by Rev. Dwayne Bagley
Dying and rising have been on my mind a lot throughout this Lenten season. In one of our Cabinet devotion times in March, we were invited to take a deep dive into the story from John 4 about Jesus’ meeting with the woman at the well. In that encounter, Jesus challenges assumptions the woman holds about which side of a very clear dividing line she is on, the proper way to worship God, and what to expect from a Savior. During what seems to be a chance encounter, Jesus’ words convince the woman to lay all her preconceived notions about the way things are to rest so that a new understanding of God’s grace can rise in their place. Because she does this, everyone around her similarly lays their own assumptions to rest and begins to embrace the possibility that they too are heirs of God’s promise. A tradition that has been cherished and formative, which includes their interpretation of the scripture, bars the way to this new way of understanding who can be counted among the people of God. An experience of Jesus and God’s Holy Spirit choosing to move wherever, however and among whomever it chooses transforms all these preconceived notions in such a powerful way that the people reconsider the foundation of their belief in light of the new thing God is doing.
It is a foundational belief of mine that the Spirit of the Living God continues to do new things. But because I am only human, I am motivated to hold on to what has been, believing all the while that I am doing so to keep a grasp on something essential. In moments of dire need, God grants me enough grace to wonder if what I consider essential is the same thing God counts among essentials. And I wonder if I am holding on too tightly to things I should lay to rest so that God can raise up something new in me.
I wonder the same thing about our United Methodist Church and its congregations. In this Age of Disaffiliation, we all are trying to keep a grasp on what has been at the expense of what might yet be. Whether we hold on to the hope of preserving The United Methodist Church or seek to keep a grip on our traditional understanding of scripture, we may be holding on too tightly. Our focus on what we are trying so hard to hold on to may keep us from seeing where the Spirit is moving. While may we say, “let go and let God,” our actions are less motivated by the Hand of Sweet Release than shaped by the Spirit of the Age. This continuing practice is all the more questionable when we consider our call to live as Easter People. Amidst the hope and promise of the Resurrection, there is this core assertion at work: Jesus did not die and Christ was not raised just so that everything could remain the same.
Trusting that conviction is among the essentials, I raise this question for us, for our churches and for all the people called United Methodist: “What do we need to lay to rest so that God might raise up something new?” As we consider that question throughout Eastertide, let this verse from our hymnal serve as inspiration and invitation: “The Church of Christ in every age, beset by change but Spirit led, must claim and test its heritage and keep on rising from the dead.” Happy Easter. Christ is Risen. Come, Holy Spirit, come.