All posts by The Rev. Erik Parker

iPhone Pastor for a Typewriter Church. Blogger, Podcaster | High Church Lutheran | Husband & Dad | Oilers fan in exile | He/Him

Christmas not as we expect – Pastor Thoughts

The great day of anticipation is soon here. 

In no time at all, we will gather together for the first fully in-person Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services since 2019. Though Christmas and worship wasn’t cancelled in 2020 and 2021, these past two years Christmas Eve and Day worship has not been the same. The sound of one another’s voices as we sing carols, the visitors from afar and familiar folks that we know well all together, the glowing candles as we sing Silent Night. 

2022 with all its ups and downs is bearing a lot of expectation about what this Christmas should be. There are many people who are trying to get back what we didn’t have in the last two years, trying to have the gatherings, visits, trips that we missed the past two years. The parties and concerts that were cancelled. Trying to recreate with nostalgia the memories of Christmases gone before. 

And still once again this year, those things are under threat. Not from a virus but from continent-wide weather events. 

In our family, our planned Christmas company has been unable to fly out of Kamloops since Monday and might have arrived a week late, if at all. Another friend and colleague has been stuck in Victoria for days with no help from the airline in terms of a booking another flight home to Regina. Pastors in Eastern Canada and the United States are wondering on Facebook if in-person services will be cancelled for the third year in a row. Luckily, all the means to be online are already in place. 

In a twist of fate, Manitoba might be one of the best places to be for winter weather this Christmas. We are going to have just the regular cold and snow that we can handle with no problem. 

But of course, all the expectations about what this time of year is supposed to be are still there. And as a good friend says, “Expectations are pre-meditated resentment.” 

Wanting Christmas to be a certain way with certain people following certain traditions is pretty normal. But as our world changes and there seem to be more things outside of our control that affect us in bigger and bigger ways, we might do well to remember that Christmas is a story rooted in unmet expectations and in people navigating circumstances beyond their control. 

And still in a world that buffets us back and forth with challenges and struggles, God comes. God becomes incarnate. God is born into human life so they we might share in the divine. 

So as we bring all the things we want Christmas to be this year, God is already at work bringing the hope and promise that we need in our troubled world. 

May this Christmas Season be a time to celebrate the joy of Christ’s coming with those that you love, in whatever way is possible. 

Blessings to you this season. 

Pastor Erik+

Awkwardness of Advent – Pastor Thoughts

We are heading into the 4th and final Sunday of the season of Advent. 

After hearing Jesus talk about the end of the world and then two weeks of John the Baptist, the fourth Sunday finally gets us to the familiar stories that we usually associate with this time of year. Mary and Joseph finding out that Mary is pregnant. 

The annunciation as it is called, is a beautiful story that also gives us the Magnificat: Mary’s song about God’s faithfulness, throwing down the mighty and lifting up the lowly. 

But there is also a certain awkwardness to the fourth Sunday in Advent. It is a reminder that our beloved Christmas story begins with an unwed teenage mother and her near escape from being tossed onto the streets by her partner. We then see two new parents living in poverty unable to provide the basic necessities of life for their family – including a safe place to give birth. 

This week as I drove down Portage Ave., I saw the bus shelters that have been taken over with folks living in them. I couldn’t help but imagine the Holy Family taking refuge in one of these makeshift lodgings, with no room at the shelters or soup kitchens or rooming houses. 

We don’t usually associate these kinds of images with the nativity scenes that we haul out of storage at this time of year. In fact, the Holidays are often a time where we enforce a certain dissociation with all the hard and difficult things happening in the world. 

This Advent has been more muted than previous ones. In 2020, there was a certain novelty with doing “zoom Christmas”, combined with the hope that came with the announcements of new vaccines. Last year, we were anticipating a more normal Christmas right through Advent and up until the 11th hour when Omicron snatched it away. 

But this year, even knowing there would be no health measures that will take our gatherings away, the Holidays of our nostalgic longings haven’t magically returned. Instead we are living with a lot of uncertainty, in the middle of world that is struggling under burdens of a lingering pandemic, surging flu, overrun hospitals, affordability and inflation, stories of tragedy and violence in our community, the stories of war that are lingering still in Ukraine. 

If feels like all the things that could go wrong this year have gone wrong, and now we are trying to just have a “normal” Christmas. 

