Today I lead a group of ministry peers in a conversation about what might come out of this current pandemic for the church. Through shortened breaths (due to still being in recovery from covid-19) I read the following notes. Normally I don’t prepare notes like this, but my mind has been so scattered I felt I needed to better prepare for today. Enjoy.
As a preface to my thoughts today I want to remind us that our modern western hospitals came out of the church in the middle ages. As nuns and monks tended to the sick in the midst of their pandemics a movement of care took root in society that today is now a key aspect of our collective response to our pandemic. I do believe that a small chance exists for us as the church to again – that a new movement might be planted and begin to grow out of how we respond in this season.
Underlying the following conversation is a belief that a large part of our role as ministers is to model and invite people into a different way of living. To live a life which critiques society around us as we embrace a “true” reality of ourselves that we see modeled in Jesus – and lived out by the disciples unto their deaths. More than ideas or concepts, these where not intellectually ascended beliefs, but transformative realities they would die for. There are many aspects to their lives, and I am going to focus more narrowly in what follows.
As we talk about the chance and hope that something might arise from the church out of this pandemic, I believe it must come out of a radical self transformation and denial that will allow us to live into ways that are different than before.
Main Conversation Setup
For a long time I’ve struggled with a lot of the emphasis many churches place on celebration, glory, and fulfillment. This could be related to my struggles with suicide and depression. But I do believe there is something we need to give attention to here.
Jesus was no stranger to grief and lament. In his years of ministry we can notice a few things that I think might be over looked by us as ministers.
First, there was much more down time in his ministry than many ministers experience in the pace of their vocational lives. Some of this was likely due to the logistics of being an itinerant preacher and healer in the first century BCE. Yet Jesus would often leave alone, take his own path, or ask for healings to be kept secret. He also extolled his followers to ask of God in secret. As ministers I wonder how it might look to ensure space in our lives. Right now many of us are finding ourselves with an abundance of space. If you are like me, you are also struggling to use this time to disconnect from the world, and connect with God more intimately.
Second, Many of us want to act with those outside of our communities how Jesus acted with those who sought him out. Jesus was quite literally the savior of the world, and yet he responded to invitations. He did not force himself or his voice on others. As people queued up to be healed, he would heal them. Yet there were countless others who Jesus walked passed whom he did not heal. As Jesus spoke with the woman at the well their conversation slowly built to the point of her inviting Jesus to reveal who he was to her. And finally we see the raising of his friend Lazarus. As Jesus and the disciples left to go to the home of Lazarus Jesus told them his friend was sleeping. Jesus already knew that Lazarus would be resurrected. Yet when Jesus arrives he does not enter with this news. He understands that the invitation in that moment is to grieve and weep, and so he does. God weeps with us, he does not drag us out of our grief. After some time Jesus calls for Lazarus to rise up and come from his tomb – and he does.
Third, and lastly – We see in Jesus the ability to experience and join others in the extremes of emotion. He validates the experiences and feelings of those whom he is with. He is able to see the deep pain and scars within the souls of those he is with. While this last trait is beyond our ability, we even struggle with cultivating the relationships to be invited into those moments of presence. Jesus respected those who simply wanted to catch a glance of the healer and preacher coming through town. Yet in many ways I don’t lead a life worth notice.
I find myself more inclined to be present in grief and lament as my soul resonates more with the grief and lament of God that with His glory and splendor. Here seems to be an invitation for us to actively practice the full scope of lived experience with ourselves, and along side others. Jesus wept in the garden alone, and he wept with those who wept. Jesus celebrated weddings, and feasted with others, and invites us to feast with him at his table.
So here we are a week after Easter Monday. Christ is risen, and we are reminded again that we will also be risen like Christ. We are reminded of how our baptisms reflect our death and resurrection. We are reminded of the sacredness of communion as we take the blood and flesh of Christ within us.
And yet Lazarus died again, and everyone who was healed through Jesus has died. We ourselves will return to the dust we came from. That our very blood is filled with iron from the explosive death of unseen stars that will continue to be reused again and again as we become forgotten to time. Forgotten until we rise again. Raised again like Jesus, the same but different. Again ourselves, but at the same time transformed.
So as we are living through a collective resetting of our society we have a unique opportunity to create space for ourselves, and to celebrate and lament well.
Questions for us to reflect upon:
- In what ways should/can we as ministers – or as churches – be better at lamenting, celebrating, and present in the mundane day to day of life? How do we enter into these moments with others, honor their experiences, and their gift of inviting us to share in these moments with them?
- How can we separate ourselves from the self improvement and consumerist corporate culture around us?