Which flowers fit at the front of a church service? This is not simply a question of aesthetics.
In these fading flowers I see hints of my impermanence, weakness, and readiness to wilt. There are echoes of beauty and a garden in which I belonged.
Yet, if this were the central display (unlike this incredible array) you’d begin to wonder about the church. Are they cheap, is there something wrong, did someone forget to switch the flowers or are they indifferent to aesthetics?
I continue to think about the foundation we are laying for a new church in Worcester and see the continued temptation to lay a foundation other than the cross of Jesus. On the cross the world’s violence, ugliness, anger, and injustice is clearly seen as humankind strikes back against its maker. The cross also tells of our complete inability to rescue ourselves, make our way to God, or set things right by our own power, goodness or wisdom. Only the seeming weakness, foolishness, and injustice of a crucified savior can reverse course – healing the human soul, mending a fractured world. It is easy to look for something more attractive, progressive, quantifiable, and understandable than the cross. There is the longing for a church that is all beauty and no ugliness, strength without weakness, and wisdom without paradox.
Am I content to place the wilting flowers at center stage? Do I plan on suffering and weakness as the means for knowing God’s presence and blessing others? Do I expect God to reveal himself to me and others in the midst of evil and sin? This is what transpired on the cross.
The cross was not the end of the story. In the Christian scriptures Jesus’ death and resurrection are held together as the two sides of a single coin, yet it is much easier for me to imagine the resurrection shaping my ministry. I think of victory over sin and death. I think of God’s restorative, live giving power unleashed in this world and imagine a church alive – resplendent with flowers in full bloom. Yet, this life only comes after passing through the grave. It is first the cross and then the crown.
I think specifically of the phrase, “ministering out of weakness,” which different pastors have said to me. One pastor spoke of the unexpected death of his son and the significant ministry arising from being cared for as a participant in a grief group. This does not somehow make the suffering good, or more worthwhile, but shows a small piece of the cross where the mystery of God’s grace is at work.
How will I strive to hold onto the cross and have it shape our church? Probably not in the way I expect
*Many of these thoughts are tied to concepts drawn from Martin Luther who speaks of a “theology of the cross” versus a “theology of glory.” Here’s a brief sketch which I’ve appreciated.