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My morning commute often takes me by one of the campuses of Family Church, a new, energetic, and growing church in West Michigan. It’s one of the talks of the town.
Both of Family Church’s campuses are housed in buildings of former churches of the Reformed Church in America, congregations that closed due to their dwindling numbers. My friends who attend Family Church will often excitedly tell me how awesome it is that God has taken these dead churches and made them alive again!
I guess. While Family Church really isn’t my brand, I do celebrate the proclamation of the gospel, the community service, and the hope being offered to and by the congregation in those buildings. From a numbers perspective both previous churches needed to close, and I celebrate that something new could rise from the rubble.
But what hurts me is that one of those buildings, the one on my daily drive, used to be Ebenezer Reformed Church. I was baptized there and was raised by those people. It was at Ebenezer where I learned to hate Cadets, and it was there where I beamed with pride when I was “called up” to the adult softball team while I was still only in 9th grade. It was there where my brother and I would wrestle each other to the front of the potluck line to make sure we weren’t stuck only with green bean casserole and cheesy potatoes. And it was at Ebenezer where I learned you didn’t want to be taken to the furnace room for being too noisy during the sermon.
My theology has evolved since my time at Ebenezer, but there is still something sacred to me about those people and that space that leaves a hole in my soul every time I drive by. I do celebrate the good that is happening at Family Church, just not today. Today I just want to mourn a little.
As we anticipate Easter, I pause and reflect that we should not rush too quickly into Sunday. In the midst of all the despair, our culture so desperately holds out for hope, and certainly Easter provides it. But Sunday will come soon enough. In the midst of our chaos and darkness we look for anything from Yoga to Ted Lasso to give us respite from the tragedy of our world. But I am reminded that true joy can only come through lament, and that resurrection only comes through death.
Today is Holy Saturday. A day in which we imagine a world in which Jesus is dead. Jesus’ disciples and other followers experienced a Saturday without the hope of Easter Sunday. Their worlds were devastated. Everything they thought they knew was wrong. The one who they had hoped for, and hoped in, now laid rotting in the ground. He was dead. Their hopes and dreams were rotting with him.
The disciples hid in a locked room fearing for their lives as they were now associated with a political insurrection. Why didn’t he save himself? Why didn’t he bring about the Kingdom he had promised? Why did he leave them when they needed him most? Why was everything going wrong? Oh but Sunday’s coming!. . .Is it?
How many of us are experiencing our own Holy Saturday? How many of us feel like we too have been abandoned by God? How many of us have hoped, and prayed, and wept. . .for a relationship, for healing, for answers, for a career, for a child? How many of us have called to God only to be forsaken?
Today I weep for a world in which I am surrounded by darkness. I weep for the young man in my congregation fighting cancer, for the marriage that is on life support, for the health complications of the newborn child. Today I weep for churches who are struggling and closing. Today I weep for my denomination, whose numbers, and in some ways whose identity, is slipping away. Today, I weep.
Today I join the disciples in their confusion, sadness, and anger. I mourn for those who feel abandoned. I weep with those who feel forsaken by God and have more questions about life, the world, and even God, than they do answers.
Today I do not grieve as one with no hope. I do believe that God is a God of life. I believe that God is able to bring light where there is darkness. I believe that cancer can be healed, that marriages can be restored. I believe that churches, and even denominations can struggle or even close, only so that they can be resurrected to something better. I believe in a God who, in the midst of death, is the ultimate giver of life. I know how the story ends. Just not today.
To those who suffer today, I hurt with you. Hold on my friends. I don’t always know in what way, or how, or even when, but Joy will come in the morning, even if that morning is so very far away. But today it’s enough to mourn. And I find comfort in the reality that I do not mourn alone.