A Message from Dale, April 9th, 2020
As we recalibrated into virtual worship at First Congregational, Darien, my first sermon was, “We’ve Never Been to a Place Like This Before.” While that’s true of our individual lifetimes, it’s not true of the life of the church, spanning millennia.
Years ago I visited Rome’s catacombs where persecuted Christians fled and hid, where they rallied and worshipped, in season and out of season, boring Sundays and high Holy Days, like Easter. I admit, it felt claustrophobic down there, but it served its purpose in a pinch. Today Christ’s church is again driven underground.
My pastor friends visiting Cuba similarly describe that church. Communists own the church and pay pastors’ salaries. They allow no more than 30 Christians to gather for worship, even on Easter. Social distancing has been their way of life for generations. As a result, Cuban Christians today gather secretly, furtively in member house-churches. Which is exactly how the church began, worshiping in private homes. The oldest known church worldwide is Dura Europas, in Syria, a home later converted into a church building. Envision their determined faces as you worship with us at home. Today Christ’s church is again driven underground.
So right now, just when it seems like the world could never be made well again, we draw upon their fortitude, their hope, and their endurance to keep our faithful community alive. And it inspires us to know the faithful have handled this before.
Another face I see amid COVID-19 is Julian of Norwich, a Christian recluse, who prayed in permanent seclusion. (This is a woman like Evelyn Waugh was a man.) Julian held forth in the British city of Norwich as the Black Death of 1348-1350 ravaged everything around her. She is revered today as a Christian mystic and theologian. She recovered from near death to pen her Revelations of Divine Love which is the earliest surviving book written in the English language by a woman.
Julian anguishes at the world’s suffering and the church’s dark teachings on hell. (So ahead of her time!) Her famous quote is, “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” Lest you think she was spooning out cheap grace of starry-optimism, these were not her words, but Jesus’ words to her during a vision. Julian went on to argue with God for another 13 chs. about how things would never be well again. As in the book of Job, God doesn’t explain to her how things will get well. God asks for her trust. I invite you to live trustingly in a difficult time. How is that possible? Only because of Good Friday and Easter.
This year I invite you to give up the mind-games of explaining Easter, of fitting it into categories that already comfortably exist for you. This year I invite you to let Good Friday and Easter create new categories of possibility that only God brings.
Imagine that, if we could give up reducing the miracle of Easter by explaining it in our terms, maybe Easter could explain us, and how all things will be put right again, even as we don’t see a way. How God shall put all manner of things right.