SERIES #1 Reflections
Week 5: SEEKING AND SAVING
What is God Doing?
I’ve never been much of a blogger or one to publicly share my insights and opinions beyond those I offer from behind a guitar. Needless to say, these seasons in which we’ve offered our personal reflections on Lent and Easter and the songs we wrote for them has been a stretch for me personally. I want to be honest about both the truths of God’s love, mercy, and power and about my own struggles, fears and questions.
But the two things that usually make me stop reading a blog are, 1) when I feel like I’ve walked into a catechetical Chick-Fil-A, and everything is served clean and neat with a smile and a “my pleasure” attached. Or, 2) when I feel like I just became a member of the audience on Dr. Phil and there’s way too much personal info out in the open that no one should’ve ever known. The problem with both of these approaches is that neither one benefits the spirituality of the reader in a profound way.
So, in a bid to offer you something meaningful for your own reflection and prayer, I will skip the details of where I’m at in life right now. Suffice to say that I’m a real person, and I’ve been feeling some of the challenges and uncertainties of life lately. I’ve been realizing the degree to which I don’t have control and don’t have security in my own plans.
I’ve been wondering all the while what God is doing, if anything, to meet me in the midst of this experience of feeling a little turned around.
We’re in the heart of the Easter season, the celebration of Christ’s victory over death, the greatest feast in the Church. So great that it lasts a full fifty days. Everything should be sunshine and sangria, right? Perhaps. But, as I believe with all my heart that Christ rose from the dead conquering sin and opening the gates of salvation for all, the story that’s been playing out in the daily readings of the Church is hardly one of happy days and hard times bygone. Honestly, the fact that it’s not has been comforting to me.
On the contrary, we’ve seen how the Resurrection of Jesus - the very source of our greatest hope - caused confusion, fear, grief, and perhaps even division among those closest to Jesus, his followers. These are the people that wanted to have him back more than anything, and they still struggled to grasp the reality of it when he did return. It was over time through that first “Easter Season” that Jesus revealed himself once again to them: to Mary Magdalene at the tomb, to all but Thomas in the upper room, to Thomas through the invitation to touch his wounds, to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, and to Peter on the shores of the Sea of Galilee when he asked that painful question, “Do you love me?”
In doing so, Jesus shows us that his resurrection is not so much for “all of us” in general as much as it is for “all of us” in specific. For all of us with a past of darkness that still haunts us. For all of us with secrets, hidden struggles, and debts.
For all of us too hurt by death and loss to hope that his resurrection is real. For all of us with eyes that need to be open to his true presence in our lives. For all of us who have discovered that our fear of the costs is greater than even our deepest desire to love and to give up our vices. For all of these, he is risen from the dead.
He also shows us that the event of his resurrection was only to precede many other things he would do. So, now that we’ve celebrated Easter Sunday, what is God doing? He’s coming to us. He’s revealing himself to us again, right in the middle of where we really are in life with all its uncertainties, challenges, and experiences of being turned around.
He’s reorients us from our distractions of sin and failure to our destiny of eternal life. He’s truly confronting us with tenderness and precision to get to the heart of the things that separate us from him. As he proves especially in his encounters with “Doubting Thomas” and “Peter the Betrayer”, he’s not afraid to push into the places that could be awkward, because he wants there to be no obstacles to our communion.
Lizzy and I wrote “Seeking and Saving” about precisely this: that his resurrection is active. God is doing something for us right now throughout this Easter season. This isn’t a just a slow fade from a big celebration so we have time to eat the leftovers…this is a time of his coming to us, his breaking through the walls, his seeking of the lost. This might sound obvious, but the reality is that God has a plan. He always has. Sometimes it seems like he’s doing nothing, or like he’s doing something for everyone except for us, but when our eyes are opened, we will see he has never stopped doing the work of salvation for us and in us. It is for this reason that “Alleluia” is our song.
