Finding our whole story in Easter

Finding our whole story in Easter

by: Anne Smith, pastor at Southpoint

When I grew up, I went to a little Baptist church that had only two liturgical days on the calendar: Christmas and Easter. Even as a child, this seemed strange to me. Suddenly, it would be Easter! We’d dress up, hunt for our Easter baskets, have a bunch of lilies around the cross, sing “Christ the Lord is Risen Today!”, be told that Jesus died to save us from our sins so that we could have eternal life, and then, next week, everything would be back to normal.

He Qi’s painting of resurrected Christ shows fleeing demons and the not-yet awoken women. This is the sudden turn. Eucatastrophe.

Increasingly, I find a wider, deeper meaning by living Easter from within the unfolding story of the liturgical calendar, which mirrors the life of Christ. We prepare for resurrection during Lent, we celebrate resurrection on Easter Sunday, and we practice resurrection during the season of Easter, which extends to Pentecost. Holy Week holds this all together. During Holy Week, we witness and watch the movements of Jesus as he makes his final journey to the cross. His passion reveals the full measure of God’s love, and his resurrection reveals the full measure of God’s power. 

Eucatastrophe

Love proves stronger than hate, mercy stronger than judgement, forgiveness stronger than vengeance. The worst agency of the Evil One, death, becomes the agent of redemption. In this eucatastrophe, this sudden turning from sorrow to joy, there is room for the full breadth of my story.

Growing up, my sister was chronically ill. As I watched her suffer, I was comforted by this image of who God suffers with us on the cross. But, thankfully, the story does not end there. 

In Tolkein’s essay, On Fairy Stories, he uses the word “eucatastrophe”. It’s a term he coined to describe a sudden turning from what looks like imminent failure to joy breaking in from nowhere, changing everything. When I first heard of eucatastrophe, I thought, “That’s Easter!” This turning began with the incarnation as Jesus entered fully into our humanity and became well acquainted with the grief that wounds and breaks us. The full manifestation of this solidarity happens on the cross.  Yet into that suffering broke the resurrection.  Joy pierced suffering, seemingly out of nowhere. Eucatastrophe. 

As my sorrow is drawn into Jesus’ sorrow, I find comfort and belonging. As Jesus draws my life into his resurrected life, I find healing and life.  Christ shares in my suffering, and I share in his resurrected life.  Living the Easter story means embracing this tension between the suffering Christ and the victorious Christ. A year ago, just after Easter, two members of our church family died. So this year as we remember, I’m grateful for this story which holds both joy and sorrow, death and resurrection, yet is, at its heart, a story of eucatastrophe. 

After Resurrection, by He Qi

The sudden turn

The Gospels contain a series of resurrection accounts where Jesus appears to a variety of folk. People are surprised, of course, but more importantly Jesus’ appearance shifts their story. They don’t know yet that he’s alive. They’re in despair, grief, confusion, and crippling doubt. They’re puzzling about how it ended up so wrong when it had seemed so right. Then Jesus appears to them – eucatastrophe, the sudden turning! Thomas turns from skepticism to faith, Mary’s grief is instantly changed to joy, and on the road to Emmaus the disciple’s confusion becomes clarity. I love this. I find great hope in this unique dynamic of Easter morning.

These “turnings” are very powerful for me, both as a person, and as a pastor. Jesus draws near when we are in the worst straights, when our storyline has been blown to pieces. He joins us in our pain, picks up our shattered story, and begins to walk us in a new direction. 

As a pastor, I’ve seen many people go through turns like these. Things are going well, we feel God’s presence, we are full of faith. And then dramatically, it changes. Some circumstance changes that shakes all of life. We feel how I imagine the disciples were feeling: confusion and despair, thinking, did we get duped by this guy who we thought was the Messiah? Where is God? Is God real? Into this darkness, Jesus somehow appears, pulling us into a new storyline.  It might not be the same direction, but it’s a redeemed story that continues on.

Easter in community

At Southpoint, our celebration of Easter really begins on Palm Sunday. I get up early and cut cedar branches from the trees on Kingfisher Farm. Later, as folk gather outside, we pass out cedar branches, wooden blocks for banging, and long ribbons on sticks. We process into the sanctuary together, singing songs, beating blocks, waving our branches—we make a ruckus to celebrate the arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem!

