I won’t be going to church this Easter.
Partly because over recent years the church has been more of a “Via Crucis” and a crown of thorns in my life than a sign and promise of resurrection (within ministry and outside it I have met many others who have a similar story to tell…).
However, when I say “church” I should at once clarify that I mean the institution; the structure of hierarchy, rules and tradition that always should, sometimes does but all too often fails to reflect the living, pulsating heart of faith at its core and that gives that structure its very life and meaning. THAT has failed me. But the real church, the “ecclèsia“, the community of believers and disciples – that is a different story. Constantly there, sometimes despite the “structures”, I have found genuine friendship, support, and compassion, and stories of ordinary women and men full of extraordinary courage, faith, commitment and love. People capable of seeing beyond the structures and the divisions they cause, beyond the constant continuing idolatry of form and rather glimpsing something – a vision – of the substance, of what really matters and what we are truly called to be as disciples of a God crucified and risen.
On Thursday, when I did go to church, we remembered one such person. A very “ordinary” simple lady, Margaret, who had lived a long life doing very ordinary (and therefore extraordinary) things. Things like working, raising a family, helping others. She had been my housekeeper for a while and an active member of her community. To the great and mighty, probably no-one special. And yet the church on Thursday was packed full of people who came to remember her, comfort her family and give thanks for her life.
And that’s the real reason I don’t need to go to church over Easter. Because it was all there, yesterday, in that simple, sombre Requiem, as a community gathered on a grey, rainy day to say goodbye to one of its own. The pain and loss of Good Friday; the agonising silence of the Saturday when it seems God can’t or won’t answer…But there too, almost hidden but no less real, a few notes (for now) in what was a greater symphony of loss; the weak and fragile light (for now) of what was still the Paschal flame burning – there was the hope and promise of Easter Day, too. In the smiles and the hugs and the memories and the tears and the giving of thanks and the breaking of the bread. Just a glimpse of a light about to shine brightly, of a song about to be sung, of a trumpet about to resound across the chasms of time and space and within each human heart. When every tomb will be opened – even the ones we would rather remained closed.
And so, this Easter, thank you, Margaret, for your presence and for your simple life and faith that have given me what the church, for now at least, cannot; a glimpse into that mystery of love that despite everything and beyond all things will always end in an empty tomb and a tenacious, resounding Alleluia.