“For Christians, the Resurrection of Christ is the true Exodus. He has stridden through the Red Sea of death itself, descended into the world of shadows, and smashed open the prison door.” Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger
Written by Greg
1. Are there any places in your interior life that the celebration of Easter has not seemed to have a real effect?
2. In the events after the resurrection, is there a specific encounter or follower of Jesus with whom you identify most?
3. What is God doing in your life right now? Where does he desire to encounter you?
4. How is Jesus seeking and saving you, specifically?
Week 4: I HAVE SEEN THE LORD
Every time this season comes around, I find myself wondering what the people in Jesus' day must have felt from the time He breathed his last breath on the Cross to the moment the stone rolled away and the angels appeared to the women at the tomb revealing that Jesus had risen.
Can you imagine your loved one, a brother, sister, parent, or best friend rising up from the dead? Nope. All I can think of is The Walking Dead, and I'm not even into that whole craze. Anyway, what a terrible tangent. Back to Jesus and LIVING in the glory of the Resurrection!
We read in scripture about the encounter Mary Magdalene had with the risen Christ. But before that, John 20:11 says:
Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent down to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus' body had been. They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away," she said, "And I do not know where they put him." At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
This song "I Have Seen The Lord" paints a picture of what Easter morning might have looked like at the tomb through the eyes of Mary Magdalene, one of my favorite biblical figures. I find her to be so relatable, because I too am a sinner, broken and after the heart of Christ.
Continuing along in this scripture passage it says, "Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’ She turned towards him and cried out in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (Which means ‘Teacher’).” And suddenly her eyes were opened to see Christ in her midst, fully alive. We all know the story, but WHAT EVEN!?
There are moments in our lives when we turn around to find ourselves standing face-to-face with Jesus, and we do not realize it or have faith to see him. I am challenged every single day with this exact struggle. Believing in something we can't typically hear or see isn't an easy task by any means. But even though faith is intangible, it is not out of our reach.
Faith is a part of our walk with Christ. It's something in which we must grow little by little. I pray daily for new eyes to see the goodness of God and who He truly is, and I invite you to do the same. Hebrews 11:1 says, "Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see."
Like Mary Magdalene, we too are broken and in desperate need of the saving and redemptive power of Jesus. We may not always have the faith to see Christ in the day-to-day or to follow Him in the light of truth He has laid out for us, but even when we're blinded by the ways of the world, the light of Christ shines into even the darkest places of our heart. It is my prayer that you and I together would receive the risen Christ with new eyes this Easter so that we, like Mary Magdalene might proclaim with certainty, “I have seen the Lord!” Happy Easter!
Written by John
- Imagine waking up early Easter morning to find the tomb was empty and Jesus no longer there. What would your reaction be? And why?
- Do you struggle to see Jesus in the day-to-day life? In what ways?
- What does "faith" mean to you? How is Jesus inviting you to grow in faith this Easter season?
Week 4: HE ROSE AGAIN
I have the furthest thing from a green thumb. I actually think I have a black thumb. It's a decently sad situation, but we all can't be good at everything, I suppose. A friend of mine, however, has an incredible natural ability for tending to plants and getting them to a place where they are simply thriving. A green thumb, indeed.
There was this one plant that was given to him as a gift. It was actually a stalk of some sort. It hadn't sprouted yet. But he was faithful to watering that plant. To bringing it in and out of the sunlight as needed. To feeling the soil and seeing what it needed. And after over a year, still no sprout.
Then...all of the sudden...one day it sprouted the most beautiful flowers. Stunning pink pedals with a bright, yellow center. I was sincerely amazed. He showed up every day, he was faithful to that process, and it eventually bore fruit. Simply amazing.
As I sat at Holy Thursday's Mass of the Lord's Supper, there were many things going through my head and in my heart, but the prevailing theme was this: "Lord, I don't know how to enter into your Passion, and honestly, in three days' time, I really don't know how to enter into your Resurrection, either." I can attend services, I can read through our Lord's passion and Resurrection slowly and intentionally, I can sing the sacred hymns, but how do I really enter in?
