Where is the church? Where is Christ?

by Sally Coleman.

So, we have made it past the celebration of Easter Sunday and are making our cautious journey into this vastly different Easter Season. We did not gather as we normally would, did not break bread together, share breakfasts, or family celebrations in a gathered way. Instead from behind locked doors our cries of Alleluia may have been heard. I know one or two took to the streets to do so, but whatever we did this Easter Sunday just past was completely different to what we may have been preparing for.

Some say that our experience was perhaps more authentic to that first Easter morning, reflecting that the first disciples were gathered behind locked doors for fear of the authorities who had crucified the one they called Lord and who called them friends. Those who did venture out came away scratching their heads in disbelief, and doubt and questions were voiced. ‘Alleluia! Christ has risen!’ was not proclaimed on that first Easter Day.

Even Mary, who encountered the risen Christ was confused at first; she did not recognise him until he spoke her name, and when she went to hold onto him was told not to. He needed to ascend, to complete his work of transformation. Instead she was told to go and tell the disciples that Jesus would go ahead of them.

I wonder then what that means for us today, we have a sign on our building at Wesley Hall, Sheffield that says the building is closed, but the church is still alive and well – at home, worshiping, caring and praying. We are scattered yet connected, and in some ways have become more outward looking. We have been sent from the buildings to different corners of our communities. I wonder if we are beginning to encounter the Christ who has gone ahead of us into our homes and neighbourhoods?

One thing that we have done is to invite community members to join us in lighting a candle at 7pm every evening and placing it in an outward facing window. Interestingly this practice is growing as people share with their families and neighbours what they are doing and why. The church is lit up with prayer every evening, if only through the simple act of lighting a flame.

We have also been forced to slow down. Queues at Supermarkets offer unexpected opportunities for conversations, and people seem more ready to talk (from a safe distance). Has Christ gone ahead of us here? My suspicion is yes, and while I acknowledge that being able to go out wearing a collar has always opened a number of opportunities for people to converse with me, if you’d asked me earlier this year if I thought I would find myself praying, not once but a number of times with people in queues and car parks, I would probably have laughed.

What it has shown me is that people are asking questions of eternity and do want spiritual assurance of hope. These people may never have entered our churches on Easter Sunday, and our practices may have seemed strange to them, but here and now in the simple art of conversation, and in the lighting of a candle in prayer, the church is alive and well. Perhaps we need to hear Jesus’ words: do not cling to what was, for I have gone ahead of you.

5 thoughts on “Where is the church? Where is Christ?”

  1. Yes! Thank you, Sally.

    And then there are all the riches of modern communications. I was having computer problems so was unable to access the live stream from my church on Easter Day – but I was able to spend the morning in worship via television with, to name but a few (!) the Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Gareth Malone. This Methodist enjoyed that!

    Holy Communion alone is possible, even if the bread and non-alcoholic grape juice have not been blessed – except by being provided by God and shared with the Communion of Saints – (though having one’s own Methodist Worship Book helps) and when it comes to sharing the peace I hold my own hand and remember the names and faces of my church community in turn as I do so. And there has always been a light in my East-facing window after dark.

    I have long thought that ‘church’ is not just that hour on Sunday morning, but is what we are in every aspect of our lives seven days a week.

    Alleluia!

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  2. Thanks Sally. I have said elsewhere that I am beginning to understand the term “Home Missions” in a very different way. I would never before have had the motivation (or courage?) to be so explicit about the faith of this household to those walking past our frontage

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    1. interesting how these difficult times give us a new perspective isn’t it, the questions of who we are and how we are maybe make us face outward rather than inward.

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      1. Being new to this site I am not sure how things work, so this “conversation” may be dead. I wanted to comment on “Where is the Church. Where is Christ”. I should say at the outset that I have attended Church for the past 60 years” – Church is an important part of my life. Anyhow, sitting through an online sermon about forgiveness recently, it struck me that Christ had moved out of the church and into the community. The sermon was completely irrelevant to these trying times. It was a mixture of individualistic self-obsession, biblical inerrancy, metaphysical pie in the sky and competitive piety. I meet Christ when I go for my allotted daily walk through the streets as we keep 6ft apart, smile and sometimes hold a short conversation. I meet Christ when I reflect on the NHS staff and other key workers who place themselves in danger that we might survive the virus. You are so right to remind us that we should be facing outward rather than inward. Theologically I would argue that forgiveness is about facing outward and promising a new start to relationships. In my opinion that parody of worship in that online service is a denial of Christ that I find difficult to forgive. It just made me angry.

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