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“Strike” is the most bittersweet experience of any theatrical production. After the final bow, when the echoes of applause still linger in the fly space, a different choreography unfolds. The lighting instruments and cables are unhung and stored away. Scenery is dismantled. Costumes are washed one more time and returned to the closets and tubs and drawers from which they came. Props are reshelved and lobby displays are photographed for the record. If all goes well, by the end, the performance space will look as if nothing ever happened there.
But something did happen. Something important. A story was shared, holding up a mirror of truth. The lives of the performers and technicians, as well as their audiences, have been impacted. Sweet.
After the strike, all of the tangible signs of this poignant experience are gone. A room once filled with passion and patrons, has been emptied. Bitter.
And still, the emptiness creates an opportunity. This seemingly hollow shell can now be home to another story, another team of theatre artists, and many collections of audience members.
Jesus knew this about emptiness. He knew that leaving his tomb would not only end a story, it would allow another to begin. For ages, there had been promises of a Savior. A Son of God, anointed to restore what humans had broken. Each generation told the next about the God of Israel, the One who freed the Israelite people from slavery in Egypt and would one day free them again from the slavery of sin, oppression, and more.
On a not-so-silent night in Bethlehem, Jesus was born and the fulfillment of the promises was closer than anyone knew. By the time he gathered his disciples on that mount named for its olives, and made plans to enter the Holy City on a common farm animal, many had come to believe that Jesus was the very Savior about whom the stories had been told. And then, it was time for the climax. It was time to defeat the principalities and powers, to right wrongs, to expose injustice, and to liberate God’s people once and for all.
With a Roman cross, a rough hewn tomb, and a return to the living from the dead, Jesus did all that God had promised. Then came the denouement — that final scene or two that ties up any critical loose threads of a story and offers resolution. When done well, in my opinion, the denouement resolves one story and provides a compelling beginning to another. I happen to be of the opinion that God’s story is the greatest of all stories, so it is no surprise to me that this is exactly what Jesus does.
Jesus leaves the tomb empty and visits the disciples to confirm his resurrection. While they are still looking for the revolution they were expecting (“Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”), Jesus is already beginning a new story. Or, rather, he commands his disciples to tell it: “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
On Easter Monday, I immediately felt the emptiness of the post-Easter adrenaline crash. While that is an annual experience for most pastors, I am aware of a number of empty “spaces” in all of our lives right now. Many office spaces, classrooms, and sanctuaries remain empty. For some, the calendar looks pretty empty right now. For others, the calendar is overflowing but the energy is quickly draining. Streets and parking lots for non-essential businesses are empty. And for some, bank accounts and kitchen cupboards are on “E.”
One story is drawing to a close. The story of life as we knew it before the virus. To feel bitter about it all is a natural human response.
I am grateful to Kyle Small for the question he raised in his post on April 6: Who is the church in this time? This question has me thinking that there may be a hint of sweetness, an opportunity, even in this strange and challenging reality. I think there is a new story, or a new chapter of a beloved story, to tell.
“…be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” This is the mission of the church of Jesus Christ, to tell the good news of God’s love and grace in every land among every people. The Easter story did not change because of social distancing policies, so the mission of the church must also remain the same.
If all of the trimmings of gathered (in-person) worship and mission have been stricken, how might we — the Body of Christ — be home to a new expression of gospel ministry? How might we love God and neighbor from our kitchens and living rooms? How might we be the light of the world and the salt of the earth right where we are?
Christ is risen! So the church must live! And serve. And love. And fight injustice. And seek healing and restoration. Even if we have to do it from our homes.