Yesterday I was reminded by a colleague how different Holy Week is when you are not working in a congregation. It’s been 15+ years since I’ve been immersed in the planning, preparation, crazy hours and last minute details of assisting in the implementation of the wonderful experiences of walking through Holy Week from the inside out.
Since then, Holy Week has become a more personal journey, participating from the outside in for lack of a better description. The work week continues the same, but there are few phone calls and less e-mail. Everyone is focused on the moment to come.
Many of us in the pews may be looking forward to reclaiming what one might have “given up” for the season of Lent. I never give up anything. I do try to do something new or take on a contemplative practice. This year it was purging.
Not purging of the physical kind, although I am trying to lose weight – the old fashioned way by eating healthier. I’ve been purging the contents (again) of 60-years worth of stuff. My dad moved to an Assisted Living facility right before Ash Wednesday. The condo in which he and my mom were living is now just about empty. We have a tenant to move in May 1st. The carpets still need to be cleaned and perhaps painting will be done. Two pieces of furniture remain – a 100+ year-old Federal drop-down desk that has been in my father’s family for years, and a 10-year-old dining room hutch. Craig’s list has become the latest bookmarked site on my computer.
But I still have all the stuff. Stuff of years of accumulation which I thought they had sold, given away or tossed out when we moved them to be closer to us from eastern Maryland almost four years ago. Boxes of 3 generations worth of china, crystal, knickknacks, photographs, papers, and memorabilia.
Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” Matthew 19:21
I do not need more stuff. Even though it may be valuable to its once owners, it is stuff. Our home is already full of 18th century antiques from a previous deconstruction of my husband’s parents’ estate. The pieces are beautiful and serve as wonderful conversation pieces. I doubt my children will want much of it someday – they are not about the accumulation of things. It is a generation that travels light and desires to be mobile at a moments notice. Stuff gets in the way and inhibits freedom.
We rented a storage unit when the kids finished college and had not yet settled into a “permanent” location. For the past several years the boxes and furniture have slowly left the unit – for the summer tag sale, new apartment or donated to those in need. We were about to rid ourselves of the unit, having purged what we did not “need.” Now it is full again – with stuff. Stuff we do not need. But stuff that was sacred to past generations. And things that my dad still cherishes and believes are worth more than their weight in gold. “You don’t want it?” he asks. “Then sell it. I can use the cash.” He shakes his head in despair. A lifetime of collecting things with no one to share it with. And so he tries to hide money in his unit for when he needs it. For all those trips he should have taken with his wife when he could. For that new winter coat my mom needed but they couldn’t “afford.”
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will be your heart also.” Matthew 6:19-21
Well, the stuff is not worth anything anymore. It doesn’t fill the regrets of “we should have done it when we could.” While all these possession and treasures of their lives have not been stolen – their “golden years” have been. He visits Mom at least three days a week as she calls him her “sweetheart” and asks to go home, even though she does not know where home is. She asks for her mother, and she calls me “Mama” sometimes. She is what has been stolen.
Almost a year ago my husband said goodbye to his mom. On Good Friday we decided to stop all medical care and allow her to die in dignity. Yesterday the nursing home called to let me know that Mom has suspected pneumonia – test results due today. It’s Holy Week again. Amidst talk about bank accounts, hiding cash, and selling stuff I wish this was all over. I want to purge the responsibilities of being the daughter, the eldest child. But Good Friday must come first.
I give thanks to all my friends and colleagues who are deep into the preparation and logistics of these next few days. The planning is done. It is now time to re-create the annual pilgrimage to the cross. Thank you for allowing me to forget about all the stuff. Ultimately, the stuff is so unimportant. Who do we break bread with? Who do we allow to wash our feet? Who remains with us when we are alone and abandoned?
Blessings as we wander the streets of Jerusalem together this week. For there is hope when all has been purged and given over to the One who accepts and embraces us all.