Last evening my worship team for the class on liturgy I've been taking was assigned the task of leading an Advent service. It's been an oddly disconcerting experience to plan for Advent in the middle of Lent, and then to conduct the service in the midst of Easter, but such is the nature of the academic exercise. What is lovely is that the service wasn't merely an academic exercise at all; in fact, the Holy Spirit put in a surprise appearance. Throughout our many weeks of preparation (you know a "committee" of 7 is going to take forever to get anything done!) we had discussed themes of waiting, yearning, and longing, and I seemed to be the lone voice crying out for pregnancy and birth imagery. An amazing video display of scenes from nature that embodied this theme indirectly had been developed by one of my colleagues as a prelude to worship. An image of a pregnant woman was included on the slides, but much anxiety was expressed as to whether or not it might be offensive in a worship setting. There were other images of fullness and gestation in the service- for example, a lighted chalice was used instead of the customary candles, conveying a marvelous sense of the light within- almost literally a womb of light- reminiscent of the beginning of John's gospel. The decision had been made to freeze the slideshow as worship began, providing a backdrop image behind the altar for the duration of the service. The plan was to pause the video such that a simple image of budding remained on the screen. What happened instead was that two frames were superimposed on one another, something we didn't even know was possible in this age of computer accuracy. The image of a single branch with three pink buds appeared on the screen, and my colleague pressed "pause" to arrest that image as our focal point. Instead of pausing on the budding branch, the image of the pregnant woman appeared beneath the budding branch, giving us a softly focused dual image. We were confronted by a semi-profile view of full pregnancy with the budded branch gracefully over her, a trinitarian pregnancy. For this Advent service, it was an amazingly moving experience, linking Advent to Spring and what is happening all around us right now, not just in the official pre-Christmas season. It was also a reminder that half the earth (at least the southern hemisphere!) customarily celebrates Advent in warm and green surroundings, extending our awareness of the life God brings into places beyond our own back yard.
I found this especially meaningful on a personal note. My father died last week, confronting my family and myself with the experience of death in the season of Easter. This unexpected image of birth and new life in a venue I usually associate with cold and winter was a wonderful bridge; death, no matter how full the life of the deceased, has a stripped down, emptying feeling to it, something we are often eager to leave behind in winter as as we celebrate resurrection life at Easter. The unplanned image on our Advent screen brought the promises of God into new focus, one that I found to be affirming, uplifting, and inspiring. The image didn't last more than a few minutes; the "pause" function on the computer is apparently time limited, and ultimately the program shut down. But the gift was there- for all of us.
I'm not imparting "dividing the Red Sea" miracle status to this incident, but many of us were able to worship in a deeper way because of it and the way God worked through it to touch our end-of-semester hardened hearts. Who knew the Holy Spirit was techno-savvy? She was surely on overdrive last night! Maranatha!