When I graduated from Seminary, there was much anxiety around the future of the church by many of my professors. I had visions of Chicken Little as they said, “The church is dying!,” expressing a valid fear as they watch what was the church of their childhood dwindling. Just as Jesus wasn’t “supposed” to die as Messiah, why is his church doing the same?
In a word: Resurrection. The basis of our tradition is Easter, and we can’t have Easter without Good Friday. The Church today is in the position the disciples were in at the cross. We don’t know what’s going to happen; the system we thought we understood is not doing what we thought it would. Unlike the disciples, we know the outcome of their story, because we read it 2 millennia later in the Gospels and the book of Acts. The disaster of Jesus’ death was transmuted into grace, something more than they imagined and better than what they were expecting. We follow one whom death could not overcome. Imagine what we’re going to accomplish as we step into this unknown new reality!
Like the disciples in the upper room, many in the church have been hiding in the safety of our buildings and doing “what we’ve always done” to avoid the fearful reality outside the doors. Having lived in an upper room for 6 months at my first job, I appreciate the comfort found in a secluded room with no windows. However, nothing much happens in making connections with the outside world when I’m sitting in my room. Thus I didn’t spend much time there, and neither did the disciples after Pentecost. This is the message of Jesus and the Holy Spirit: our work, like the disciples, is to get out there and connect with people, bringing the nourishment and life we receive in church to those outside our walls.
Part of what makes my world go ‘round is meeting with people, talking about why the Episcopal Church is worth the while. The biggest challenge we face is not the death of the church; it’s re-evaluating how we connect with people, so that what we do so well–building beloved relationship with room for difference–is communicated to people who don’t think church is where they can find this. We can reframe the church of old in the language of the new.
Our challenge is recognizing the Risen Christ in the resurrection we are currently undergoing. It’s no coincidence that neither the disciples nor Mary recognized Jesus at first when he came back from the dead. The church we’re called to step into is still very much the church of old; it is also a new thing, which is God’s repeated promise in the prophets of old. Sometimes we must slow down, pay closer attention than usual, and see where we might find the risen Christ: in the most unexpected places, and sometimes right under our nose!
I am excited to walk this difficult and transformative path of the continued process of death and resurrection that is being a follower of Christ. I wish to mourn the losses of what has been lost, and welcome like expectant parents the new birth we receive from God. May God continue to bless and keep us in this season of Epiphany!
Blessings to you,