March 25th of each year is nine months out from Christmas day. That being the case it makes the ideal location for the Feast of the Annunciation. This is old news for liturgical nerds like me but it bears repeating as it is a taste of Advent in Lent. Any one of the following traditions could be going on as we speak in yours or any congregation: crosses covered, vestments and paraments are in shades of purple, Lenten suppers, Lenten fasts, extreme Lenten fasts, desert reading, and penitential rites. This season is often started with ashes on our foreheads, our mark of penance and humility. For our Catholic brothers and sisters, St. Patrick’s Day is a day of brief release and a chance of having Lenten frivolity. For our Greek brothers and sisters, the Feast of the Annunciation offers an even bigger opportunity for frivolity as March 25th is their Independence Day. This is a day to feast and to celebrate freedom. Having this one really good Greek friend, the stories he has told me about how Greeks celebrate independence lead me to believe that Greek Americans could teach all Americans how to better celebrate July 4th.
But what could the Annunciation be for us all in the midst of Lent? It could be a jarring splash of pink in the midst of the season of purple. The liturgical nerd in me says “Yes.” To see an Episcopal priest decked out in a stole and chasuble of “desert rose” that one time the 25th falls on a Sunday is a desire of mine. But this day is about more than color options. This is the day spoken of in our creed for our one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God…for us and for our salvation came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made human. In the midst of the forty day road to that foolish ending on the cross you have a reminder of the beginning. This is a moment of possibility and love. Love has invaded our penitential space. Our wilderness experience has been exposed to the hope of a beautiful spring. God has decided to live among us in the warm and safe home we all had at our beginning.
Nine months will go by where that beauty will be crucified, buried, and risen anew, it will gain followers, and grow, spread, change, evolve; generations will be fostered, and moments will be shared to renew that vision of beauty. And again we will find ourselves back at that manger on December 25th, a new birth born of all the change that preceded it over the past nine months.
I have just completed Episcopal Province V’s Art of Hosting training. I heard stories these past few days of concerned vestries, diocesan staffs, and families of lay and ordained leadership. These concerns were born out a Church that is in a penitential winter. Together, both the people present and those represented were calling out for a new spring of the Episcopal Church. President Ferlo of Seabury-Bexley Seminary talked about the Ecumenical Winter the Church Universal now finds itself in. I think spring is coming and it is moments of like these past few days that give me this belief. Spring is coming for a birth announced. Proctor Camp and Conference Center has been a wilderness every time I have seen it. The trees are only just now budding. The grass is still yellow and brown in most places but there is some green. I wait with anticipation to see Proctor transformed in spring.
But I have witnessed births to be tricky and scary things. I myself was born prematurely and there was indeed fear and concern. I was small and life was a labor. Through the care of nurses, my parents fear-strained love, and God’s embracing love and power (and a warm incubator), I was given to my parents three days after my birth. Through love and prayer I was midwifed into existence.
All the participants of the Art of Hosting have been taught to midwife this coming birth of a Church renewed through intentional conversation, prayer, love, and a little bit of mischief. Like patient gardeners we prepare for spring. Mary and Joseph weren’t alone in for their nine month journey. Scripture and tradition tell us that they had angels, Elizabeth, Zachariah, sisters, and aunts that would act as midwives when the time came. We know from scripture that the Israelite midwives were some of the shrewdest and capable midwives available (see Exodus, chapter one).
For this March 25th, the Feast of the Annunciation, I have great confidence that the church has shrewd, trained, capable midwives to help us give birth to the spring that is coming. I give thanks to God in Christ who is the head of the Church for these people and these moments of intentional and hopeful preparation. Spring has been announced. It is coming. Of this I am sure.