by John Odom,
Ecclesiastes reminds, “God makes everything beautiful in its own time” (Eccles. 3:11). That’s the biblical truth for individuals and even the church—God vouchsafes beauty. Unfortunately, the biblical truth must answer the earthbound reality observed by salon owner, Ms. Truvy Jones, in the play turned movie Steel Magnolias, “there is no such thing as natural beauty.” Jesus holds these two realities in tension when he teaches, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). Beauty is possible only with radical transformation.
This is the truth that the church—the Body of Christ—proclaims each Lenten season. It is the mystery of the Christian faith. New life, beauty, resurrection come only on the other side of death and transformational change. In baptism, you and I are buried in the waters of Christ’s death only to be raised to the beauty of new life with Christ. We are welcomed to the Table of Grace so that the beauty of resurrection life can be experienced, tasted, and touched—the hungry fed, the marginalized lifted up, and the dead raised to new life.
As you and I and the church begin to return to life on the other side of the pandemic, we have to recognize that vaccines cannot guarantee a return to pre-pandemic “normalcy.” The reality is that the bulk of the church’s structures and leadership models we brought with us into the pandemic will simply not be sustainable for long, and they may even prove obstacles for life and faith in the post-pandemic church. The church’s sense of identity has too long relied on resource-demanding buildings, lengthy and expensive ordination processes, complicated governing assemblies, congregational leadership models based on full-time, paid pastoral leadership, physically-constrained and temporally-bound worship and fellowship, and other trappings appropriate perhaps for church in the mid-twentieth century, but no longer. Signs of the deficits of much of the church’s life have been there for a long time. The pandemic is speeding up our confrontation with reality.
In order to become beautiful in our own time, we—you, me, and the church—have got to be unafraid of letting go, of dismantling institutional structures and individual behaviors that no longer serve us. Dying and rising—the church persists. Faith is handed down from generation to generation. The original, small band of twelve Christ-followers has died thousands of deaths through the past 2,000 years on its journey following the risen Christ. And yet that same, first-century, messianic, Jewish movement is now the faith-home to one in three people worldwide. This might well be the sign to embolden you and me to continue the process of dying in order to live, and trust as never before that God makes everything beautiful in its own time.
by John Odom,