In a changing world the culture that surrounds us seems to never intersect the sacred hallows we embrace as people of faith. The “church” is aging with little in the way of relief arriving in the form of younger members. We no longer look like that community of faith that many of us once knew.
In the decades following the birth, life, and death of Jesus the Christ, the Kingdom has witnessed many incarnations of faithful worshiping communities. We have everything under the sun from the austere desert fathers, to the passionate mystical spiritual mothers of the Beguines, to the rebel-rousing social activists of the Jesus Movement.
If we take a step back, we will discover a rich tradition of ebb and flow, life and death in the 2000+ year history of the church. There has never been one way to believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior, nor has there ever been one way to respond to the Gospel. The task at hand is not to save the sinking ship. The task at hand is to embrace the fate to which we have correctly navigated. We must embrace the death that Jesus the Christ is calling us to and look towards that glorious resurrection.
Do we believe in the resurrection of the Body?
If it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. (1 Corinthians 15:12-14)
Death is a dirty word in our churches. People do not die– they “pass away.” They go to glory. Death is an ending. Death is inescapable. Death is part of life. To suggest the church is dead or dying is not to chastise it and strip it of its glory and honor. To claim that the church is dead or dying is to proclaim the good news that in death there is new life. Resurrection cannot happen when we are living.
I do not think it is death that strikes fear in our hearts as much as it is fear of resurrection. We all in some way or another have certainty about death. Death is the opposite of life. For what its worth, the understanding of death we embrace is what propels us towards the end of our life. How we live in death fashions our life.
Someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. (1 Corinthians 15:35-37)
Resurrection is another story. What is it?! Many of us are certain that there is something after life. We hold dearly on to this and use it in hard times to keep on moving on. For some that certainty divides the world in to “saved” and “unsaved.” “Believers” and “Unbelievers.” “The Elect” and “The Unelected.” For others the world is divided into “Those Asleep” and “Those Awake.” Regardless of where one falls in to these various labels we can’t be certain outside of a few cryptic passages and the interpretation some folks have offered over time that many of us receive via tradition.
Resurrection. Reincarnation. These things are shakier that the housing market. I have heard many death stories over the last few years from all kinds of church folks and non-church folks. Most of them hold some kind of uncertainty.
What is the average age of your church? The ones I have been a part of hover around age 70. I have been a part of a faith gathering where the average age was around 35, but they would not claim the title “church” nor were they really concerned with death. They were focused upon being life to the community around they. We all have worth, value and can serve Christ at all times.
Is the anxiety of the church, the fear of death, the uncertainty of resurrection tied to end of life issues of the graying members of the church? Is this anxiety tied to the economic, social-political uncertainty that rocks us to sleep at night? What would happen if we focused on being new life to the community surrounding us?
Resurrection is the claim that where we are or where we might be going is not the final chapter. Gone are the desert fathers and mothers, left behind is the wisdom writings of St. Anthony that continue to inform a church seeking a deeper way to be with God. St. Anthony breaks in to the postmodern mind with silence and contemplation.
Gone are the Beguines, who challenged the cultural notion of women and the church. They live on in the work of Dorothy Day and the countless people that find hope in the writings of Mechthilde of Magdeburg and Marguerite Porete as they seek to awaken to the mystic love of the Divine Creator.
Gone is the Jesus movement with Lonnie Frisbee and that “Jesus-look” and the anointing he blessed my communities with. The coffee shops, sit-ins, social action tied to faith, the hunger for something more from “church” than their parents had the Jesus movement brings us here today.
With empty pews, unbalanced budgets, and a disconnect with youth we might embrace the resurrection available in letting go and propping up those youth that have stayed behind or looking to meet those outside the church where they are.
It is in relationship that we connect to the resurrection that surrounds us. As we mourn the death of the church and honor the work, wisdom, and wonder of those that have gone before us let us not forget that we too shall pass, as will the church we fashion in our work, wisdom, and wonder. It is in life that we race towards the resurrection holding Christ in our hearts, discharging our woe in confidence uttering this upon our lips, “Where, O death, is thy victory? Where, O death, is thy sting?”