The staff of the Presbytery encouraged me to reprint the prayer that Paul, Clark and I recited for our Holy Week message to the 96 Presbyterian churches and three fellowships of the Presbytery.
I wrote the prayer when I was invited to be one of 180 leaders around the country to provide a prayer in preparation for our 224th General Assembly which was to be held in Baltimore this June. At this writing it appears that we definitely won’t be meeting in Baltimore, may be trying to hold a national meeting of nearly 600 commissioners by Zoom, or will just postpone the whole meeting until later.
When the coronavirus pandemic and Holy Week came crashing together I realized that the prayer was really written for this moment even though I had another time frame in my mind.
In the church we often call ourselves Easter people recognizing that, in one form or another, every Sunday is a living witness to the ongoing presence of Jesus Christ, captured in the narrative of his resurrection. But ever since I worked for hospice I have decided that I am more of a “death and resurrection” person. I rarely talk about Easter without first mentioning its prelude, Good Friday.
Walter Brueggemann speaks of this as Christians’ primal narrative. He reminds us in his book The Bible Makes Sense that the two stories that form the central core of our faith are the stories of the Exodus and Jesus’ final days. I love the pithy way he captures this as he boils down the whole of scripture as emanating from two essential spiritually formative events–exile and freedom and death and resurrection.
We Americans can sometimes be funny and shallow people. If we had our way we would just take the freedom and resurrection and leave the exile and death for other poor souls to contend with. If we could we would figure out how to manufacture eternal spring and summer and find a way to skip over fall and winter. We would create a chocolate cheesecake that had all the richness and sweetness without the calories!
I do appreciate the weekly reminder among church folks that we are “Easter people.” But hospice changed me. I decided after working with people who were facing loss and death that Easter without Good Friday was like eating cotton candy–all sugar and sweetness and no substance. Resurrection divorced from death was like reconciling with a long lost relative without ever experiencing the brokenness. Reconciliation means nothing if brokenness doesn’t precede it.
I wrote this prayer because I believe that the church is primed for an historic transformation. I believe that new life, new possibility and new beginnings are aching to burst through our religious structures. I believe that institutional resurrection is somewhere in our near future. I also believe that Good Friday is pointing the way. I believe that new life can only come from the gifts that emerge from loss and death.
My leadership is based on this prayer. I offer it to you as a gift in this time. I offer it to you as a promise–that I will walk with our churches and our community both in loss and new life. For me, there is little distinction between the two.