Eastertide: Come to Life

Excerpts from Eastertide for lay preachers and worship leaders.

The word “Easter” brings many things to mind from the “Hosannas!” of Palm Sunday, to toasted hot cross buns and colourful eggs, to the more sombre cross of Christ and the Tenebrae services in which we recognise the deepening darkness, to a time of rest and renewal as we enjoy holidays with family and friends.

As the world around us changes colour from orange and gold to the red, white and blue of Anzac Day, to the bleak grey of winter, within the Church we move through Scripture –
from the cross to the empty tomb,
to Christ’s ascension into heaven,
to that wonderful celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the first disciples.

Often in this time, we hear stories of Jesus’s post-resurrection encounters with his disciples: how doubting Thomas received the proof he needed to believe, how Peter’s threefold denial was transformed into a call to care for Christ’s sheep, how those on the road to Emmaus felt their hearts burning with hope.

In the space between, something new – unknown – is happening:
the Church is coming to life!

I’ve never been much of a history student but, as a mom who loves to watch superhero movies with her teenage boys, I have begun to appreciate the “origin” stories of our faith in a new way. Not only do they graft us into the continuity of God’s great reconciling love enacted in generation after generation, but they also inform our imaginings of who we might be as Church in the future as we journey along the way today. 

In this year’s lectionary readings I have been struck by the real people who show us what real faith looks like as their lives are touched by resurrection news. 

Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, Mary Magdalene, Thomas, Peter, Saul who becomes Paul, Lydia, and Dorcas are all changed from the inside out as they encounter the power of the resurrected Jesus. Their faith, their transformation, their testimony is vital to others coming “to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).

There are two elements that I particularly appreciate about this lectionary cycle:

  1. Its portrayal of our clear need for Christ and the change that occurs when we are truly open to an encounter with the Living Lord: Thomas who stubbornly refuses to believe what he has not seen is sought out like a little lost sheep; Saul is converted through an encounter with God on the road to Damascus; Dorcas is brought back from the dead; Peter receives a vision that transforms his relationship with the Gentiles; Lydia and her household are baptised after the Lord opens her heart and ears to the Good News; and Paul and Silas are miraculously freed from prison.
  2. The inclusion of women who played an often-overlooked part in the growth of the early church: Dorcas (or Tabitha) who was well known for her devotion to caring for the vulnerable, and Lydia who was also know to be a worshipper of God and generously offered the hospitality of her home to Paul on his travels. I love that their stories are told against the backdrop of cloth – the garments that Dorcas was making for the poor and the purple fabric for the rich in which Lydia dealt – and have a picture in my head of the Gospel weaving together people of different genders, socioeconomic status, ethnicity etc.  

Real people.

Real faith.

As Christ comes to life, the Church is born. And as we come to Christ, so too do we come to Life – full and free and eternal. This is the message that transforms us and the witness we have to bear. Eastertide is a good time for us to remember!

A call to come to life …

As Autumn’s umber fades away
into winter’s deepening, dark decay;
Christ breaks the confines of his tomb –
defying death, dispelling gloom.

Hope gleams with the rising sun:
sin is dead and love has won.
Though today may bring its share of strife,
we heed Christ’s call and come to life!

Affirmation

*testimony shared at my Witness service as a candidate for Ordination*

The Methodist Church of Southern Africa has always been home to me – family.

From my youngest years when I was content to eat the chocolate cake crumbs that escaped my mother’s plate as she fellowshipped with other young mothers, to my formative years when the stories of Jesus sat proudly beside “The Adventures of Hercules” and Enid Blyton’s “Enchanted Wood” on my bookshelf, church was a place to play, to be, to belong.

At the age of 13, as I watched the Easter story being dramatised at our youth church one Sunday, it suddenly struck home: the reality of God’s great love for me and the suffering that Jesus was prepared to endure for my salvation. And so I became a participant rather than an observer – in God’s story and in God’s community – attending Bible studies and youth events and then leading them.

At 18, I was passionate about God and God’s people, but I also had very distinct plans for my future.

Then, one evening during worship, I heard the voice of God within and around me telling me that God had other plans. I returned home feeling a little confused, a lot anxious; wondering whether I had imagined the whole thing; praying for confirmation of God’s will in God’s Word.

The Spirit led me to Paul’s first letter to Timothy (1 Timothy 4:12-16) and the message was clear:

Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith, and in purity….

Devote yourself to preaching and to teaching….

Watch your life and doctrine closely and you will save both yourself and your hearers.

I was surprised to discover that very few rejoiced with me that I had discovered my life’s true calling. Some ridiculed my experience. Many friends abandoned me as I abandoned the life plans that had bound us together. Even those in the church who I trusted for guidance and support seemed to throw obstacles in my way: doubts and questions I was ill-equipped to answer.

It took many years for me to candidate for the Ministry of Word and Sacrament: years in which I tried my best to live up to my calling at church, at work, at home; years in which I felt that I was giving my all but it was not good enough; years in which I grew more and more frustrated with a God who would stir up such things in my heart yet not make a way for me to use the gifts that I had been given for this particular purpose.

Yet when the way finally opened up through the non-itinerant, non-stipendiary category, there was no pat on the back; no “well done my good and faithful servant;” simply hard truths about my own limitations, about the imperfection and discomfort of what it is to be community; and, ultimately, about the true cost of discipleship.

Over the past seven years, I have had to wrestle with God and with myself.

I have listened to how my family would be butchered in front of me if I did not learn my place as a white, female minister in training. I have been afraid to close my eyes and pray after a colleague was knifed during a service I was leading by one that we had been called to serve and to love. I have grieved at the non-itinerant category being closed and felt with some of the soul friends with whom I have journeyed for so long that the church suddenly does not want the unique gifts that we have offered. I have worried about how my family are connecting with God in the diverse and different communities in which we have worshipped and served.

But today I thank God.

I thank God that as we have wrestled, God has never let go of me. I thank God for the people who have accompanied and supported and tested and taught me. I thank God for the countless moments of love and laughter and and intimacy and self-offering that have presented themselves as I have served and been served within this Methodist family. I thank God for the hundreds of babies I have held in my arms at their baptism and see now walking into Sunday School class for the first time. I thank God for the table at which we are all equal in our need of God’s grace.

But above all, I thank God for those things that have touched me in a way that has caused pain for a while but opened up new ways of being and seeing and loving.

It has been in those moments that God has shown me that obedience to God’s call is actually an invitation into intimacy with the One who made me by hand, and not the expectation of a distant and demanding God.

It has been in those moments that I have learned to be a servant and not to try and be a Saviour. God’s got that covered already!

It has been in those moments that I have experienced the liberating power of forgiveness and the full extent of people’s desperation that inspires me to love, love, LOVE; even when that love leaves me vulnerable.

It has been in those moments that I have discovered that our greatest differences from one other can indeed be our greatest gifts to each other.

It has been in those moments that I have learned to dance …
… and to let God lead.

And so, today as I whole-heartedly proclaim that I am grateful for the community of the church (as imperfect as she can be) and confident of God’s continued calling and constant presence in my life, I can only echo the words of Charles Wesley with all my heart:

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus and all in Him is mine!
Alive in Him, my living Head,
and clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach the eternal throne
And claim the crown, through Christ, my own!