Then on Good Friday, we lay out a path of sorrow at Kingfisher Farm. The stations of the cross are tucked away in the forest and farmland, so folk walk the stations of the cross surrounded by cedar trees. There is a meditative space to sit and reflect on images of the crucifixion. In the room is a large cross, and all who gather are invited to place a hand print in red on the cross before leaving, symbolizing our own betrayal of Christ, as well as our fellowship with him in his suffering.

On Easter morning, we gather again for worship. The service begins as we cry out together, “Christ is Risen!! He is Risen Indeed!!!’ We begin to sing, and as we sing, children and adults bring the flowers and greens they have picked from gardens to the wire bound cross at the front of the church.  We fill the cross to overflowing with flowers and greens. It is a messy, gorgeous display of abundance springing forth from the scarcity of the cross. We sing songs, proclaim the story, sing more songs, share communion – the broken body of Christ which has become the feast of resurrection life.

Observing Easter is inherently communal. It’s hard for me to conceive of it any other way. I feel like something intrinsic to the Gospel gets left out when we are too individualistic. Especially Easter. It was a social thing. It was instantly spread and shared and wrestled with, together. Mary immediately ran to tell the disciples, and they ran back and told people—it just feels that there needs to be a spilling over into one another’s lives to contain it, because it’s too big to be kept individual. 

Together we are remembering the story, we are reliving the story. It is the story that unites us as Christians. So to tell it, live it, remember it, celebrate it together, with Christians of different stripes all over the world… That is powerful.

We proclaim this not just as a story from the past, but as the story of our present reality, and the story of our future hope. The story of redemption that holds all creation. Living it out as an individual is all good and well, but Easter was and always shall be a communal reality, not an individual affair. To celebrate as a people deepens the practice of resurrection.

Triumphant Entry, by He Qi

Mission in the Arrivals Wing at YVR

Mission in the Arrivals Wing at YVR

 

“Last month, a middle-aged Mexican woman came to the door. I knew immediately there was something different about her; she was definitely in need of TLC, you know… just some loving care.” Dennis Kirkley says. He’s the lead chaplain at Vancouver Airport Chaplaincy; he’s also a CBWC church member. “I felt the Lord whisper to me, ‘care for this person’. So that’s what we did.”

He quickly learned why. Polly* was transgender, and had been recently disowned by her family after years and years of being unaccepted. Her mother died a few years ago, and her father finally told her to leave his house.

“She’d been living with her father for years because no one in her city would hire her. She had a degree—she showed me the paper. She could teach, but had never been able to get a job,” Dennis says. With no options left, a friend offered to buy a flight to Vancouver where they hoped Polly would have better luck. She arrived with no contacts, no plan, no job, and was noticed by Customs who directed her to the Chapel. Dennis and his team connected her with agencies who helped her prepare for the Refugee Claimant hearing, find accommodation, and complete paperwork to settle in Canada.

“When she returned the next day, refreshed for her final Customs interview, she told us, ‘You’re the first place that has cared for me.’” Dennis recalls. “That gave me opportunity to tell Polly how much God cared for her and has blessed our land, where all God’s people are treated with dignity and respect. When she left for her interview, she had a smile on her face and, I believe, hope in her heart!”

This is just one example of the work Dennis and his team do at the Chapel. Talk with him for any amount of time, you’ll hear story after story spill out, as he sketches a picture of the incredible range of human need they encounter. As an inter-faith ministry, the YVR Chaplaincy has met this need with spiritual and emotional support for 30+ years in International Arrivals.

“One thing about this job is, you have to be ready for anything. You have to be spiritually and emotionally ready. We get everything under the sun walking in the door, from people just popping by to say hello, to heavy, heavy situations,” Dennis says.

“We get women who are leaving an abusive relationship, people being deported, people who are grieving, carrying ashes of a loved one. There are people struggling with mental health,” Dennis says. “Just last week we had a guy who was trying to go home, but he was so disruptive that he got kicked off a flight. They were already taxiing to the runway, but he was so belligerent they had to turn around and kick him off. Then, of course they brought him to us!”

YVR is supportive of their work and recently decided to expand the current Chapel facility in 2018 and provide a second chapel past the security gates in 2020. That’s where most people in the airport are, so it’s a great answer to prayer. The current Chapel gets over 1,000 visitors monthly, and operates with a team of 35 volunteers, 10 chaplains, and 5 board members. Currently all the volunteers are Christians, though all faith groups are welcome to participate in this ministry.

