Moments Between Moments

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- Troy Hatfield

I’m a big supporter of the Grand Rapids Symphony. I’ve had a season membership for quite a few years now, but I find myself consistently critical of something: the audience is much too quick to applaud.

I was recently in my seat, eyes closed, smile on my face, as the musicians neared the end of Symphony No. 2 in D major by Sibelius. The mid-tempo piece was winding up, the brass soaring over the top of the timpani and sawing-away strings. And the millisecond the conductor’s baton cuts off that final, dramatic tonic chord, the crowd leaps to its collective feet in applause.  

I found myself really frustrated. I was left wanting just a moment of silence – a breath of space – to savor the beauty and passion and interest and tension of the past 35 minutes. It’s as if the audience was saying, “Finally!  We made it!  We have done what was asked of us – we were quiet and polite, but we cannot be silent any longer!”

While I am wanting what Alan Lewis describes: “a pregnant emptiness, a silent nothing which says everything.”

This quick-to-clap impulse exists in many of our churches as well, especially around Holy Week. My experience, in most non-denomination Protestant communities anyway, is a confusing leap from Palm Sunday directly to Easter – from “Hosanna” to “He is Risen!” – without that little bit of space. It’s as if our communities are saying, “Finally!  We made it! Lent is over! We have done what was asked of us – we stopped drinking coffee or eating chocolate or watching TV after 8:30pm, but we cannot do it anymore!”

I think it would be good for us to rediscover and reclaim what the liturgical Church calendar provides for us during Holy Week – a chance to savor the experience we have had and the reality of what we have been commemorating. Holy Week’s Good Friday and, especially, Holy Saturday are great moments between the moments. They are intended to be spaces of restraint and reflection before our response.  

In his excellent book The Shape of Living, David Ford talks about the benefit of pauses, “gaps between words and notes that allow them to make sense and patterns rather than merge together in chaos.”  

These ‘forgotten’ days provide those moments between moments that are probably not the most natural for us. The Church calendar invites us where we might not go on our own. It builds in a space for the long, patient inhale of Holy Saturday before the exuberant exhale of Resurrection Sunday.

May you intentionally step into moments this week– however brief they might be – and allow the gaps to make sense of this season. Allow the silence to speak and clear the chaos. Allow the Church calendar to lead you into the mysterious pregnant emptiness. And may those simple steps augment your experience of Resurrection Sunday in ways that are impossible to explain.  

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Troy is Lead Worship Pastor at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, MI, where he’s been on staff since 2004. A musician, Anglophile, voracious reader and owner of more black clothing than anyone he knows, Troy has also recently married Lis, a violinist and lover of every member of the animal kingdom. Follow Troy on twitter @tr0yisbald.