Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. [John 12:24]
Last week, Chris Hedges published an online essay called "The Suicide of the Liberal Church." It went viral in social media, at least in my circles of social media. It sparked discussion in different groups and forums and, no doubt, prompted a few formal replies. The reply that I saw most in my circles was the Reverend Dr. Christian Scharen's "The Death and Resurrection of the Liberal Church."
I honestly thought both had salient points to make, the thing that I believe both got right is that the church is currently undergoing great change. I think the church as I've known and loved it is dying. Suicide or natural causes or something else, I can't say for certain.
But the two essays have had me thinking about this more in the last week. I have said to friends more than once that I recognize that the church is dying and that something new will come along to replace it and carry on but that I'm now of an age where I'm part of the old guard. The new thing I see emerging is something different and I find myself with the choice of trying to be part of this new thing or clinging to all the things I love about the thing that is passing away.
I've told friends that I've decided to sit hospice with the church, to love it into its grave.
I think it is a reasonable choice for someone of my age. I'm securely middle-aged and have lost touch with a lot of what is "youthful." At the same time, I'm not so old as to be elderly and in need of care myself. I feel like I'm in a place to lovingly sit with this old institution, to help it as it acknowledges its end of days, and to be a presence as it slips away. It is work full of grief and regret, like any child might experience watching a beloved mother, father, mentor wither before their eyes. Because the church is more than an institution and because I am a part of it, I recognize that I'm also dying.
I also do this work in sure and certain hope that it is not the end of the story.
I do look at what is emerging with wonder and befuddlement. I don't get these kids today! But I love them. I recognize them as part of this crazy family of Spirit. And if I cling to old forms and old ways of doing things, I also find myself wanting to encourage the new thing that is happening, even participate to some extent.
Because we are a people of resurrection, I'm not only sitting hospice with the church, I'm also keeping vigil with the Body of Christ. I'm not only mourning the loss of what I knew and loved, I'm also keeping an eye on its tomb, knowing full well that it will be empty again and soon. Like Mary Magdalene in the garden or the disciples on the way to Emmaus, I suspect I won't recognize the risen Body of Christ at first. I live in hope, however, that it will still call my name and I will recognize its voice. I believe that some bread will be broken and my eyes will open. There may even be some identifying scars. Resurrection is surprising like that.
Because I am a part of the Body of Christ, I live in this tension of the dying and resurrecting, of sitting hospice and keeping vigil. It's not always comfortable. It's full of wishing for the dying to stop.
Some of you will be called to the new thing, some of you are already in the middle of it and experiencing resurrection in ways I can only observe. Some of us will continue to love the dying church in it's last days, honoring the gifts it has given us and forgiving the ways it's failed us. We are each members of this Body and we function according to the ability of each member.