We gave up church for Lent

sanctuary
credit: Resurrection Lutheran Church, Lakeview – Chicago

When our son was born in January, my husband and I, like many first-time parents, were so wrapped up in getting used to our new reality that we barely had time to eat or sleep or clean or think. Naturally many of our pre-baby commitments ended up tabled for a while – me, book club, my husband – lifting, both of us – church. Eventually he made it back to the gym, and although I still haven’t made it to book club I did make it out of the house (book club ladies, I’m coming back soon–I promise!). There were a few Sundays early on on which we tried our best to get back to church, but, alas, baby had other plans.

Days ran together in a haze of feedings, dirty diapers, dirty laundry, dirty dishes. Suddenly it was April, and looking at the calendar we realized that we’d nearly given up church–of all things–for Lent. Oops. That had not been our intention.

It was time to go back.

So two weekends ago when we approached the front doors of our church, a place that had once been so familiar but now felt a bit foreign, I was a little afraid of what to expect, namely, because I had an unpredictable infant to worry about, but also I worried I might not like it anymore after being gone for so long. My diaper bag slung over my shoulder, I followed my husband, who was carrying our son, up the stairs. I peeked over my shoulder across the street at the soccer players skittering back and forth, envious of their seemingly carefree morning. I stepped inside.

A familiar tune filled the familiar space, familiar faces, words of grace–all put my heart at ease and made me feel at home.

It was Palm Sunday, the day on which the church observes Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem the week before his crucifixion and resurrection. My congregation’s Palm Sunday practice is to process into the sanctuary while singing, palms in hand, imitating the crowds who rejoiced for Jesus years ago. We then read aloud the Passion story–full of drama, intrigue, betrayal, darkness–and remember Jesus’s great sacrifice for us, God’s beloved, broken people. This is how Holy Week begins.

This story is exactly what I needed to hear after such a long time away. It wasn’t the melodic hymns or the thoughtful prayers or the beautiful, homey space, it was hearing the Bible, getting uncomfortable, getting back to the basics of my faith–why we need Easter, why we need a Savior–that reminded me why my family makes church a priority. (To answer the former “why”: I know I mess up a lot and I can’t save myself, I am a broken person without Jesus and I desperately need God’s grace and forgiveness.)

The world, however, would have you believe that the road to Easter Sunday is paved with jelly beans, pastel-colored eggs and sunny spring outfits. If that’s your Easter–that’s OK, but sorry, it’s not the original Easter. The Easter story is *not* for the faint of heart.

I bought a children’s book for my son’s Easter basket, which was so aptly titled, “The Easter Story.” I read it to him the other night, the Passion story fresh in my mind from Palm Sunday. I kept commenting along the way, “Jack, they left out this part, that Jesus was betrayed–and we are all culpable.” (Pretty heavy stuff for an 11-week-old, I know.) And “Jack, the interesting thing here is that only the women who followed Jesus came to his tomb that day.”

Yes, there are so many details about Jesus’s death and resurrection that can’t be captured in a simple children’s book. We seek to shelter our children from the darkness, but the darkness–when the people demand Jesus’s crucifixion, for example–is an important part of the Easter story.

There’s no shortage of darkness in our world today. During these past few months, I did my best to take a break from the news and the worry it brings because I wanted to focus on bonding with my son. But leading up to Easter I could not ignore it. Recent events instilled in me a new, sharper (parental) anxiety about the future.  I’ve been thinking about the Syrian man whose twins died after being gassed, the horrific terror attack on Palm Sunday in Egypt, the acts of terror and acts of war that persist in the U.S. and across the world today. We are all culpable, we are all victims. This is why we need a Savior. We need mercy. We need grace. We need healing.

Because I hadn’t been to church in so long, I’d forgotten this. 

Back in church that Palm Sunday I let the words of the Passion story wash over me, the hymns of praise, the prayers of the people. I thought about how disconnected from my faith I had been this Lent, caught up in the day-to-day activities of life with a newborn. How that morning I had come to church a little afraid.

That morning, church started to fill up my empty tank. Hope–for something bigger than my small life, for divine intervention for a broken people, for a Savior–filled my heart. 

It felt incredible to be welcomed home by our fellow members the last two Sundays. I am deeply grateful to belong to a church of open arms, love and no judgment. One of my favorite moments on our first Sunday back was bringing little Jack up to communion with us and watching our pastor as she made the sign of the cross on his forehead and blessed him. 

Now Easter and Palm Sunday have since passed and for the majority of folks that means to back to “normal.” As for us, though life with a baby is never predictable, we’re attempting to find a new normal that includes more regular attendance at church each Sunday. One thing is certain: in this season my faith life has been reinvigorated and for that, I’m grateful.

Have you ever lost your way from something that was important in your life? What brought you back?

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