For years, I loved Lent and Holy Week, yet dreaded Easter. Once, I named a homily “I Hate Easter.” The problem for me was that Easter rang false; it was a premature “all’s well” after the facing of Hell. The problem was not with Resurrection, but with the way our culture had bled it of its meaning.
One of the lies our society tells itself is that death is failure and must be avoided at all costs. Resurrection, then, becomes an escape, a way to cancel out death. As a parent, I am troubled by how present this escape is in children’s stories such as Robin Hood, The Jungle Book, and Harry Potter. In the pervasive story, the friends begin to mourn the character’s death, but suddenly he (usually he) opens his eyes and is not dead after all! Everything is back as it was before; that which we fear has been conquered once more. More obvious in children’s stories, the theme prevails in our culture: our heroes don’t die.
Yet even further from our society’s imagination is our faith’s call to live interdependently, not as the heroes of our own stories, but as one body. We are called away from the separation of individualism and into messy, vulnerable, and life-filled relationship together. The writing of the “I Hate Easter” sermon helped me delve into the story of the Emmaus Road and what came after, realizing that resurrection is no happy return to all that was good before. Those who loved Jesus did not get back their daily life with him as before; everything changed. The disciples were forced to walk in faith into a new life, as the body of Christ. They didn’t know what would happen and had to go through feeling stripped and vulnerable. But we know the story, so we know what happened: the Spirit enlivened them, they grew in courage, and they changed the reality of what it meant to be human together. They lived out the Way they had been given, the kingdom of heaven, like a blazing fire in the middle of cold empire.
If we claim the same faith as the early Church, we will understand “Church” as primarily that living community that is the way of Christ embodied, and only supported by structures and institution. In our time and place, this very Easter season, vultures are circling the edifice of our churches, eyeing the valuable real estate, wanting to fill those “unproductive” spaces. Feeling under pressure to simply survive, it is not surprising that the Church in this model has not wholly embraced the invitation to reconciliation coming from indigenous Anglicans; we are afraid of losing what we have. The desire to avoid, to move back to the way things have always been, is fear of death. If we seek to escape death, we also escape the transforming power of resurrection.
I love the Anglican tradition with its patterns of liturgy, the Church year, and the wisdom of generations carried by them. I love the church buildings that proclaim a space not taken by commercialism and production, a space for beauty and peace, sacredness and togetherness. I love the linens, the vestments, the wood, and the windows. But we are not going to be able to keep all of this, and maybe it is not even right to. What then are the most important carriers of our faith? What is the core of our faith, and what does it mean to be the Church we are called to be? It is not easy to ask these questions, because it feels like death. But when we go into it faithfully, we can begin to feel the excitement and fear that comes with the promise of new life.
I have shared in the life of a few different parishes during my preparation for priestly ministry, and have learned from how they faced, in a local way, the general dying of the Church. St. Chad’s let go of its shared building and now rents space. St. Saviour’s adopted a liturgy that made room for lively participation. St. Matthew’s facilitated an affordable housing building, and now rents a smaller space in its former building. These parishes have discerned that the Church is not the institution nor the building, but the frighteningly intangible body that gathers and worships and grows together. They are not finished with change, but they are walking increasingly into newness of life.
Our reluctance to connect with Christ’s beloved on the margins, and to plunge into reconciliation with Indigenous people, shows that we still hold stock in empire, that we still have more dying to do before entering fully into the new life of God’s Church in this time and place. It is gospel that we find Christ among those who are rejected and used by those with power, and so part of our current death and resurrection is about decolonization. Within the Anglican Church, we have a collective of indigenous Anglicans who are seeking their way forward as non-empire Church. We can learn from and with them what in our tradition is actually colonial empire trappings that are holding us back from where God is leading us.
The vultures of our society know what bits of the Church are dead. They see where we keep a false front, how we have held on to what is not the living Gospel, where our words have meant more to us than the living Word. They see how much creaturely life we would sacrifice for the sake of our buildings and familiar understandings. May we also see with such clarity so that we let go of what is dead, mourn our loss, and be ever raised into the living body of Christ in the world.