Believe me when I tell you, it is all too easy for me to eat one too many Reese's seasonal peanut butter chocolate eggs, get a sugar high (and a little stomach ache), go to Mass, hang with my family, and call it a day. But is that what it looks like to enter into Easter? Well, those things are certainly part of celebrating Easter, but what is at the heart of Easter? At the heart of Easter is the fact that Love has conquered death. That Jesus won. That He paved a way for us to enter into the greatest gift: new life with Him. And that life starts now. It starts today.
Still...if you're anything like me, it can be difficult to live in that victory. During Easter, I sometimes feel in the same place as I was on Ash Wednesday. But that couldn't be further from the truth. I am not the same. Because one of two things has happened: God has used Lent as a time of transformation for my life, or now at the end of the Lenten season, I understand even deeper my inability to change my own life and my deep dependency on Him. Those are both beautiful scenarios.
We, at The Vigil Project, have been praying for weeks now with Psalm 51, "Restore in me the joy of your salvation." What I've come to realize more and more as we break open that scripture is my complete and total inability to restore my own joy. I want to, but I can't. Just like I don't have the ability to enter fully into this season of Easter without God's grace, just like my friend could not make that plant sprout on his watch. But, we can show up every day. We can "water" that work that God has started in us, through prayer, almsgiving, works of mercy, the Sacraments. We can be faithful, and that great work will bear fruit in God's ever-perfect timing.
The word "Easter" at its root, is affiliated with the breaking of the dawn. With Spring. With new life. Jesus rose again on Easter Sunday, and shows us that he does, indeed, make all things new. Restoration is a process. And my dear friends, God can never be outdone in generosity. Love always wins.
So at the beginning of this Easter season, I invite you to reflect: What new work has God started in you? And what can you do to "water" it?
Written by Andrea
Week 3: WERE YOU THERE?
Have you ever had someone ask you a question about something you didn’t have figured out yet, and feel the pressure to have a perfect answer to give them to save face and appear put together?
“So, where you are going to school?”
“Do you have a job after you graduate yet?”
“Do I hear wedding bells?
“When’s that first baby coming?”
“You’re going to give that baby a sibling, aren’t you?”
“Are you happy at your job? Ever consider a career change?”
The list goes on and on.
My temptation is to have this blog post wrapped up perfectly in a pretty pink bow. To present to you something that is polished and filtered. To give you the perfect answer. But when I sat down to pray about what to write, I guess I realized that would be a lie. And frankly, our lives are too short to be anything but honest.
I'd like to share with you a piece of my heart today. A small look into my life and the things God is doing. Spoiler alert: it's not perfectly wrapped in a pretty pink bow.
This week is Good Friday. And on Good Friday we commemorate the most horrific event in the history of mankind. We remember the day that Jesus gave everything, His very life, for you and for me. I can't help but think that many of Jesus’ followers felt a little duped. Or a lot duped. Here they are, people who left EVERYTHING to follow Him, and on Good Friday....He dies. He leaves them. It's over. It appears that all is lost.
To be honest, I know that feeling of being duped quite well. During this time of my own life, when things haven't exactly worked out the way I would have thought, I am reminded that I am not the only one. Let's look back at salvation history. Let's look back at God's people. The Israelites were in slavery in Egypt and cried out to God to be saved. And He, indeed, saves them. Then, they find themselves free but in the desert, and they start to doubt the Lord. They start digging up in doubt what was planted in faith. That, my friends, is dangerous business.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that God's way often looks different from our way. God's path is almost certainly not the one we would choose. Which is why, in our short-sightedness, we must trust more in the darkness than we do when we can see things clearly in the light. The "Good Friday" moments in our lives- the times of confusion, sorrow, and even despair - are in fact, opportunities for us to show God our faithfulness and our trust.
