In the 13th century, the Muslim poet Rumi had an interesting way of describing our need for resurrection:
“The mystics are gathering in the street. Come out!”
“Leave me alone. I’m sick.”
“I don’t care if you’re dead! Jesus is here, and he wants to resurrect somebody!”
Churches are wondering if they can be resurrected. This year has been unprecedented for many congregations — no weddings, no baptisms, no Sunday school rooms filled with children, no Bible studies in the library, no meetings in the conference room, no dinners in the fellowship hall, no pancake races in the gym, no birthday parties on the playground, and no barbecues in the front yard.
Last April was the closest I have come to being a monk in a monastery. I had the whole building to myself. I got tired of wearing jeans to the office.
Easter did not feel like Easter last year. Eight of us taped the Easter service on Good Friday. On Sunday the sanctuary was as empty as the tomb.
A fraction of our congregation has been gathering for cautious worship, but “cautious worship” should be an oxymoron. We miss passing the peace from less than 6 feet. We miss singing hymns. This is the longest some of us have ever gone without singing the Doxology. We miss having real, live children at the front to interrupt the children’s sermon. We miss coffee hour. Worship is different when it is not followed by caffeine-fueled conversation. We have not been able to do ministry in the same way.
We have worked hard at overcoming the obstacles. We have lots of Zoom meetings —which are good, but not the same. We have lost income, but we have kept giving. We have given money to ministries that are doing good work. We have collected food, coats and toys. We have made gallons of lemonade out of the bushel baskets of lemons we have been given, but we need to be resurrected.
“In churches in need of resurrection, the prayers are safe.”
Churches needed resurrection before the pandemic. You see evidence in declining church attendance. Some churches are stuck in, “We’ve never done it that way.” Others avoid anything older than they are.
In churches in need of resurrection, the prayers are safe. The prayer concerns are always sick people — who need prayer — but seldom does anyone mention racism, the immigration crisis or the environment.
In churches in need of resurrection, worship is safe. The preacher knows how to avoid issues the congregation wants to avoid, like prejudice and poverty.
In churches in need of resurrection, the ministries are safe. Jesus says he has come to preach “good news to the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind and freedom to the oppressed.” Most churches do not spend much time with the poor, imprisoned, blind or marginalized.
The church always needs resurrection, but never more so than at the beginning. On Easter Sunday morning the disciples are the world’s deadest church. When Jesus calls Mary Magdalene by name, Mary is transformed from the last mourner in a dead church into the first witness of a living church. She runs to tell the church to wake up: “I’ve seen the Lord. I don’t care how dead you are! Jesus is here, and he wants to resurrect somebody!”
“For the last year it has felt like Good Friday, but Easter has come.”
For the last year it has felt like Good Friday, but Easter has come. God knows how dead some of us feel, but God wants to resurrect the church.
The church has an unprecedented opportunity to begin again. We have spent a year learning what is essential and what is not. We have discovered that some of God’s best gifts are old and some are brand new. When God resurrects the community of Jesus’ followers, we stop longing for the past. We hope for tomorrow. We pay attention to those around us. We listen carefully. We speak boldly. We don’t take things for granted.
God gives us a new perspective. God helps us worship with all that we are, care for one another like family and minister to those who are hurting. God teaches us to overcome what we used to think and go where the Spirit leads.
God takes us beyond what we have always done, to carry the best of the past with us as we move to a better future. God invites us to seek out those who feel dead and share God’s love. God calls us to a renewed mind and an adventurous spirit. God wants to resurrect us. God wants us to understand that it’s Easter.
Brett Younger serves as senior minister at Plymouth Church in Brooklyn, N.Y.