by Sally Coleman.
The Church of Christ in every age,
Beset by change, but Spirit led,
Must claim and test its heritage
And keep on rising from the dead
Times of change are challenging and difficult, producing all kinds of resistance and anxieties within us, and yet, we all know they are quite simply a part of life. Over the last decades we have become more and more aware of a change in the life of the church; numbers have fallen, churches have ceased to meet, and the demands of church life and ministry have become too much for some.
Recently one of our Church Stewards returned from holiday with news for the local congregation, “it seems to be the same everywhere” he said, “churches are struggling with questions about their future. Even if they go into stationing for a minister it seems unlikely that they will get one. We are going to have to start thinking differently.”
Could this then be the time for us to begin to ask and imagine what rising from the dead might look like in the myriad of local contexts that we inhabit? This demands that we might be willing to let go, and to die to the way that things have been; “anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal” (John 12: 24 The Message).
Change is always happening; people come and go, people die, others are born. Life is a constant reminder of the cycle of birth and death, and this is normal, yet so often when it comes to our institutions we look for constancy and security, something to keep us fixed and sure, a stronghold in times of trouble. Do we look to the church for our security, substituting it for God? Does our desire to cling on to what is, hinder us from becoming, and even desiring what might be? Are we missing the move and call of the Spirit, who longs to lead us through the desert of loss and lament to a new place where life begins again, where we literally rise from the dead?
Again and again the Psalmist finds hope in the darkness; consolation and help from God when he (sic) gets to the end of himself. Or to put it another way:
You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope.
With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
(Matthew 5:3 The Message)
Lament has the power to release and re-orientate ourselves. While many see the gift of lament in the context of exile and return, it can also relate to the situation between the Crucifixion and Pentecost. Can we place ourselves into the shoes of the early followers whose world has been turned upside down; the shock of Good Friday and Holy Saturday, the confusion and slow dawning of Easter day and all that lay between those days and the total change that Pentecost brought?
Not much happened in those days. The disciples met with Jesus on and off between Easter Day and Ascension Day, but even then, they were in a space of waiting, watching and praying, preparing for something they could not name, and for a future they couldn’t anticipate. It takes serious commitment to sit with such discomfort, and two things marked out this waiting time: firstly they met together and, secondly, they committed themselves to prayer. In days such as these the underpinning of basic spiritual disciplines is essential. They will help us through the storming times and prepare us for what is to come. To quote the popular C.S. Lewis mis-quote, “Prayer does not change God it changes me.”
We know prayer can change and re-orientate us, and yet we often feel that it is nothing. How many times have you heard somebody say, “I can’t do anything but pray,” as if prayer is our last resort and not the first option? Prayer releases in us new possibilities and potentials, and even more remarkably frees us from fear as it connects us to the perfect love of God.
So we are called to set out upon an uncertain road. As with any journey what we want is a map and clear directions, a destination in sight, but that is often not the pattern for the people of God. From Abraham to the disciples the call was to move and to follow, and yet no immediate destination was made clear.
Elaine Heath writes an open letter to the church:
“Change happens all the time so that every generation, every community, every person can experience God in their world, their context, their time. And what about the wave of change that is upon us… that looks different from the church that we grew up in? These are from God… Beloved church, can we agree to let God have our anxiety? God knows how hard it is for us to let go. We simply have to be willing to be made willing. Just a tiny degree of openness allows God to work with us…”
 Elaine Heath, God Unbound Upper Room Books 2016 pg. 98