The verse we at The Vigil Project have been praying through this Lenten season is from Psalm 51, "Restore in me the joy of your salvation."
The word “restore” insinuates that there was once something (in this case, joy), it has somehow been lost, and will be returned.
In full disclosure, we (The Vigil Project) have been going through our own growing pains, too. And again, I can't over express how tempting it is to portray that our ministry is going perfectly as planned. Of COURSE that's what we want people to think, in our humanness. But the truth is that we as individuals and we as a group, are in desperate need of our joy being restored.
At one point not long ago, I think I would have hidden from that reality, but you know what I've come to realize? That no one has everything figured out. That imperfection is a common denominator of humanity, and that God can actually do more in our weakness than He can in our strength. My friends, the feeling of being duped doesn’t mean we actually have been duped. It just means that things have taken an unexpected route, and we don’t yet sense the beautiful ending. We don’t yet see the part where the joy is restored. And that part is coming. In His time and in His way.
“Were You There” is almost certainly the most popular Lenten hymn out there. The lyrics give me chills when I really give them a look. As you sing this song this week and as we approach these three days of waiting on the Lord, I want to invite you to consider: Where in your life do you feel helpless and duped? Where in your life do you need restoration? What are you digging up in doubt which was planted in faith? And are you willing to let God do it His way?
Written by Andrea
Week 2: PRAISE TO YOU
Not so long ago while in high school, I was choir president for a short while. Yup, I was the choir guy. But even before then in junior high, I was appointed co-choir director for the Sunday evening youth choir at my church. Let’s be real, you know you’re from a small town when you can’t grow facial hair yet, but you find yourself standing up in front of a group of teenagers waving your hands up and down and side to side to the tune of “Awesome God.” This, my friends, was my first experience with praise AND worship. At the time, I couldn’t tell you a single thing about leading a choir, but was I grateful for the chance to use my God-given gifts to give glory and praise to God? Absolutely, YES! Grateful in more ways than one: I was introduced to chord charts, learned all kinds of songs, and grew in my ability to lead. As if that wasn’t enough, more than likely, there was pizza involved afterwards. It was a win! As strange as it sound, I know in my heart that through all of this God was opening my eyes to see the journey he had chosen for me. Did I know it right then and there? Nope, and it took me a while to finally see it.
Moving forward several years later, before graduating high school, I served on a church retreat team and had a few opportunities to play music. There comes a moment when one goes from “playing music” to “leading worship.” And here was the jump. One night I was asked by my youth minister to lead my peers in worship for the weekly youth holy hour. This. Was. A. Big. Deal. I had only dreamed of leading worship and always looked up to the worship leaders who led us every week. Of course I accepted! To be asked was incredibly humbling and exciting, but honestly, I was ecstatic!
This leads me to share with you about my first experience ever as a worship leader, the first time I encountered God in worship. We all gathered in the chapel, the lights were dim and there before us was Jesus in the Eucharist, all eyes fixed on Him. Of course, in the moment, I felt like all eyes were on me. Man, I couldn’t have been more wrong about that. I was so afraid, so nervous, I wasn’t even sure I could open my mouth or even make a sound at all. But before I could give it another thought, we entered the holy hour with the Sign of the Cross, “In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.” I proceeded to lead a short prayer as my voice shook. Then, suddenly a wave of peace flowed throughout the room. It was the spirit of God. Every nerve, every fear, every doubt was put to rest. In Matthew 18:20, Jesus says, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am with them.” That is when I knew God was with us, His spirit was moving in us. As the night went on, I continued to lead song after song for the entire hour in such awe and wonder, feeling so much gratitude to worship in the presence of God. I will never forget the peace that covered us that night and the praise that echoed from within. I can remember imagining that the roof was opening up to heaven. The sound of praise was unlike anything I had ever heard! This was an experience that has led me to always enter into worship as if it were the first time.
