was a super-delightful time in the Arndt household.  We weren’t able to make it home to ol’ Wisconsin, so we stayed here and enjoyed the day with a handful of Bloom friends who made the day really special. The next day, as has become our tradition, we put up the Christmas tree.  Also a delightful day.

The next morning, I woke up early for work, wandered bleary eyed into the kitchen to make some coffee, looked over at the Christmas tree and thought, “That needs to be on.”  So I turned it on.  And when I did, it occurred to me that in a small way I had inaugurated a journey that would culminate with Easter Sunday, yesterday… a five month march to joy.

And so it was that the journey completed yesterday.  There is much to be grateful for:

  • For the way in which a simple decision (moving our gathering down into the basement at FBC in December) served as the platform for all kinds of beautiful health and growth in our community.  We ate dinner and worshiped together… and it was marvelous.
  • For a couple of sermon series (Take This and Eat: a Theology of Communion and Engagement with God: Foundations of Spiritual Formation, which you can listen to here) that, to my great surprise, struck deep chords throughout our community.  I get the sense that God did some things in peoples’ lives through those messages that will be bearing fruit for quite some time.
  • For a Lenten journey as a community in which the Spirit quite visibly conducted some MASSIVE OVERHAUL in people’s souls.  The fearlessness with which so many members of our community faced their darkness, letting the grace of God “mess them up” as it were… It quite honestly astounded me.  This is no ethereal “spirituality” at Bloom… it is a robust, Jesus-centered community of repentance and honest spiritual formation.  Thank God for that.
  • For the joy of taking a handful of our folks on a 4-5 week baptism class during Lent.  Jess, Jonah, Pam… LOVE YOU GUYS!
  • For a Good Friday service this past Friday night that just astounded me.  And that’s really a bigger story that deserves some “air time” here…

When I was in seminary back in 2005, on the Wednesday before Good Friday (since there would be no class on Thursday or Friday that week), the Chapel Team (led by David Whited, a great friend of mine) put on a “Tenebrae” service.  The service consists of a series of readings through Mark 14 and 15 (Mark’s recollection of Jesus’ Passion) that is punctuated by worship, periods of silence, and some activities.  At the center of the room is a table with seven candles on it, corresponding to the seven readings.  The center candle is the so-called “Christ candle.”  As each segment of the service is completed, the reader will declare to the congregation “God showed his love for us in this: Christ died for us”, and the congregation will respond, “Thanks be to God.”  We do thus until Mark says that “Jesus breathed his last” on the cross and the seventh candle is extinguished.  The congregation then leaves in darkness and silence, allowing a longing for Easter to rise in their hearts.

I was overwhelmed with emotion when I attended that first one and vowed that if I ever got the chance, I’d try to bring this liturgical dance to life in the church(es) I served.  Just two years later, I was working at Sanctuary in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and I got that chance.  Truth be told, I was a little fearful that our Bible-belters would have a tough time with a service that is… well, so DARK.  But they loved it.  And a tradition was born.  We did it every year, each year with a bit more wisdom and grace, and it became a real highlight for our folks.

Bloom had done a Tenebrae service the year before we got here (2009), so it was pretty natural that we would do it last year, our first year here in Denver.  And since we were renting a building from some good friends of ours (The Sanctuary Downtown – ironically named, huh?), we asked them if they’d like to do a joint service with us.  They agreed, and MAN… it was just SO wonderful to worship like that with another church.

When Lent this year rolled around, the TSD folks asked us if we’d be up for doing it again.  Obviously we said yes, and then someone said, “Why don’t we see if a few other churches would like to join in?”  So, quite casually, I started asking around with some pastors I’m friends with here in Denver, and one by one the churches – quite gladly I might add – threw their hat in the ring.  Within a couple weeks we were up to about six, (and in serious need of a venue!).

We found one – a lovely church in Englewood with an amphitheater-style sanctuary which seats up to 1800 people.  Based on estimates from each church, we figured that we’d need space for as many as 1500, so we booked it, and started making plans.

The planning for this thing was honestly a piece of cake, since we’ve done it so many times before.  The other five churches and their leaders (the aforementioned TSD, The Next Level, New Denver, Denver Community Church, and Adullum) were just SO easy to work with… and when Good Friday rolled around, despite the magnitude of the event, there was not a trace of anxiety or nervousness in my soul.  Just a whole lot of expectation that the night would be pretty special for everyone involved.

And what a night it was.  The room was about 85% full, which meant that we were possibly just north of 1500 people for the night… and to have THAT many people and THAT many churches with similar culture and values (and many differences too) worshiping together… Oh my gosh… it was just so beautiful.  And the outpouring of gratitude from many of the people who attended.  It blew me away.

When the service was over, I exited like everyone else in darkness and silence, and darted off into a dark hallway just to get a few moments by myself.  I sat down in a corner, took a deep breath, and then felt my eyes well up with tears of thankfulness… to see an idea like this grow and become something beautiful that blesses and nourishes and unites.  What words are there to describe how marvelous that is?  In Tulsa now the tradition continues, and they do it with a level of beauty I never could have dreamed of… and now here in Denver, all these churches together.  God only knows what will happen next year…

And that I got to play the role that I got to play in this… life is funny like that.  Sometimes, unwittingly, you find yourself stewarding something that far exceeds the few little inputs you’ve made into the process, and the sheer GRACE of it overwhelms you.  I had so much fun on Friday night and was just ridiculously grateful and humbled that I got to serve the people of God in Denver in that way.  Thank you God!

  • And last but not least, an Easter Sunday baptism-and-pancakathon that was just a perfect bookend to an incredible journey.  We baptized the three I mentioned earlier (Jess, Jonah, and Pam) and a fourth (Rachel), in a horse trough out in the rain at the corner of 14th and Grant… they told their stories, we buried and raised them with Jesus, and then sang the Doxology in the rain before going in to eat pancakes.  It was beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.  (See video below… thanks Rusty Gates for taking it!).  And even though I did get thrown in the trough immediately afterwards (thanks again Rusty Gates and Patrick Rauls) it was a perfectly joyful evening.

And so, this Monday morning, the morning after Easter… I wake up completely exhausted but with great joy in my heart for all the good that God did.  He still “bears his arm” to rescue and redeem and renew… what a delight to be the objects of his goodness.

Praise be to God!

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