“Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here.” (Mark 16:6)
Just days ago, church bells, where there still may be such, rang out good news. Voices shouted, “Alleluia,” and sang out “Christ the Lord is risen today.” Lilies festooned sanctuaries as a sign of spring and new life. Here we are, just days after the most significant and joyous celebration of the Christian year, of the Christian faith. On Easter we celebrate that Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified, was also raised.
Now a few news cycles have passed, and the world and its people still struggle. Too much violence still mars our lives – gun violence, police shootings, gang violence, domestic violence, war in places like Syria and Yemen. Hunger and homelessness are too prevalent. We wonder if in pursuit of economic gain we are adequately caring for our planet. Closer to home, we have churches struggling with the difficult realities of long-term decline, some wondering what the future may bring. There are the uncertainties about the future course of The United Methodist Church. Individuals struggle with health or finances or relationships, or grieve the loss of significant people in their lives.
Where is Easter now?
Easter is about the persistent presence of hope. Easter is about a tenacious trajectory toward the future. Our Easter faith does not cause us to avoid pain, difficulty, struggle, a wounded world, or even death. If we are fortunate to live a longer life, we will experience the effects of aging, some positive and some less so. We will all die, and I am sorry if no one has told you that so plainly before. Institutions don’t stay the same forever, and some don’t survive over time. The savings and loan at which I had my first bank account no longer exists. I can no longer buy books at Borders. The United Methodist Church in Duluth, Minnesota in which I was confirmed is holding its final worship service the Sunday following Easter. This Annual Conference will mark the final Annual Conference sessions for the West Michigan and Detroit Annual Conferences. Yes, we are creating something new, and we celebrate that. We are also saying good-bye to what has been, and we cannot deny the grief involved.
In the midst of struggle, pain, difficulty, change and even in the face of death, Easter is about the persistent presence of hope and about a tenacious trajectory toward the future. In a book that is part of a series of books about The United Methodist Church in this time of discernment, uncertainty and change, three younger clergy write, “hope is our destination, faith is trusting that destination, and love is how we get there” (Matt Rawle, Juan Huertas, and Katie McKay Simpson, The Marks of Hope, 24)
I do not ignore the difficult world in which we live. I don’t turn away from the struggles in our denomination or in our congregations. I feel the changes in my body as I age. I understand that change brings a sense of loss and that we grieve such losses. I mourn the death of people I love, and mourn with others when they lose loved ones. Simultaneously, I live with the energy of hope. I trust that hope is our destination, that faith is trusting that destination, and that love is how we get there. Until I breathe my last, there will be grace to experience and love to share and good to be done in the name and spirit of the risen Christ. Until the lights are finally turned off for the last time in any church, there will be grace to share and good to be done in the name and spirit of the risen Christ.
Though the United Methodist Church will change, there will be grace to share and good to be done in the name and spirit of the risen Jesus. And even when death occurs, for persons and institutions, there remain ripples of goodness and grace that continue to flow from a life well-lived, from work well done. It does not hurt if, from time to time, we reflect on the legacy we might leave. For churches, it might be helpful at some point, to consider legacy possibilities, or even possibilities for death and resurrection.
Where is Easter now, when the lilies have wilted and the chocolate has been eaten and we move toward ordinary time? Easter echoes in our hearts, minds and lives as we live with faith, hope and love. Easter echoes as we seek to send out ripples of goodness and grace in the name and spirit of the risen Christ. At least that is what it is supposed to do.