Thursday, April 12, 2012
The Preacher’s Corner
Getting ready for Pilgrimage weekend
“Getting ready for the Pilgrimage.” It is a phrase that is heard often in Holly Springs about this time each year. The arrival of the Pilgrimage each April is heralded by a flurry of carpentry work, painting, yard care, and general sprucing up. It provides both a deadline which must be met and a goal for which to strive. The most inert of the town’s work force can be stirred by the words, “But it must be ready in time for Pilgrimage.” Even projects that are not directly related to this event are spurred along by the fervor of it all. I suppose it has been so with people since the days of Chaucer.
The business of preparing for the Pilgrimage is carried on by a committee of ladies from the Holly Springs Garden Club. Different women take charge each year, but they seem to hand down a wealth of wisdom and experience from year to year. They always know just whom to call, and just whom to make the call, so that the hapless male who is needed to do something or other by way of preparation cannot say no. Once in a while, the hapless male is me. Through the years, when approached by otherwise docile and demure Southern ladies, such as “Miss Nyla,” “Miss Pauline,” and “Miss Frances,” I have always found it best to comply with whatever is needed. A Pilgrimage Committee is formidable and not to be trifled with.
One year I was talking with a local bank president, whose wife happened to be Pilgrimage chairman, about a church project. “Do I have a Pilgrimage deadline?” he asked, and seemed relieved when I demurred. (Sometimes we men will cut each other some slack.) It happened that he was working on computer software dealing with the Y2K effect on banking operations. Apparently fixing that was a snap. Getting everything done in time for the Pilgrimage may be a greater challenge.
This week I expect to see relatively few church members. This is partly because so many of my people are tied up with the Pilgrimage, and also because after all the hubbub of Palm Sunday and Easter, most of us in and around Holly Springs keep the ancient tradition of Low Sunday. That is, this Sunday, being the Sunday after Easter, is known as Low Sunday, for the obvious contrast in excitement that is presented between it and Easter Day. We do plan to baptize a baby, however, and that will brighten our day.
My congregation, I hasten to say, does not display the wild fluctuations in attendance that are observed in many churches, especially in certain rather prominent Corinth churches that are too close to Pickwick. I saw an attendance chart posted in a certain church office there that, if it had concerned investments, would have made a Wall Street stock trader break out in cold sweat. My flock are consistent attenders, so that our “highs” are not overly high, and our “lows” are not embarrassingly low. You can chalk it up to Presbyterian predictability. It is just that on Easter everyone makes a point to be present, and the only “strangers” we see are true visitors.
Low Sunday, as I say, is a bit different, and to tell you the truth, it is my favorite Sunday of the year. Many ministers choose to take a vacation on this occasion, but I love to preach on this day. For one thing, it is a time when the church reaffirms commitments to and from its closest friends. I don’t mean that the absent members are not friends of God and of the Church. But we all have special appreciation for those who are happy to be with us for no particular reason, and when nothing special is going on.
A religious life that is nothing but celebrations is unrealistic. We need the low Sundays, as well as the high, holy occasions to give balance and perspective to faith. Christmas and Easter are without doubt the most difficult occasions on which to preach, for the themes of God’s coming and God’s victory are the most profound ones which the Church can lift up. If every Sunday were an Easter, we could hardly take it in.
A phrase from one of my teachers sticks in my mind. John Leith of South Carolina liked to say that “trust in the providential care of God should give us courage to face the changes and vicissitudes of life with serenity and poise.” Low Sunday is an opportunity for reflection upon the deep meaning of the truths we have celebrated at Easter. I look forward to this occasion for quiet contemplation of the unceasing care of God. We shall be glad to welcome our Pilgrimage visitors and share these verities with you.
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