The Easter story is perhaps the ultimate example of God placing a comma rather than a period in human history. The finality of suffering and death turn out not to be so final after all, Christ is Risen!
A number of years ago I read an interesting book by Jonathan Kozol titled "Ordinary Resurrections, Children in the Years of Hope." I found the title as fascinating as the content. The idea of an ordinary resurrection seems contradictory to our understanding of the miraculous nature of the event.
Surely our churches have just experienced anything but ordinary worship services as flowers, music, Gospel narratives, and enthusiastic crowds all proclaimed the wonder of Easter day, which speaks of no ordinary resurrection. Yet I wonder if it might not be in the resurrections we see and experience in normal human living that we might come closest to knowing the power of the Easter story.
Where might we find these ordinary resurrections?
I believe we find them in our personal experience of those family, friends, or acquaintances who rise above the devastating setbacks life can hold. Courage and hope in the face of a terminal illness; strength to overcome the demons of addiction; faith to sustain one in dark nights of the soul.
If we haven't experienced this resurrection ourselves, it is likely we know those who have. It is amazing how much hope and faith can be engendered and increased from these encounters. I believe I have seen these ordinary resurrections in our local churches as well.
I recently visited with an old historic congregation in a large metropolitan community. A few years ago the church had dwindled to a handful of members and a diminishing endowment. They called a renewal pastor who helped them connect with the community around them. They found new energy around their identity as a faith community and coupled that with the identity of their community to begin a remarkable rebirth. They are now searching for an associate pastor to help with their community missions and discipleship formation.
This community is not alone in the ordinary resurrection that is happening in churches around the country. In the face of the long season of decline and diminishment the UCC and other denominations have experienced, it is hopeful and energizing to see these stories of rebirth in our midst.
Sometimes these stories are less dramatic but equally hopeful. It includes communities that find new mission and embrace new Christians as they enter into the reality of being church in a changing world.
I have also seen these ordinary resurrections in a way that is both difficult and hopeful. Some existing congregations, having reached the decision to end their ministry, have shared the resources they have with new congregations and Conference church development programs to help their mission continue in new ways.
God is still speaking through and in the congregations of the United Church of Christ. Christ is risen indeed!
The Rev. Stephen Sterner is the UCC's executive minister for Local Church Ministries and a member of the UCC's five-person Collegium of Officers.