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Differently Great
A sermon preached by the Rev. Kit Lonergan on April 6, 2014

Christ Church Andover
Lent 5, Year A
April 6, 2014

Click for the readings for the Fifth Sunday in Lent

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts together always be acceptable in your sight, O God, our strength and our redeemer. AMEN.                

Transitions are hard, my godmother has always said to me. She usually said it over a cup of coffee or tea, and when I became old enough, a glass of wine, while sitting on a couch, possibly with dog at our feet. Transitions involve death, she would say. And life. But first death.

Those transitions she spoke of permeated every age and every stage of life. Quickly transitioning best friends to former best friends in elementary school. The death of a grandparent. A divorce. Changing schools. Moving houses. Graduation. Graduation with no job in sight. Broken hearts. Job loss. Taking care of a parent. Taking care of a spouse. Illness.

Now that I reflect on it, I realize that my godmother had one basic line, but it seemed to be adaptable for pretty much every occasion, not unlike a pastoral little black dress. It was appropriate for good changes in life too—because even the wonderful things that might happen—a new partner; a new job; getting married; having children—involve an ending of some sort. And perhaps the issue isn’t so much whether any given change is technically ‘good’ or technically ‘bad’, but really about the unknown factors that accompanies it. Transitions aren’t threatening or hard because they always herald bad things, it’s that they herald something different than we have known. And new things—regardless of how lovely they can be, can bring out, lift up, enhance in all their wondrous glory, our deepest fears.

New life is scary.

New life involves an end to something, to be new. It involves the beginning of something we don’t know, maybe aren’t familiar with, and which lays out before us a host of possibilities all of which fall anywhere on the spectrum of desired to oh-please-anything-but-that. New life means that the comfort we had lived within—even if that comfort wasn’t perfect, or left something to be desired—will change and transform into something we can only, now, imagine. And let me say this here, sometimes we are wildly imaginative as to all the things that can go irrevocably wrong and badly.

Yesterday, we elected a new bishop for the Diocese of Massachusetts, the Rev. Alan Gates. There were seven talented, profoundly gifted, candidates, four of whom were from this diocese. Each one—each one of these men and women would take us down a different path into new life of being the body of Christ at this time and in this place. As we sat and voted yesterday, there were fears of someone ‘new’ coming in from outside the diocese—would they know us well enough? Would they love us well enough? Would they ‘get’ us? New Englanders, after all, are a feisty bunch, and the clergy and people of the Diocese of Massachusetts are no exception. Bishop Tom Shaw has been our diocesan bishop for nearly twenty years. While we may not have agreed with everything that he has ever said or ever done, he is still OUR bishop- we know him and have been known by him, with a huge percentage of the clergy who are serving here in this diocese having been raised to the priesthood and ordained by him. So yesterday at the election, we had the opportunity to imagine with broad strokes, what new life might herald for us. It also reaffirmed, what might end with new life.

We, here, in this parish are familiar with this paradigm. We are calling a new rector. We are changing the way we do ministry and organizing staffing and leadership. Things are changing. New life is literally weeks away. And at our lowest moments, sometimes the death part- the ending part- is all that is visible to the eye and ear. But we are Christians. We know that every time we hear death, we must also add ‘and life’ in our heads. We may not have a clear sense of what that new life might entail or bring, and we may be tempted to create a golden calf of ‘how it’s always been’, but that is, in fact, our fear speaking to us.

There are so many ways to listen and hear and engage the story of Lazarus, but this morning, what I will say is that I keep wondering what happened to Lazarus after he had been raised from the dead. There are no stories about him in scripture after this event. He dies, he is laid in the tomb for four days—longer than Jesus was in the tomb to insistently prove just how dead he was.  Mary and Martha are starting to bind up their broken hearts, adjusting to their new normal. And Jesus comes and raises Lazarus, unbinding him as he comes out of the tomb. My guess is even though their brother is returned to them, things don’t go on as usual for Mary and Martha, and definitely not for Lazarus. What happens with this new life that he has been given? We aren’t told that. And maybe that is for the best. It leaves it up to us to imagine what we would do if we were given new life—what would we do if we could get past the worst happening to us (which is often something associated with and ending of sorts) and live into an existence filled with possibility—not good, not bad, but just different.

One of the candidates for Bishop, the Rev. Ledlie Laughlin from Philadelphia, told a story during the walkabouts  in response to a question about his vision for the diocese. He said that that obviously there would be two phases of his vision. The first was about the shift from having Tom as our bishop to having someone else in that position. He said that when he had served in a small congregation, the beloved Choir Master and organist retired, and there were a few weeks in between his departure and the arrival of the new one. One of the sons of a vestry member had been very concerned about this change—and kept asking his father questions about the person coming into take the beloved Choir Master’s place- would they sing the same songs? Would they have the same parts? What would they be like? The father replied to the son, “I don’t know what this new person will be like. What I do know is that they will be differently great.”

That is what new life is. Differently great.

Next week we enter together into Jerusalem on Sunday, and watch the events of Holy Week unfold before our eyes and hearts once again. We know, in our minds, that resurrection will come. But in our hearts, we have to be reminded again and again that resurrection isn’t just about life as it was, but life as it could be. New life. Differently great life. Our collect for this morning reminds us that “among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found”. That’s not on what we know, or what we conjure up as we face our fears, but on Jesus Christ. Who loves us. Who weeps with us. Who reminds us that transitions are hard. And who ultimately gives us new life through his own.


Last Published: May 9, 2014 2:03 PM