(11) Mary was standing outside the tomb crying, and as she wept, she stooped and looked in. (14) She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him. (15) “Dear woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?” She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.” (16) “Mary!” Jesus said. She turned to him and cried out, “Rabboni!” (Gospel of John, Chapter 20 NLT)
I write this as our parish is in the process of some heavy soul searching after hearing news that is of concern to all and very distressing to some. As a result of the Diocesan Office in London reviewing into the ‘vitality, vibrancy and viability’ of all the churches in the Huron Diocese, we, along with many others, are being reviewed. It is no secret that despite our best efforts, we have been struggling financially for some time with annual operational budgets in deficit for a few years now, and regular Sunday attendance declining too. Bishop Linda has ordered an Archdeaconry Commission to help our parish with the review process and to assist us in considering and planning options for the future. The “Parish Self-Assessment Booklet” that everyone in the parish received a copy of earlier this year will be the tool that we will use to begin this process. Changes to how we ‘do church’ how we ‘are church’ are inevitable, given current realities. We are facing what I anticipate will be major changes in our parish, in each church, including considering the possibility of closure.
Living in the uncertainty, in the flux of change is the hardest part of change, its anxiety provoking, and it’s uncomfortable. For people of faith, our church life is a vital part of our lives, and to try and consider something different than what we have become used to, and what is so important to our very beings as Christians is difficult, to say the least. Even harder is to try and think about closing our church building, and losing something so meaningful, something we love. It really is a form of grieving.
In the Easter scripture from John’s gospel, above, Mary is at the tomb, she has looked inside and noticed the burial linens lying there, and an empty spot where Jesus’ body should be. Not only has she seen her beloved friend and Messiah killed, but now even his body is gone. She is deeply grieving, in pain, trying to process the double loss. She hurts to the core of her soul. In the middle of her pain, Jesus appears and she doesn’t recognize him—she didn’t expect him, he was dead, his body was gone. So of course she thought this man in front of her was someone else, and she simply cannot ‘see’ Jesus right in front of her, not until he calls her by her name.
When we are in the midst of grieving, however it manifests within us: in pain, anger, angst, or fear for the future without the one we have lost, it is hard to ‘see’ where God is in all the emotion. We miss Christ in this midst of the turmoil; we may mistake Jesus’ presence for something else. However, God’s grace is all around us, all the time. We just don’t always see it, it’s like we need to put on special “God glasses” that focus our eyes on God’s grace in the disorder of our lives, and our emotions.
If there is one thing that we Christian believe; and need to shout from the rooftops this time of year especially, is that in death is new life. Jesus death was not the end, but a new beginning! The time between his death on the day we now call Good Friday until he rose again, was an incredible time of pain, turmoil, uncertainty and grief for Jesus’ followers. The man that had changed their lives, their souls by bringing them a new way of thinking and living with their faith, their Messiah, the one they thought would transform their society was killed as a political enemy of the state. Yet, here he was, He was alive! We are a resurrection people at our core. It is in our creed, ‘on the third day he rose again’. Death is not an ending, but a new beginning, maybe a beginning of something that looks a little different than what we had become used to, something that may well require a new vision to see, a new way of looking at what is right in front of us.
What does the future hold for our parish, our churches? I honestly don’t know, but I do know that it will most probably be different than what and/or how we’ve been doing. Is God’s grace in this process? Unequivocally yes. Do we always see Christ in our midst, recognize God’s presence, or Holy Spirit’s movement in the change, or are we blinded by our pain, our anger, by overwhelming emotions? Do we hear Jesus calling us to look again, with new eyes, open ears, open hearts and open minds? That is what we are called to do right now, hear Jesus’ call as we go forward into an uncertain future, look for Jesus in the midst of our emotions, and hang onto the faith the light of Christ is really there, even when it seems the darkest.
Palm Sunday/Sunday of the Passion: April 9th, St. James 9 a.m., Trinity 11 a.m.
Maundy Thursday, foot washing and Holy Eucharist: At Trinity. Begins with a potluck supper at 6 p.m. Service at 7:15.
Good Friday: Service from the Book of Alternative Services, (BAS): St. James 9:30 a.m. Trinity 11 a.m.
Durham Community “Cross Walk”: begins at the Catholic Church at 1 p.m., walking the cross through the town, stopping at the Anglican, United and Presbyterian Churches, and ending with a short service at the Credit Union parking lot, with music lead by a group from the Durham Girls Band.
Easter Sunday: Outdoor Sunrise Service, Trinity parking lot 7 a.m.: our brothers and sisters from the United Church have been invited to join us in worship, (hot drinks and hot cross buns after) Holy Eucharist: St. James 9 a.m., Trinity 11 a.m.