I share this story with you today because, during this season of Lent, we are reflecting, praying and journeying with Psalm 51. It says, “Open my lips and my mouth shall proclaim Your praise.” That night in the chapel, I was fearful of what could go wrong in that moment rather than gazing straight in front of me at what had already gone right…JESUS and the joy of salvation! My role was to lead when I was desperately looking to be led. But in my doubt, the Lord sent His peace and a sound of praise filled every square inch of that place. God is so worthy of our praise, even in our doubt and brokenness. Even if our voice begins to shake, our mouths shall proclaim His praise for the good He has done!
At the beginning stages of creating and dreaming Series #1 of The Vigil Project, we came together as a group of artists to spend time in prayer and to begin the co-writing process that resulted in a music and video series of seven cohesive songs of worship for some of the Church’s most sacred seasons, Lent & Easter. “Praise To You” was the project’s debut song/video. It came from the inspiration to create a space for worship, to welcome the power of the Holy Spirit, and to glorify God in song and in prayer. During Lent, I think we’re mostly familiar with the Gospel Acclamation, “Praise To You, Lord, Jesus Christ, King of Endless Glory” in place of the Catholic “A-word”… that we don’t say or sing during Lent, you know “Al****ia?” So I proposed to the team the idea of introducing a familiar theme woven into the very heart of this project aimed at leading others into deep prayer and an authentic encounter with God. What is one of the greatest ways we encounter God? We give Him praise! As we journey through the season of Lent, sometimes we can get so lost in the desert that we forget we’ve already been given heaven! Because of the Cross, we have the chance for freedom with the angels and the saints for all of eternity!
This idea of gathering was an important element to our vision. This was not only an invitation for our little group to gather; it was an invitation to the world to gather, to praise, and to pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit in a brand new way. As a Church, when we gather, there is power in our praise, our prayer, and our unity. In John 4:23, it says the Father seeks those who worship in Spirit and truth. Worship begins with a heart of gratitude. It’s not something we do because we have to; it’s a response to the goodness of God and what He has done for us. Not only do we worship God because of what he has done, but also because of who He is. Worship is a gift and an opportunity to experience God’s love, and to receive the gift of himself to us. It is a gift that we should openly receive. God relentlessly pours grace, love, and life into us, and worship is our response.
In whatever way you know how, just give God what you have. I want to encourage you to open your heart and your mouth to praise God for the good that He has done in your life. It is my prayer that you would find joy in the salvation of the Cross, the gateway to heaven where we will one-day share in heaven’s eternal song of praise.
written by John
1. What does “praise” mean to you?
2. Was there a time in your life when you experienced the peace of God taking control of your situation? How did you respond?
3. In what ways can you show gratitude to God? How can you turn your thankfulness to praise?
4. Challenge: If you’re used to praying on your own, I challenge you to invite a friend or family member to pray with you. Added bonus, think about what you’re grateful for and close out your prayer with a song of praise and thanksgiving. How was this experience different than praying alone?
Week 1: LORD HAVE MERCY
As a ten year old, I was rockin' it in the holiness department. I was a senior alter server at my parish, I attended a weekly prayer meeting for boys, I thought God was calling me to be a priest, and I went (albeit unwillingly) to Mass every Tuesday night with my family. But it was all a house of cards that came crashing down at one of those Tuesday Masses.
My brothers were serving, so there was no space for me on the altar. In my boredom at some point during the homily, I discovered that the pews were made of a relatively soft wood…perfect for carving. I resisted at first, but by minute nine of the preaching with no signs of an impending ending, I dug my thumbnail into the dark finish of the pew. Moments later, I was proud of the project I had completed: my name etched into the top rail of the pew in large letters.
Well, my mom has many gifts and assets, two of which are large glasses for seeing and strong hands for spanking. It hadn’t occurred to me before she saw it that A) she would see it (since it was huge and in plain sight), or B) that she would know who did it (since it was not my brother’s name, but my own). To make matters worse, we were sitting in the second pew, which is the unofficial front pew in a Catholic church. Shivers went down my spine as she mouthed to me over my sisters, “You are in deep trouble when this is over”.
