By Bishop Jeremy Greaves:
Best-selling author Anne Lamott’s 2017 book subtitled ‘Rediscovering Mercy’ struck me, most of all, because of its title. Referencing Candi Staton’s great gospel song, ‘Hallelujah anyway’ (which can be listened to on YouTube) Lamott writes, “Hallelujah that in spite of it all, there is love, there is singing, nature, laughing, mercy.”
I was reminded of Lamott’s book at Easter this year as we gathered across our Diocese, masked up, with our ‘Hallelujahs’ somewhat muffled.
After a roller-coaster ride through Holy Week wondering “will they?” and “won’t they?” extend or lift the lockdown, many of us arrived at Easter Day exhausted and uncertain while knowing that compared to so many places we got off lightly.
“Hallelujah that in spite of it all, there is love, there is singing, nature, laughing, mercy.” “Hallelujah anyway!!”
In This is God’s Table: Finding Church Beyond the Walls, The Rev’d Anna Woofenden, a pastor ministering on the outskirts of Los Angeles, tells the story of a community of people – wealthy and poor, old and young, housed and unhoused – that found itself, quite unexpectedly, forming around gardening, eating and worshipping together. One of the focal points of Garden Church, which she founded, became the compost heap:
“… it takes all sorts of things that are leftover, done, used, and dying – food scraps, peels, dried leaves, stale bread, even your shredded newspaper – and it turns them into rich soil. It doesn’t have to be fancy, it just needs to be purposeful. You put it all in a bin and let nature do its thing.”
The more Woofenden learned about the mysterious processes of decomposition, the more the compost pile became not just a focal point of Garden Church’s gatherings, but a focal metaphor for their understanding of God: the Divine Composter, who calls us to surrender both our despair at what we can’t change, and our temptations to heroic imaginings about what we think we can change, and interrupts, disrupts and breaks them down to the point that the things we once clung to rigidly become as “mushy as an overripe banana”:
“God takes all that has been, all that we’ve used, our best bits and our slimy bits, the endings in our lives and the pain of loss, the tantalizing crumbs from our joyful moments and the leftovers we’ve kept for too long. God takes all of that and says, ‘Okay, great, let’s see what we can do with it next!’”
God takes it all and says, “Let’s see what we can do with it next!”
All of the brokenness, the violence, the hatred, all of the things that the world seems to say “Yes” to over and over and over…all those things are met with God’s “No” – none of those things get the final word. None of those things can keep God confined to the tomb. None of those things can defeat the love that is demonstrated in Jesus’ outstretched arms on the cross.
This past couple of weeks has shown us just how challenging the impact of COVID-19 will continue to be for some time. Our muffled “Hallelujah’s” nonetheless rang out across our parishes, from the biggest to the smallest, and it was so good to see the way that people everywhere worked to make sure liturgies were well prepared, our buildings looked their best and the gospel of the resurrection was proclaimed.
As Bishop Michael Curry wrote recently:
“Our work goes on. Our labour for love continues. We will not cease, and we will not give up until this world reflects less our nightmare and more God’s dream where there’s plenty good room for all God’s children.”
And as we roll up our sleeves and continue labouring for Love’s sake, may we have the courage to proclaim together with the first witnesses to the resurrection and all those who have followed over the centuries, “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!”
First published on the anglican focus news site on 6 April 2021.