Maybe that is why the awkward story of Mary and Joseph is helpful this week. Maybe it is the reminder we need that the Christmases of our warm and fuzzy memories maybe aren’t the true version of Christmas that we believe them to be. 

Messiah comes into our world, even and especially when it doesn’t look like we hoped it would. Messiah comes to us right where we are and brings light to this world and our lives as they are today. 

The moveable feast of Christmas – Pastor Thoughts

Though it is hardly December, we are quickly moving through Advent this year. Sunday was the 2nd Sunday in Advent on just December 4th. 

I was sitting at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet again this week, chatting with parents while casually checking emails. The topic of Christmas came up and as a pastor, non-religious folks sometimes take the opportunity to ask about my work. One of the parents asked when the Christmas busy-ness ramps up. I replied that it isn’t in November like most of the world, but that Christmas doesn’t technically start until December 25th and it is 12 days long ending with Epiphany on January 6th. 

Right now the church is observing Advent, which looks like Christmas with wreaths and lights and trees, but is more about preparing and waiting, more about being small and contained than the over-the-top celebration that is Christmas. I also noted that this year is what some of my colleagues call “Pastor’s Christmas.” 

Normally, there is less than a week between the 4th Sunday in Advent and Christmas Eve. In fact, the 4th Sunday can be as late as Christmas Eve morning. This means Advent 4, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services all fall within the span of 24 hours. Three different sermons, three different services in succession. 

Even still, Advent 4, with Christmas Eve on Tuesday or Wednesday, means a few days to prepare for Christmas services and only a few days after for the first Sunday of Christmas. 

But this year, there is time. Luxurious time. Christmas Eve isn’t until Saturday night leaving an entire week following Advent 4 to prepare. Christmas Day falls on Sunday morning, meaning that there is a full week until the first Sunday of Christmas. 

Yes, Christmas is always December 24th/25th, but it feels more moveable than Easter (which is called the moveable feast). Easter’s date may change, but it is always on Sunday, Good Friday always on Friday. The experience of timing is consistent during Holy Week regardless of the date. 

But our experience of timing in Advent and Christmas can be widely different every year (next year the fourth Sunday in Advent will be on Christmas Eve morning!).

And maybe this varied experience of Advent and Christmas each year is connected to the theme of the season. The quirky realties of dates and days of the week and how they align to create different experiences speak to what it means to wait and watch. 

In Advent, we begin our waiting and watching for Messiah, we remember the people of Israel longing and hoping for Salvation. We consider people going out into the wilderness – where time can get fuzzy – to find good news. We journey with Mary as she receives the news she is pregnant. An experience that is largely not in control of the one who is pregnant, where the ones who are waiting for the new child must live on the child’s timing.

The timing of Advent, the beginning to our liturgical year, reminds us that we are not in control but that we live according to the divine timing. And God doesn’t check with our calendars before initiating God’s plans for creation. Like anyone waiting for a child to be born, things happen on a schedule that is not our own. 

Advent teaches us to live waiting and watching for God, to expect God at any moment and that God will come when God comes. 

But more importantly Advent carries with it a promise – God is on the way. Messiah will be here soon. 

Wrapping up the year on Christ the King – Pastor Thoughts

The church is rarely accused of being ahead of the times. But every year around the end of November, with a little celebration, the church marks Christ the King Sunday and the end of the liturgical year. And so even ahead of the rest of the world, the church is still out of step. 

Still, I cannot help but ponder beginnings and endings around Christ the King. I look forward to this Sunday mostly because of what comes after, my favourite season Advent. 

But Christ the King requires the conclusion of all the stuff that came before it. To finish the story-telling arc of the previous year, to end with the Christ taking his place on the throne. Of course, on Sunday we will hear a very different understanding of where that throne is.

Stepping back to take stock of where we have been is an important process for us as people of faith and just as human beings. We can get so focused on where we are headed to next, that we get tunnel vision for the present and immediate future. It is difficult to take the long view, to step back and account for all the places we have been before now and how that has affected us. 

Christ the King reminds us that endings are not usually what they seem with God. Rather than a vision of the final dwelling place of God, we go to the cross, to the moment when death had seemingly won… and we discover that this was the moment of God’s new beginning. 

And so it is with the end of one church year and the beginning of another. On Christ the King we go back to the cross, and to begin Advent we talk about the end. God has a way of turning endings into beginnings, into new and second chances. 

