ELM Blog: When Coming Home Feels Less than Familiar

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by Tom Gehring

Once again, we find ourselves entering the most sacred week of the church year.

As the child of two pastors, I consider myself intimately familiar with the church calendar as my life has been marked by its rhythms for 30 years now. Despite this long-running familiarity, however, the journey through Holy Week has always carried a meaningful significance. From washing feet and hearing the command to love as Jesus loved, to sitting through the painful emptiness of grief and keeping vigil, my spirit has always found peace and meaning among the familiar patterns. The Lenten runup and subsequent journey through this sacred week felt like a return home. It was a poignant reminder of who I am as an individual of faith as well as a member of the worldwide body of Christ. However, in recent years, Holy Week has not felt like much of a homecoming.

Four years ago, I was in my final year of seminary and navigating the early stages of a global pandemic that continues to mark our lives. As Holy Week approached, I struggled to find any peace, joy, comfort, or familiarity in the rhythms of the week because they had been so aggressively upended. I felt unable to feel much of anything through the observations of the week. Admittedly, I still struggle to some extent as the months and years since that first pandemic Holy Week have only grown increasingly chaotic and disheartening.

This year, however, I find myself wondering. If the familiarity of these sacred observances no longer brings a sense of comfort, introspection, and joy, then perhaps it can stir up something new within me, maybe in our communities as well. After all, the stories that shape and guide us, we profess to be a living Word. Though the structure and stories of this sacred week are relatively unchanged from year to year, we as individuals and communities have been shaped in myriad and tumultuous ways. I desperately want to believe that, despite living in a reality whose very fabric seems to be unfolding before our eyes, our collective journey through the days to come might help us face whatever comes next.

With everything in the world continuing to unfold, with each new and prolonged crisis, I cannot help but focus on the tenacity of this week. Perhaps, too I feel an indignant comfort in how staring down a world in chaos has only seemed to highlight the most important elements of this Holy Week: a protest through the streets that actively mocked an occupying empire, an intimate gathering of close friends sharing a meal amidst heightened anxieties, a desperate prayer in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, hours of keeping watch through the silence of night with a defiant hope.

However you approach this coming week, be it with anticipation and excitement or the numbness of enduring yet another year, I pray that the Spirit might find you and speak to you in the way you most need. May we all come home to this sacred moment and be transformed into the very Love we encounter in the altar, the cross, and the tomb. Amen.

Bio: Tom Gehring (He/They) is a pastor currently working as a chaplain in Metro Chicago providing spiritual care for individuals living with, or at risk for HIV. In their free time Tom loves to DJ, spend time outside, play lots of games (both video and board), read excessively thick fantasy novels, and work out with his lovely gym community. Tom has been serving as a member of ELM’s board of directors since October of ’23 and is honored to be a part of this ministry.

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