I have always been taken with the idea that the Christian life is one of improvisation. We take the model we are given—through what we see of Jesus and other disciples in scripture, through the witness of the saints—and we improvise on that. We adapt it to new circumstances, a different time, and we add to it, using creativity driven by necessity and the ever-generative Holy Spirit.
I see a lot of improvising going on these days. Working with what they have and in spite of what they do not have enough of, doctors and nurses are fashioning protective equipment out of whatever costume they can find; car companies are re-tooling automobile factories for production of ventilators; parents are transforming dining tables into learning centers.
I took an acting class my senior year of college—I know, shocker. Basically, I got a grade and credit for spending three hours a week playing games with my classmates. But in the process, I learned that the cardinal rule for improvisation is “say yes.” As the flurry of activity unfolds on stage, a simple “no” throws up a barricade—creativity grinds to a halt and everyone is left looking at one another, wondering where to go now. Instead, the “Yes” keeps the game going. Better yet, “Yes, and” takes what was given and adds to it. Minds keep churning, lips keep moving, wild new ideas sprout up and the story continues. The path may be winding, but everyone keeps marching together, usually with a laugh.
Perhaps that is the best guide for Holy Week this year. Yes, there is much to lament. So much is lost, and at a time when we need it most. There will be no holy meal on Thursday night in the sanctuary, no cross on the chancel on Friday, no tubs of Easter eggs on Saturday, and no lilies covering the altar on Sunday. And yet, Jesus was a master of improvisation: “No food for the crowd? Let’s see what I can whip up with this boy’s five loaves and two fish.” “No more wine at the wedding? Hand me that jug of water.” Perhaps this is the opportunity before us, as we fill our bathtubs to wash feet, tune in to a podcast to remember the Good Friday story, and string up the paper butterflies to fly in our own homes.
As all the losses around the world compound, day after day, I am drawn to this week’s reminder of just how far Jesus will go to be with us, just how often he says yes in order to get to us. Everytime a Pharisee threw up a roadblock, he stepped over it—the man he healed on the Sabbath, the woman who bathed his feet in her tears, again and again, Jesus responds, “yes, and…”
And even through the journey of his last days—the trial, the flogging, the abuse, the mocking—Jesus continued to say yes. Yes to us. Yes to a hurting world. But as he hung on the cross, that last word was the most important one—the word that kept the story going—“Yes, and…”