I got up before the sun this morning, in order to film some Easter sunrise service footage. As I drove over to the Methodist church to meet Pastor Anita, I kept thinking about how the gospel writers are really insistent about telling us that on the first day of the week, the women came to Jesus’ tomb “while it was still dark.”
Matthew and Mark say that the women were up so early because they were bringing spices to anoint Jesus’ body, but John – who always tells the story slant – doesn’t give Mary any particular reason for wandering to the tomb in the wee hours of the morning. She’s just…there. While it was still dark.
I’ve had the pleasure of hearing from some really fantastic young people who are part of my denomination these last few weeks. Gabe shared his story of being welcomed and invited in to the Church of the Brethren in a recent Dunker Punks Podcast episode. He talks about how much he loves his congregation, how clear his decision to be baptized into the tradition was, and how, as a transgender man, some people have attempted to prevent him from serving this church he loves. He felt called to share his story broadly and encourage others to claim their space in the church.
Yesterday, I got to chat with a former Ministry Summer Service intern for her college senior project. Briel is a young Black woman who loves her congregation and also made an intentional, conscious decision to be a part of the Church of the Brethren because of the welcome and care she found. She’s spent time with several different congregations and camps, and has a sense of the diversity of our denomination. She told me that she thinks that even though the CoB is still way far behind and super white, we are doing more than some other denominations in anti-racism work. She feels called to keep pushing and encouraging and asking hard questions so that we can continue following Jesus in this way.
It is very easy to look at what’s happening on the surface of the church at large – historical rates of disaffiliation, gruesome clergy sex scandals, division along political preference – and despair. I do that plenty often. But resurrection happens while it is still dark. New life emerges from the edges. It takes some effort to pry our attention away from the loud, angry voices that demand our loyalty and choose, instead, to wake up before the sun and search out Jesus’ presence while things still feel dim and depressing.
This morning, I could write a list of at least two dozen places where new life is emerging, all within the confines of a denomination that is also, simultaneously, dying to itself. The Book of Common Prayer includes this line in the funeral liturgy: “in the midst of life, we are in death,” which is meant to remind us that death is not so far away for any of us. But isn’t it also true that “in the midst of death, we are in life”? Isn’t it a key feature of the story of Easter that the impossible happened while it was still dark? Didn’t Jesus’ resurrection take place in a TOMB?