To A Dying Church: We Cannot Escape Our Mortality
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You are dying. I get it. Because so am I.
And, speaking as one of your pastors, I think this is a very good thing.
To be clear, I don’t have cancer. No doctor has told me to set my affairs in order. But each morning, I wake up feeling a little bit older. Each morning, I notice a few more crinkle lines around my eyes, a bit more resistance when I change what I eat or how I move. Each morning, I am reminded, whether I like it or not, of my own mortality.
I cannot escape my mortality. I will someday die. Scripture reminds us that “all flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls” (1 Peter 1:24). I know that I am no exception to this rule; I am limited. And I live in a culture where the trend is to try to erase these limitations, where I can blur my wrinkles, try fad diets, renew my strength with the latest energy drink.
But these things are illusions. I am dying.
Because I am a follower of cultural trends, I know I can try to pretend my death away.
And, because I am a follower of Jesus, I know that I don’t have to.
Church, whose follower are you? Do you remember? Do you remember who you are?
Allow me to remind you.
Church, you are the body of Christ. Nothing more, nothing less. Remember? And the body of Christ is not a flawless body, but a broken one, a body that suffered, died and was buried, and a body that rose again, triumphing over all the powers and principalities which would have destroyed it.
You are the body of Christ. And one of the things that body does is to die.
Dying is scary. I get that, too. Even Jesus prayed that he wouldn’t have to drink from this particular cup. But without dying, there can be no resurrection. Church, it’s okay to die. If Jesus did it, so can you.
The question, though, is not will you die. You will. The question is how.
Will you pretend your death away? Or will you lay down your life for those Jesus calls friends?
Will you cling to the illusion of youth? Or will you pour yourself out, emptying yourself of power and privilege, so that others might live?
Will you wither on the vine? Or will you, like that single grain that falls to the earth, fall and die in the hopes that you might one day bear fruit? Are you, in fact, willing to die?
I think you are.
I think you are, church, because I get to watch you die every day.
I watch your self-centeredness die when, every Saturday, you keep vigil with immigrants’ families outside the detention center. I watch your fearfulness die when, throughout the workweek, you walk alongside people living with mental illness. I watch your generational preferences die when, in coffee shops and jails and Sunday school classrooms, you mentor young people who long to proclaim the Gospel, to embody forgiveness, to seek justice.
Church, I am watching.
Sometimes, I watch weeping, as you once again stone the prophets and fail to recognize the things that make for peace. Sometimes, I watch with compassion, recognizing that, like the anointing woman, you have done what you could to show love in the face of violence. Sometimes, I watch with a heavy heart as you rage against the legion of things that hold you back. And sometimes, I watch with delight as you are restored to your right mind, and you once again find your voice.
As I watch you, church, I marvel. I lament. I delight. And, most of all, I learn. As I watch you die, I learn how to do it, too. As I watch you rise, you renew my hope that, in the midst of this gut-wrenching work, I might rise with Christ as well, bursting forth with new life.
So church, as one of your pastors, I want to say thank you. Thank you for showing me every day who you really are — the broken and beautiful body of Christ. Thank you for letting me die with you. Thank you for filling me with hope that resurrection really will come. And thank you for reminding me constantly that there is nothing – not even the death of the church as we know it — that will ever separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Meredith Dodd is a United Methodist pastor in the Pacific Northwest. Beginning this summer, she will serve as lead pastor at Bear Creek United Methodist Church in Woodinville, Wash.
Image: Electrocardiogram, Eskemar / Shutterstock.com