Written by: Martha Lynn Coon
This Easter season, as we consider the story of the Resurrection, I’d like to spend some time thinking about linen. More specifically, the fabric that bound the body of Jesus and on which his body lay in the rock hewn tomb in Jerusalem. I’m not sure why this piece of the Resurrection narrative is so resonant with my heart this year, but as the spring season emerges, bits and pieces of the why are beginning to emerge.
For context, here is the scriptural description from the Gospel of John regarding the state of the Empty Tomb when Peter encountered it after hearing Jesus’ body was no longer present:
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) -John 20:1-9, NIV
The passage goes on to describe Mary’s grief over the missing body, and her
eventual encounter with the risen Christ as a figure she does not recognize at
first, but quickly comes to realize is Jesus and He speaks a word of wisdom and
encouragement to nurture her grieved heart.
But the bindings are the thing that have stayed with me, and the more I
sat with that, the more I realized it felt deeply connected to and with our
work. As this project persists, again
and again it seems the heart of what we do is to advocate for the continued
practice of real, incarnate Christian community and gathering amidst an
increasingly inhospitable climate.
Last week I was sent links to articles about “downloadable” Communion, religions using robots to connect with the public, and a compelling article from the Atlantic about the slowly revealed fallacy among Millenials that work has replaced religion as the place they’ve been taught to go for fulfillment, purpose, and connectivity. Some days the onslaught of information about how lost we seem and how deeply the church seems to flounder in this time of seismic cultural change is downright depressing. And then I consider the linen.
Jesus’ body, entombed, was bound by strips of cloth. Like those strips of linen, who are we and what are we to do in order to hold the body of Christ? As Christians charged with holding together the legacy of one man’s radical life and love, what is our job? This spring I’ve been more and more convicted that at the most basic level, our job is to keep this body bound by remaining interconnected. Gathering in the flesh. Checking in on each other’s lives, and encouraging one another. When God’s kindom has come, our work will be done and, like the strips of linen, these practices can fall away. But only then. Until that time, our job is to be together in whatever way we can find.
The ways we’re practicing that this spring in the Collective are by holding space for food and conversation, which we’ve done twice this spring and will do twice again this summer. These Communal Dinners are not “checking up” on each other’s work, they are times to rejoice together and sometimes commiserate, but most importantly, they are times to be and do the thing that we want to call into the world, that is, a refreshed and re-committed way of being God’s church in the world for generations under-served or under-represented in many church settings, and hopefully, generations to follow.
One other way we’ve practiced this commitment is through communal song. In our first 787 Studio event in early April, thirteen people gathered on a warm spring night in Shelton Chapel to be led in song by the fantastic song leader Josh Blaine. Josh heads the organization Finding Our Voice and leads community song circles every two weeks in the Capitol Rotunda. It was one of the first warm days of spring, and by 7 pm when we started, the chapel felt warm and a little stuffy. So we opened the doors wide on every side. As we sat in a circle at the front of the church by the altar, bit by bit our souls loosed by the power of pure song, with no books, sheet music, or accompaniment, that sort of spiritual magic that happens when people gather in earnest and make themselves vulnerable began to occur. The heat of the day gave way to a cool night, and a breeze picked up. Some people walking by the chapel stopped to listen. The breeze grew into a wind that we could hear and feel. Something about being there, singing with the doors wide open, felt a little wild, a little edgy, and also, somehow, exactly right.