Letter to the Dying Church

Candles

Dying. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about dying. How things die and people too. Dreams die. Traditions die. The roles we’ve played die. Marriages, friendships, partnerships, institutions, buildings. So many things pass away.

We do a lot of fighting against this. Expend energy keeping stuff alive. Bolster what is wilting with steroids.

Life is important to us people of faith. A heart pumping blood—we need that.

But the more I think about our faith story, the more I remember it is primarily and fundamentally a story of resurrection. Which is so fantastic we’re not always sure it is real enough to believe, or believable enough to preach.

The most uncomfortable thing about resurrection is not the magic of it (which is weird enough), but the fact that before a thing resurrects, a thing dies. Ouch.

Death hurts so bad.

Every week I read all the church mail, including the junk mail. I don’t have a secretary, so I have to sort through the stack myself. It’s one of my least favorite pastor-tasks, but that’s another story. This story is about dying, and I’m taking a medium-sized diversion to tell you, all the church mail I get is about staying alive. All. Of. It.

Every advertisement. Every conference. Every denominational report and every religious newsletter.

“Praise God! Look at our stats!”

“Five steps to grow your church!”

“Join with us and set a God-given goal to increase church attendance!”

I mean, I get it. Death has never made a good profit. It’s never been a friendly companion or delivered a satisfying accomplishment.

But. I can’t help but think I don’t want to continue this work of fiddling around on life support. I want to be about the business of resurrection, and resurrection only happens to the dead.

I’m not saying we should haul off and kill stuff, just to see if the coffin lid will shake off in time. That’s murder.

I’m not saying we should lie down and die, pretend to be martyrs, and let the violent ones do us in. That’s resignation-disguised-as-heroism.

I am saying, when something is dying, maybe we should notice. If Death knocks, maybe we should open the door. Maybe we should sit down gently by the hospital bed of this beloved thing we do not, do not, do not want to lose, take it by the frail hand, and whisper with hearts full of love, “It’s okay. You can go. It’s okay.”

Some things need to die. And we do them a great disservice by not allowing them to depart peacefully.

I don’t know what this means for the church universal or your congregation local. But I know that I look around me and see things dying, and not enough of us are willing to be hospice chaplains to aged dreams. I do know that spiritual growth isn’t all aliveness. It is also always the sacred decay that nourishes soil. It is also always a letting go and an opening wide, a diminishment of control and a shrinking of ego. It is sometimes a fierce burst of energy, but it is often a slowing down the way aging folks slow down, and an acquiring of a wisdom that you could not know until you embraced endings, surprises, and the smaller blessings.

The way Jesus put it was “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains a grain. If it dies, it bears much fruit.”

Whatever is dying in you and around you, may it rest in peace, given pardon by your parting blessing. Given the chance to resurrect by your goodbye.

Rothaus_pic_bench_smKyndall Rae Rothaus is pastor of Covenant Baptist Church in San Antonio, Texas. She graduated with her Master of Divinity from George W. Truett Theological Seminary at Baylor. She blogs Here and her sermons can be read or listened to Here. Her first book Preacher Breath is being published by Smyth & Helwys later this year.

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