“Now the green blade riseth from the buried grain…”
Interim/transitional music ministry and consulting is Easter work. And by ‘Easter’ I don’t mean the focus is solely on success, positive change, or growth. While some might offer churches a quick path to transformation or Seven Easy Steps to Worship Renewal, experience is showing me that healthy congregational processes require an encounter with loss and death.
Cycles of renewal and rebirth are visible all around us should we open our eyes to them. Like the Easter carol proclaims, grain rises out of wintery soil; the rich humus of what has died is a seedbed for new life. Perhaps we intuitively know that the church (the literal Body of Christ) will experience transition, metamorphosis, and even death. But we do not always live as Easter people and even resist what is inevitable, even as we praise the One who died and lives again.
Whether it’s the departure of a long-standing leader, a new style of music, or shifts in worship culture, change activates grief and anxiety within a community. And instead of leaning into the process, listening deeply, offering compassion to each other through the pain, we distract ourselves. Perhaps it’s easier to squabble over structure and style, to hold tight to our memories, our power, our privilege, our preferences…but they will eventually fall out of our cold, lifeless hands. We will die and the church that we know and love will die, too.
Alternatively, how might we cultivate faith communities that aren’t afraid to live into the reality of change, that embrace cycles of death and life? How might we create authentic community that safely holds and moves us through the anxiety and grief that sometimes sap the soul? Might we even learn to laugh together through the process (“O grave, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?") with hearts deeply rooted in Love, in the Life that always reveals itself anew. Always.
This is the vulnerable space we are called into as Easter people. It is not a triumphant power over or conquering of death, where winners and losers are clear and the stakes are high. But this is an invitation to notice that death and life are ever with us, personally and institutionally. The way to abundant Easter life is not avoiding death but, paradoxically, plunging into it. Rather than resist what is inevitable, we practice letting go and contribute to the process. By readying the soil for what will grow, we become part of birthing something new.
We cannot do it alone. We need the love and support of community to find our way. We need others to remind us that God is indeed ‘making all things new,’ that change and transformation are not futile. God’s life will break forth, whether we are ready or not.
There are no guarantees of success. There is no fear of failure. There is simply an invitation into relationship with the Risen One, who has already walked the way of death and life. And this One has promised to never leave us or forsake us.
All of us go down to the dust,
but even at the grave we make our song:
“Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!”
- from the Eastern Orthodox Funeral Service