As we see the myriad of seeming endings about us, the struggles of our world to maintain itself, our ending on the horizon as a church, we might wonder, what God has in store for us. We might wonder what new beginnings are around the corner this day, and how we might be changed forever by the new thing that God is about to do. 

Pastor Erik+

All Saints is hard, All Saints is beautiful -Pastor Thoughts

Oh, blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
yet all are one in thee, for all are thine.
Alleluia! Alleluia!
~ ELW 422 For All the Saints v.  4

The older I get and the longer I have served in ministry, All Saints Sunday becomes more and more meaningful to me. As we remember those who have gone before us in faith, it is natural to also look back at our own lives and experiences. As more and more years go by, the more poignant the themes and images of All Saints Sunday become. 

I haven’t counted the total, but I think I have been a part of around 100 funerals as a pastor (which is neither a little not a lot in 13 years). For perspective, there are about 50 Sunday and festival worship services to preside at each year (that includes Sundays on holidays). So in 13 and a half years of ministry, I have presided at close to two extra years of Sunday services made up of just funerals. 

In my early years as a pastor, that made me an oddity among my friends of a similar age (other than my pastor friends). Many of my grade school friends hadn’t ever been to a funeral or just a very few in their mid-twenties, while I was helping families plan and presiding at funerals regularly. 

It is still a strange thing to experience regularly something that so many tiptoe around, to know funerals inside and out when most people find even thinking about them uncomfortable. 

Funerals often come in bunches as there will be periods of time when months and months go by without having any to preside at. Then all of a sudden there will be three funerals over the span of two weeks. Death is unpredictable and there is never a way to truly be prepared for it, no matter how many times you have walked the path before.

There is quite a bit of All Saints artwork that portrays the great crowd before the throne of God as a faceless crowd more numerous than can be counted. After praying over urns and caskets, standing at gravesides and praying with families in mourning, the great crowd of Saints gathering before the throne isn’t just a bunch of faceless people anymore for me. I can picture many of the faces in the crowd of Saints that I have personally helped to usher into the Kingdom, and an even larger crowd of loved ones, family and friends attached to that crowd. Faces as old as 100 years and as young as two years, those who have died of natural causes, and those who have died because of accident and tragedy. Each All Saints Sunday brings with it a growing crowd of the faithful departed that sticks out in my mind. 

Often when death is portrayed on TV and in the movies, the big moment is the dying. Main characters, whether villain or hero, will prolong their death with powerful last words. Friends and family will pack a hospital room to be there as a character slips away, lingering on with sad but knowing faces in the final moments. And then the scene will cut to a brief funeral or to a glimpse of a headstone. The last moments of life linger, but grief slips by in a moment – at least in Hollywood.

In real life, that time after a loved one dies, those minutes, hours, days and weeks, months and years of grief can feel long, heavy and drawn out. The days before a funeral can feel like an eternity of planning and preparations. The weeks following can feel empty and hollow and meaningless. There is a discomfort that we have with grief, even as our culture has a fixation with death. How it is that our navigating the messy and complicated path of grieving does not hold the same dramatic appeal as life and death stories do? 

Walking the path of grief is hard and lonely. All too often those at the centre of the grieving are left alone, while those around them gradually decrease their care and support. The week before and after a funeral, there can be a flurry of cards, phone calls and casseroles. Even six weeks or six months on, the grief and sense of loss can feel as deep as ever. Yet, there can be an unspoken expectation that it is time to move on and stop being sad, even from the most caring and well-intentioned support networks. 

All Saints Sunday is our moment to attend to that grief outside of the raw emotions of a recent death and funeral. It is an opportunity to grieve collectively, even as we each grieve our losses differently. All Saints Sunday helps us to put in context the life AND death of a loved one, into the grand story of the lives and deaths of God’s people but also into the story of death and new life found in Christ. 

All Saints Sunday helps us to place all of our grief on the table. Our grief for loved ones gone before us, our grief for lives that did not go the way we expected, our grief for all the losses experienced in this life, all the other kinds of death that we deal with each day: change, failure, broken relationship, illness, addiction and so on. 

And finally All Saints Sunday reminds us of a day when we can hopefully hear it better; that all the grief we bring to the table, all the losses and scars we bear, that all the ways in which life breaks us down… that all of this is held by God. All of this is not too much for God to carry. God holds us and all creation until we are ready for new life.