Volume 6 Number 2
Threatened with Resurrection
Everyday, Silas Biglow threatens me with resurrection.
I first met Silas while rooting through heaps of books at the church rummage sale. There he was, struggling to free himself from beneath the decades-old pile of American Heritage magazines. A colonial Puritan to be sure, he seemed determined to speak. The Reverend Silas Biglow died in 1769 and was buried at Paxton, Massachusetts. What was staring back at me was his stylized image on a gravestone. Carved in careful detail, Minister Biglow stood in a pulpit adorned with tasseled antependium, vested in full preaching regalia with tabs on his collar and Bible in his hand. I liked his style; even in death, Silas Biglow kept on preaching.
Silas Biglow, or, to be more precise, the image of Silas Biglow, continues to exhort me from his perch on my office bookshelf. He is there to remind me of the witness of the church, whose voices never cease to sing. What I admire most about Pastor Biglow is that, while he is poised to orate into eternity, no words are ever spoken. His is a silent testimony to Christian testimony, that the Word of God continues to be proclaimed long after we cease to speak.
Silas Biglow's gravestone also reminds me that Christians preach the empty tomb, not the empty pulpit. God speaks, and God continually calls disciples to speak. The pulpit-whether a monumental edifice in a cathedral or a tilted music stand in a high school gym-is the symbolic center of a worshiping community that is created by, and sustained through, the Word.
Perhaps the greatest spiritual discipline I have experienced is the privilege of preaching week after week to a particular Christian community in a particular place. For some Christians, ordinary Lord's Day worship-week in and week out Sunday worship-seems too commonplace to be a bona fide spiritual discipline; too tedious to express God's astounding grace; too routine to hold God's overflowing love. However, I might suggest that Lord's Day worship is the spiritual discipline that undergirds all other spiritual practices. No matter where our spiritual disciplines lead us-to a retreat center, a spiritual director, a prayer group, or a vigil-they emerge first from what Belden Lane (writer and professor of theological studies at Saint Louis University) calls the habitus of Christian being, the regular ritual practices grounded in a particular worshiping community in a particular place. The Christian practice of meeting statu die-on a fixed day-is one of the most ancient and formative spiritual disciplines. Lord's Day worship is the "commonplace" of Christian identity, communally formed, sacramentally expressed, and necessary for all Christian spirituality. It is the day when, in poet Julia Esquivel's words, we are "threatened with resurrection."*
Perhaps, in the wake of recent national tragedies and global uncertainties, it sounds naive to claim that the discipline of Lord's Day worship can meet the spiritual demands of our time. Don't we need something-well-more powerful, more profound? Throughout history some religious communities have thought so. Facing perceived millennial and apocalyptic crises, these communities dramatically altered their liturgical life and separated themselves from world and neighbor in the name of spiritual purity. Other religious communities responded differently. They established schools and seminaries and places of worship. They actively taught their traditions, cared for neighbors, and discerned God's priorities in their current context. In doing so, these communities resisted the temptation to abandon their Christian habitus. Confident of the sustaining power of the Holy Spirit, they believed their worship to be spiritually significant and capable, even in the midst of human suffering and fear. For Christian disciples, living with the threat of resurrection is not only a spiritual discipline; it is also the means by which we sustain Christian habitus in the world.
Fulfill in us, O Lord, the joy of your salvation.
*"Threatened with Resurrection" by Julia Esquivel as found in A Liturgy Sourcebook, ed. by Gabe Huck (Archdiocese of Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 1994, p. 116.)
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