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Easter’s Invitation to Community

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By Rev. Martin Elbert

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
– Jeremiah 29:11

The current issue of The Atlantic features an article in which the author, Peter Beinart, speculates about the correlation between church attendance and empathy. As regular churchgoing in America has declined over the last several decades, so has there been an increase in divisive politics, intolerance toward people different from ourselves and a cynical or bleak perspective on reality in general and on the American Dream in particular.

Beinart is quick to acknowledge that (just as your tenth grade science teacher taught you) correlation is not causation: the intersection of these two societal trends does not prove that the one is responsible for the other. But my intuition tells me that Beinart is on to something here.

Choosing to be part of a worshiping community changes you.

Drawing on the work of other researchers, Beinart offers a couple of guesses as to why folks who regularly participate in corporate worship might have a more open, hopeful and generous perspective on reality than those who do not. (In the interests of intellectual honesty, let me acknowledge that there are plenty of folks who attend church regularly who are neither open nor hopeful nor particularly generous. The church has lots for which to apologize, and I want to be on guard against whitewashing that or engaging in pious self-congratulation.) One possibility Beinart suggests is that, in church, we encounter a diversity of people, and these relationships broaden our perspective on reality. Another possibility is that reading the Bible (and, I suspect, reading other holy texts) together with responding prayerfully to it is a formative and a transformative exercise.

My own guess is that both explanations are correct. Fully half of the LGBTQ folks in my life are people whom I met in church (an amazing fact, when you consider that I used to work in the performing arts), and a still greater number of my interracial, inter-economic, inter-generational, and inter-political friendships come from the parishes to which my family and I have belonged. And there is little question in my mind that regularly hearing and wrestling with the great story found in scripture does shape us and free us.

Right now we are on the cusp of Holy Week and Easter. I want to suggest that this season of the church year is an invitation. It is an invitation to those of us who are already heavily invested in church to go still deeper, to learn even more about God, creation and our neighbor. And it is an invitation as well to those of us who are just beginning to dip our toes in faith’s waters, an invitation to those of us who are wondering if this whole church thing even has a place for people like us.

In both cases, the invitation is to step more fully into the Body of Christ. Or – more accurately – the invitation is to acknowledge more fully that you and I are already members of the Body of Christ.

Holy Week begins with Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. It continues with the Triduum, a single service that extends over three days, in which we witness Jesus’ last evening with his friends on Maundy Thursday, his crucifixion on Good Friday, and we journey to his empty tomb on the Easter Vigil. And that leads us to the mystery of Easter, to the risen Jesus standing among the women and breaking bread with his friends.

I’d like to invite you to come to church this Holy Week and Easter. Come worship with a community of people, many of whom, on the surface, couldn’t be much less like you: people thirty years older or thirty years younger than you; people whose skin is a different color; people whose gender identity is not your own; people whose politics or bank accounts or Facebook feeds or lawn signs look nothing like yours.

Join us as we tell the great story together.

As we gather, we may just find that, while our differences don’t fall away, they do become less of an obstacle to singing together and praying together and listening together and working together. We may just find that, thanks be to God, church has changed us.

Martin Elfert

About Martin Elfert

The Rev. Martin Elfert is an immigrant to the Christian faith. After the birth of his first child, he began to wonder about the ways in which God was at work in his life and in the world. In response to this wondering, he joined Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver, British Columbia, where he and his new son were baptized at the Easter Vigil in 2005 and where the community encouraged him to seek ordination. Martin served on the staff of the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Spokane, Wash. from 2011-2015. He is now the rector of Grace Memorial Episcopal Church in Portland, Oreg.

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