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Out of the Tomb

He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. -Matthew 28:6

One of the interesting peculiarities of the United Methodist denomination that I belong to is that we rotate our clergy periodically. United Methodist pastors will serve with a local church for a period of several years and then will eventually be reassigned. There are a few exceptions (I don’t think Adam Hamilton is going anywhere, for example) but in most of the denomination, you can look forward to bidding a fond farewell to your old pastor and meeting a new one on a fairly regular basis. It’s been an interesting adjustment for me, because I grew up in various non-denominational Evangelical churches where the pastor would often stay for a very long time indeed, and when one left, it was a job opening that was interviewed for rather than an appointment that was filled.

I don’t like everything about the process, but I can see the value in a number of contexts – theoretically, moving pastors around should expose the problem ones, share around the best qualities of the good ones and – as I’ve come to appreciate – it exposes the local congregation to a variety of different teaching styles and perspectives from the pulpit, and I’ve been fortunate to have three good ones in a row at my church.

My new (or new-ish; he’s been at my church for about a year now) pastor is a friendly, enthusiastic sort and does the kind of participatory worship you’ll often see when you get an extrovert in the pulpit. More than once, he’s divided the congregation up into groups, had those groups discuss something and then share their findings with the congregation. It’s not the most comfortable sort of worship for a solitary introvert like me, and to his credit, he doesn’t do it every week, but that practice, combined with his Lenten sermon series has gotten me thinking.

The theme for that series is “what needs resurrecting in your life,” and clearly one of the things that needed a jolt from the old defibrillator for me was my sense of communal worship. For a lot of my life, my faith has been a more or less solitary practice, and I still enjoy having it that way a lot of the time. However, it took a new pastor to remind me that religion isn’t just a solitary effort. Especially as I’ve come to view my faith as being less about a code of rules that need to be adhered to and more about looking to see what can be done to serve others, the idea of worship as a group activity has slowly gained the purchase it probably should have had all along, gradually and persistently prying its roots into my stubborn heart and mind.

Another thing that should probably come out of the tomb for me is what could be called “casual religious practice” or perhaps “routine religious practice.” I have basically stopped doing simple things like praying over meals, and while I don’t think this is a horrible atrocity, those practices became tradition for a reason. It’s good to acknowledge one’s faith regularly and to thank God for continued life and sustenance. And while I’m not Catholic and never have been, I do derive a certain amount of meaning and purpose from small faith rituals, which is one of the reasons we have them.

There are other things, too. I really should read more, from actual books, than I currently do. I should structure my week better so I can “honor the Sabbath” and take Sundays off from obligations like schoolwork. But endless self-recrimination isn’t very fitting for the season.

This is the time when we celebrate renewal, new life, forgiveness, the ultimate victory over sin and death. Two thousand years ago, Jesus of Nazareth, made thoroughly and painfully dead three days prior, walked out of his tomb and split history in two. Even the dead can live again.

Happy Easter.

This week’s image is from Sean MacEntee used under Creative Commons.

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