We had Mack dedicated at church a couple of weeks ago. Right in the middle of Lent. We're Baptist (well, technically, I'm a "Baplican," but that's another story for another time), but were we of a more "high church" denomination, we would have been asked to wait until after the Lenten season to perform such a celebratory act. We also would have been asked to sprinkle him. Yet another story for another time.
It has been noted on this blog before that despite being a Baptist I am a huge fan of the Liturgical tradition. I revel in the anticipation of Advent and the solemnity of Lent. However, as I contemplated this joyful occasion we were imposing on such a sacred time of year I felt a peace.
I have come to realize that one of the bittersweet tensions we hold this side of Heaven is that grief and joy are not mutually exclusive. They are not confined to their own separate corners only coming forth when asked. They ebb and flow and mix and mingle and cannot truly be separated.
I have seen this in my own life as I feel I am constantly grieving the end of one stage of life while celebrating the beginning of another. I remember as our wedding approached I felt a surprising amount of grief for the end of my single days. The same was true as my due date approached last year. I grieved the end of the "just the two of us" newlywed stage Will and I were preparing to exit. And in a brief three months of parenthood I have already grieved many stages of Mack's life even as I rejoice to see him growing and progressing into a healthy little boy. I have no doubt that will continue.
This tension between grief and celebration became clearest to me last summer when my grandmother passed away while I was almost nine months pregnant. I stood in front of a crowded chapel and gave her eulogy while inside me I could feel my son kicking--a sign of life. The significance was not lost on me and I remember in the moment taking a minute to soak in the beauty of God's mercy that as He had called my grandmother home He was simultaneously gifting my family and me with new life. It left me breathless.
We also see this tension in the life of Jesus, especially the end of his life that we celebrate during the Lenten season. The Bible tells us that "for the JOY set before him, Jesus endured the cross."* There must have been some bittersweet thoughts in his last few days. Knowing the agony that was to come but the joy and peace that would follow--I often wonder what He was thinking. I think the human side of Jesus held this tension in the same way we do today. After all, on his last night on Earth he did not retreat to solitude to mourn his impending death. No, he gathered together his closest friends and had a meal. We don't know every detail of that night, but I have to believe Jesus rejoiced, even if only inwardly, over the work they had done and would do in the name of the Father.
This Lent has been perhaps my least devoted. I can't tell you what I'm giving up or what I've added to my life except that I have a bit less sleep and personal time and a little more laundry. However, as I stood in front of our church dedicating my son back to the Lord on the second Sunday of Lent, I felt a tinge of that bittersweet tension washing over me and knew that in this particular season I was exactly where I needed to be.