As the evenings get darker and the calendar flips to December, I’ve been thinking about the past year and all it has held for us. What words do I want to end the year with? What words do I want to hold on to into the new year?
This has been a year of many new beginnings and some endings, many moments of joy and some of grief, and in the midst of all of it, grace. Sometimes grace found me like a splash of cold water across the face, but sometimes in was the small shadow creeping up from behind, surprising me softly. Mostly I have found it in the quiet, glad moments that are hard to describe in any other way than a deep welling up of gratefulness.
What has been most surprising about this year is the way it has been exactly and yet nothing at all like I expected. I saw this as a year of growth and it has certainly been so. Yet the word I chose for this year was “beauty,” and this beauty has turned out to mostly come from places I wasn’t even looking for it.
You see, more than anything else I have been struck anew this year with a love for the beauty of the Church. Not just “my” church, not just my culture’s church, but THE Church, the body of Christ reaching across time and language and denomination and continent. The Church with all of her imperfections, fractions, and historical baggage. And certainly, the Church that exists in the believers around me, here in my specific point in time and coordinates.
I resonate with the words of Eugene Petersen:
“But gradually I learned. I learned that growing up in Christ entails a lot of growing pains. I learned that the ‘ontological Church’ is the reality in which we worship and become community, and that maturity consists in a long, unhurried, prayerful life of becoming reconciled to God and one another, and in the process realizing that each of us is part of a ‘whole structure ‘ and is not permitted to impatiently ‘go it alone,’ leaving the slower or unpromising ones behind.”
We, the Church, are bound together in the same destiny as the body of Christ. All of our differences will one day melt away as we crowd around joyfully singing the songs we have been practicing for this moment alone – Holy, Holy, Holy.
In the meantime, we are here, surrounded by real people who are real saints and yet who we find we often love imperfectly and half-heartedly. We are here, faced with unanswered questions and silent sorrows and knowing that all our attempts at justice and righteousness are still incomplete. And yet? In this knowledge we find the seeds for a beautiful humility, the “unhurried, prayerful life of being reconciled to God and one another.” It is the life of ever-expanding grace.
We, the Church, practice this grace with one another as we prepare for that great and most beautiful day of all.
We are practicing resurrection.