Mortal and Eternal
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. Romans 5:6, 10
I believe that Lent, more than anything, is the season for us to reflect on our own fragile, mortal nature, and our need for God’s love to save us—and our gratitude for the lengths God took to do so. If this is true for the whole season of Lent, surely Holy Week is the time when we are at our most broken, and receive love at its extreme.
Last week I was confronted with how fragile and unpredictable life is.
First, I heard from my friend, Ralph Hawkins, pastor of Northminster Presbyterian in Macon, Georgia. You may have heard that Macon was hit by some major storms last week—and the steeple of Northminster was one of the casualties. Ralph was actually at the church when he heard the 8,000-pound steeple snap off and land over his office. Ever optimistic, Ralph was more than anything grateful that no one was hurt, and fascinated by the company that was able to take down the steeple the next day. They ended up having Palm Sunday worship in the parking lot.
Northminster, Before and After
The next day, I was about to recommend Bruce Reyes-Chow to a colleague in North Carolina who was looking for resources to help her churches envision the new post-pandemic church. (You may remember Bruce, who was a great plenary speaker for our WinterFest a year ago and is always five steps ahead of the rest of us.) Now I don’t do social media, so don’t keep up with Bruce very well, though once in a while I get a Facebook post as he chronicles his battle with long COVID. Checking up on his web presence, I was so saddened to learn that the last two years have taken so much out of him that he had to resign from his pastorate at First Presbyterian Palo Alto, after serving only three years. Now Bruce is one of those types of people who is always doing 17 things at once, so even though I know he had been hospitalized with COVID, and he lost his beloved grandmother to COVID, I would never have imagined he would ever slow down, let alone have to tell his congregation, “I have no more to give.”
Now I don’t see Ralph or Bruce as ungodly or enemies of God. In fact, I have huge respect and admiration for both of them. And yet, they—we—are mortal, subject to disease or weather or building parts collapsing over our heads. What do we do?
I’ve never had to face such crises myself. (I like to think God knows I’m too weak to withstand that sort of thing.) But between what Ralph and Bruce faced, and what the people of Ukraine are facing every day, and what the victims of COVID and health care workers had to deal with these past two years, I can imagine a little of the shock and despair of Jesus’ followers, seeing him beaten, humiliated, and left to die on a cross. How do we get through all the grief that can fall on us?
Last night I was able to experience the world premiere of the “Pandemic Requiem,” a full requiem composed by Claremont Presbyterian Church’s Director of Music, Geri DeMasi. You can watch it on their Facebook page, or click here. The movements of the traditional requiem form (including Kyrie eleison, Sanctus, Agnus Dei, Pie Jesu, etc.) were interspersed with news items from the last two years,
but also a few personal stories from the life of Claremont Presbyterian. Claremont’s pastor Karen Sapio said that she would encourage other churches to do something similar, using their own local news and personal stories. If you don’t have a resident composer, you can use other music, or once I was in a choir that did a concert requiem using movements from different compositions that already exist.
This evening was so moving, with touchstones from the County Department of Health, or local perspectives on the murder of George Floyd and the January 6th in Washington, DC—but the personal stories brought tears to our eyes. Through their stories, we could see how even the darkest moments could be illuminated with the hope of a father’s love for his college-aged son, or a wedding, or a long- awaited adoption, or even the death of one’s wife, which could be commemorated in the beauty of this requiem.
Next Sunday, Easter Sunday, is the first worship service for Interwoven, at 4 pm. For now, they will worship at La Cañada Presbyterian Church. What a celebration this will be! Already the leaders of Interwoven, Harlan Redmond and Ally Lee and the launch team including Mary Ellen Azada, have been sources of inspiration and challenge for us, and I am so grateful. Interwoven is being born with the prayers and blessings of the people of their community, of the National Black Presbyterian Caucus- Southern California Chapter, of friends in many churches, and with the spirit of South Hills Presbyterian Church, which left a legacy to be used for a church that offers the community commitment and gifts of the Black church tradition for a new, welcoming, inclusive generation.
Holy Week is the time when we are reminded of our fragile, mortal nature. But Holy Week does not end with Good Friday. We can look ahead to the Day of Resurrection, when God proves for us that death is not the final answer, that we are not left to our brokenness, that there is new life, even springing out of our deepest despair. Because Jesus rises, we too rise. We may be mortal, but we are loved for eternity.
May you know the life-giving, brutal, death-defeating love of our God, in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In Jesus, we see that God will do whatever is necessary to save us. May we respond to God’s saving grace with our life’s devotion.
Looking to the Resurrection,