The Chapel is also there to serve YVR staff. “We’re not trying to be a church or a mosque or anything,” Dennis says, “but it just so happens that there are a number of Roman Catholic Filipinos working at the airport on Sundays who want to attend mass. So for 7 years there’s a priest who comes down on Sunday afternoon at 4pm to hold a mass. And there are a lot of Muslim employees who come on Fridays to pray.”

To all CBWC churches, Dennis wants you to know they’re here to serve you. The Chapel is available for groups to gather and pray before a trip, or for goodbyes. They offer tours of their own space and the terminal—a few parking passes can be procured if you carpool.

“We hope churches will be more aware of us being here, so they can know what God is doing at YVR and they can pray for us.  We will be in need of new volunteers as our facilities expand in the future, and we also need the support of area churches because we must raise all our own operating expenses.”  Dennis is available as a guest speaker, with either a message or a mission report. “Ultimately we’d like to have churches aware of this marketplace ministry right in their midst.”

 

*Polly’s name has been changed to protect her privacy.

William Carey like you’ve never seen him before.

William Carey like you’ve never seen him before.

Deanna Storfie stars in a one-woman play about the legendary missionary, William Carey.

“His story is tragedy. It’s hardship. But it’s also a story of how the gospel can change lives and transform cultures,” Deanna says of William Carey’s mission in India. The play has grown out of her extensive research, and was commissioned by The Gathering’s organizing committee for this year’s meeting.

“It wasn’t an easy road to hold. There were entrenched superstitions and teachings that oppressed the people of India, especially women. So to come in with the Gospel with an understanding that God loves creation and people, no matter what our skin colour or gender, because we’re made in the image of God… was revolutionary.”

Bringing this gospel message of freedom didn’t come free for Carey’s family. The first number of years, Carey worked in isolation from other Christians. Even the British community in India isolated them, fearing the economic implications of his work against the caste system.

“That was detrimental to his wife,” Deanna says. “No support, being in a foreign country, having child after child. She really suffered from depression, and mental illness completely. Imagine how hard it would be, going on a mission like that, when it’s your husband that feels called, and you’re going to support, but don’t feel called.”

Carey saw very little fruit in the early years. He worked hard, preached to hundreds, but had no converts. “He often wondered, did he really hear God’s call? Should he be there?” Deanna says.

“His wife is going slowly insane, and his boys are running around with no parental supervision because he’s busy doing missionary work.” It wasn’t until another group of missionaries came to join him that things started to take off. 

Ironically, given the personal cost his wife faced, women’s rights was a seminal accomplishment for Carey and his team, in partnership with Indian allies. At that time, the custom was for widows to burn alive on their husband’s funeral pyres, a practice known as Sati. Carey et al campaigned hard to make this practice illegal, and to convince women to reach out for help if their husband’s died.

“Husband is god. If your husband is sad you are sad, if your husband is happy you are happy. If your husband is dead, you must die,” Deanna says of the belief at the time. In her research for the play, she that learned it probably had more to do with economic burden than anything. In-laws had already paid the dowry, and didn’t want to pay more. This noble sacrifice for a husband’s honour was just a guise.

“To tell of Jesus who sacrificed himself for them, was so poignant,” she says.

Whose perspective will Deanna use to tell the story in her one-woman play? You’ll have to come to The Gathering to find out!

BC Yukon Regional Minister search

June will be a month of many changes: the strawberries will start to ripen, the days will begin to shorten again, Jeremy Bell shall retire as Executive Minister, Rob Ogilvie will become our new Executive Minister and some lucky duck will become the new BC & Yukon Regional Minister. 

A search committee is in the process now of reviewing a good number of strong applicants, and will begin the first round of interviews in early April. 

“We really appreciated the amount and quality of applications,” says Kayely Rich chair of the search committee. The committee has received nearly a dozen serious applications. “They’re quality people who have great ministry and life experience. They’re names we know because we’ve seen them in other contexts.”

It’s encouraging for the committee to see such a strong number of applications from within the denomination. “It really shows that we have a group of people who care about our denomination and want to be part of the future. It’s a great sign of health, to have people who have been part of our tribe want to be part of leadership,” Kayely says.

The regional minister position is a first responder for churches. They’re the first contact for everything from serious crises to the more mundane resourcing needs, so it’s important to have someone with the interpersonal skills to respond to whatever comes up. 

“It’s a lot about trying to find a right fit, rounding out the rest of the leadership team.”

First interviews take place over a video conference, and second interviews will be conducted in person. The committee is aiming to have a decision made by mid-April.