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Last Word - November 2011

Leaves and the Cross

One day last year at this time, as I walked out for the newspaper in the morning, I had to walk through a pile of leaves which had collected in the driveway. I always find something sad about the leaves falling each autumn.

Actually it is not about the leaves but about the trees, which are soon to be bare gray sticks. We have gotten used to seeing the trees with their full plumage of green foliage. Now it is as if they were dead. The stark gray branches against an often equally steely gray and dreary winter sky. Of course, we know the trees are not really dead at all. They are simply dormant. They are asleep, like the bears that hibernate in the winter. They will awaken in April and again be beautiful and rich and they will have even grown. This gray pallor is only temporary – a mask hiding the life still down deep inside.

But this is not a column about trees. It is about faith: what do we ultimately believe is really real in this universe we live in? Now, faith is for living, obviously. The way we believe affects the way we live. Belief in a loving God calls us to love. Belief in a merciful and generous God calls us to be forgiving and generous. God who is faithful calls us to loyalty and trustworthiness. But faith is also for death, and especially for death.

As Thomas Lynch has written, in The Undertaking, “Faith is not required to sing in the choir, for bake sales or building drives; to usher or deacon or elder or priest. Faith is for the time of our dying and the time of the dying of the ones we love…. Funerals press the noses of the faithful against the windows of their faith.”

So I was wondering: What do we expect from the Church? What do we expect from our discipleship? What do we expect our fellowship as disciples of the Lord will bring us?

Oh sure, you get to meet a lot of nice people. There are coffee and donuts on Sundays except in the summer months. There is the social interaction. There is religious and moral formation for your children. You sometimes get a good feeling from helping out at the Soup Kitchen or giving a gift for the poor at Christmas. You hope for good music, affirming words and inspiring preaching, even when you don’t always get them.

But Christianity - discipleship - is at its best and most powerful not when things are comfortable but when our lives are coming apart at the seams, in the face of calamity, sickness and death. The Cross is the symbol of this fellowship. The Cross is our support and our strength, assuring us and giving us hope when there is none. It is when everything is out of joint and there is no way out, that we must turn to the Cross and through the Cross find salvation. For Jesus too suffered rejection and persecution; Jesus too faced hardship and sorrow; Jesus too suffered; and Jesus too died. But through the Cross and through his undying faith in the Father, he came through his passion to his resurrection, his victory.

So come for the good times, but stay for t