The Easter accounts in the gospels feature a lot of running. Resurrection may cause that in people. In John, the women and the disciples are practically running a relay race from and to the empty tomb. In Matthew, the followers of Jesus are told in two straight verses to go “quickly” to give report of the empty tomb. In Luke, Peter runs to see the empty tomb for himself, and while the two travelers to Emmaus may not have been running, they were certainly pressing to get out of town. Even the gospel of Mark, whose original account ends suddenly, tells us that the women “fled from the tomb.”
Such urgency is often associated with alarm, with the “fight or flight” instinct with which many animals, including humans, are endowed. Crises can impose urgencies of all kinds. The urgent search for toilet paper a year ago gave way to an urgent search for face masks among some which yielded to an urgent search for a vaccine which in turn offered some congregations an urgency to “return.” In the revealing and accelerating attributes of this pandemic year, congregations – and each of us – have had to establish a new relationship with what is “urgent.”
I’ve been thinking lately about scarcity and abundance… and their own relationships with urgency. For decades, many of us have oriented ministry around the sound Biblical and theological insight that our culture has given us a “world of scarcity” when, in fact, we are offered “God’s world of abundance.” What if, as we emerge from the pandemic, the issue is not scarcity versus abundance, but instead how places of scarcity (and particularly congregations of scarcity) and places of abundance (and particularly congregations of abundance) are understanding and acting on their sense of urgency?
This weekend, in his blog post “Untenable,” Seth Godin wrote:
You can build a city below sea level, and it might work for a while, but sooner or later, the water will win.
Trends don’t determine whether we’ll be able to accomplish something tomorrow. But seeing and then understanding the trends allows us to work with the wind at our backs, instead of fighting it.
There is an urgency to the life of the church of Jesus Christ right now that is not pandemic-new. It has been with us for years, indeed decades. Understanding how our faith communities can address spiritual hunger amidst steadily rising sea levels of institutional suspicion in our culture is not new. Acting on the witness and call of Jesus Christ to be God’s peace and God’s justice in the world is not new. This mission has, however, gained greater urgency in this moment.
Congregations that are feeling fragile and lacking in resources and people right now are tempted to say, “yes, we see the urgency, but first we need to see if we can stay viable and then we’ll try to meet the moment.” Congregations that, frankly, have been doing ok through the pandemic – online numbers are up, endowments have increased and budgets didn’t take a huge hit, plans for the future are still more or less in place – are tempted to say, “we can see an urgency, but we should not act too hastily or recklessly and risk losing all we have.”
Both scarcity and abundance are being used as reasons to tamp down, dilute, or ignore the urgency of this moment. What’s the urgency? That, after a year and more of isolation, fear, uncertainty, suffering, and death (especially among our most vulnerable and marginal neighbors), women and men in our culture are actually asking deeper questions about the tilt and arc of their life than they have in quite some time. They are searching for the very things that followers of Jesus, at our best, are equipped to address. People are hungry for community, care, connection, depth, and a renewed sense of justice. They are yearning for hope and asking about meaning. They – along with us – want some potent assurance that life consists of more than asking, “what are we going to eat? …what are we going to drink? …and what in the world are we going to wear?”
Among the urgent calls of this moment is that congregations formed in the name of Jesus meet this urgency with more than sign-up sheets for ushering, reports from the building and grounds committee, and some long-range plan about adding new programs. The urgency is that we meet the often-suppressed grief people are carrying with the astounding news of a crucified and risen Savior. The urgency is that we use this moment to disrupt the church’s slow (and not so slow) hyper-introspective march to cultural irrelevance with the boldness – and urgency – of Easter.
After they recognized Jesus and he disappeared from their sight having broken bread with them, the two Emmaus travelers said to one another: “Were not our hearts burning within us while Jesus was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” And quickly they got up and returned to tell the disciples the urgent good news.
All the gospel Easter accounts feature a lot of running. Resurrection causes that in people. It is the time for us to feel this Easter urgency – to feel our hearts burning within us with God’s hope and promise – and, forsaking every institutional weight, run toward this world in need.