I was in agony for the rest of Mass with nothing but my crimes to contemplate, staring me in the face in giant wooden letters – “G R E G”. What will she do? Will I go to prison? Will I ever be able to go back to the way things were before my crime? Why did this seem like such a perfect idea only a minute ago?! At the end of Mass, to my surprise and my horror, she didn’t exact the usual just and corporal punishment for misbehaving in Mass. Instead, she led me to the sacristy to meet face-to-face with Fr. Jonathan where I was ordered to tell him what I had done. My words were shaky as I explained and waited for his reaction. Again to my surprise, instead of an angry lecture, he asked a simple and sincere question: why did you do it? I could see that he was hurt that I, a trusted and faithful alter server and regular communicant, would do such a thing in the middle of Mass. I couldn’t hold the tears back anymore, and I didn’t have any good answers for him. Instead, all I could do through choked sobs was to say, “I’m sorry, I don’t know why I did it, but I’m really sorry.” I simultaneously threw myself at him and wrapped my arms around him, weeping even more bitterly.
After peeling me off of his vestments, Father took me by the shoulders, looked me in the eyes, and said,
“Greg, what you did wasn’t a good decision, and it will need to be fixed. But you are good, and I forgive you.”
To ten year old me, this was the proclamation of liberty to captives, this was the depths of mercy being poured out for me when my name was my sin. It’s a funny story, but the reality of the mercy Fr. Jonathan showed to me was profoundly reflective of the mercy of God the Father who waits always to forgive and to give mercy even before we ask. The first words of the Psalmist in Ps. 51 are “Have mercy on me, God, in your goodness; in your abundant compassion, blot out my offense.” This is the cry of every heart, especially during this season of Lenten awareness of and purification from our sins. We are sinners, our sins have real affects, but our God, in his goodness, has mercy, heals, and forgives us.
Here’s the catch…we need to ask him for it. Perhaps the only thing that puts distance between us and the mercy of the Father is our own unwillingness to approach in humility, to admit that we’ve done wrong, and to ask for or even weep for mercy. Maybe we avoid that conversation because we still have a pride that prevents us from admitting our brokenness to anyone, even ourselves. Maybe we avoid that conversation because we think our sin is our name, that it is who we are, and there’s no way we can be forgiven or shown mercy. Maybe we avoid that conversation because we believe that justice is the only proper response to any crime. Maybe we avoid it for another reason.
This is the truth that we all too often forget – God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him will have eternal life. God loves us, he knows us, he desires to be with us, he desires for us to be reconciled with him. He didn’t send us his Son, our Savior Jesus, just to save some of us, just to forgive some sins, just to set some free. He sent his Son because he wants to be with us. All of us. He saves us because he loves us. Are we willing to accept this love? To ask for his mercy? To throw our arms around him and beg when 4we know we deserve nothing? To let him make all things new in us?
It was less than a week after that Tuesday Mass that I found myself in the Church again, my mom had made an appointment for me to go to confession to Fr. Jonathan. After I confessed my sins, including the one he already knew about, he reached under his chair and pulled out a bottle of brown varnish and a rag. He told me that my penance was to polish all the pews in the church.
As I began working, suddenly he came out of the confessional with another bottle of varnish and a rag, and he began working with me, polishing every pew, telling me stories, jokes, and interesting facts about the Faith. By the time we reached that second pew with my name on it, everything had been restored, I knew his mercy was real, and that I had been forgiven.
This Lent, let us all experience the real mercy of the perfect Father through the gift of his Son, Jesus.
written by Greg
What are some of the places in your life that you need the mercy of the Father?
Have you asked God for his mercy in these places?
What keeps you from admitting your need and asking for the Father’s mercy?
How does the Father desire to restore you?