For ten years I photographed weddings. Then I became a minister. These two vocations make my working years look like book ends with me standing at both the front and the rear of the chapel.
When people hear that I have been a wedding photographer and a minister they summarize my work experience as “one who is able to take pictures, read the Bible, and drink coffee”.
They might as well tell me that I know nothing about life or people or real work.
As a wedding photographer, I dealt with a myriad of personalities each Friday and Saturday. Many times I had never met the bridal couple or attendants until I walked through the door.
I would arrive at the bride’s home and, within five minutes, I would have memorized 15-20 people’s names. I then needed to juggle the demands and personalities of those 15-20 people over the next 8-10 hours while still doing my “job”. In addition, most of them had started drinking by 9 A.M.
Over the years, I had many experiences of juggling those personalities alongside my photographer duties. As a photographer, I was also the wedding coordinator, problem solver, anxiety calmer, and only rational thinking person there. I pinned boutonnieres, straighten ties, and fluffed dresses while simultaneously looking for the best lighting in the room.
I had groomsmen moon me, bridesmaids pass out in the bathroom before the bridal dance, and cakes collapse. I photographed Christian weddings, Jewish weddings, atheist weddings and Gothic weddings. I also photographed two arranged marriages and a mail order bride wedding (not kidding)!
I dealt with angry, drunk people. Happy drunk people. And a few sober ones. I had wedding parties that hugged everyone including me. And I had in-laws that wouldn’t be in the same room which, of course, made those group photos loads of fun!
Then, one day, I was standing at the front of the chapel officiating the wedding instead of photographing it. Pastors do more than officiating weddings though. But some people seem to believe we do little more than preach sermons, teach bible study, and drink coffee.
Although I confess, I do drink a lot of coffee!
As a pastor, I do preach and teach the Bible which means I also need to read it. However, there’s also the people element involved that your average Joe never considers about your job.
I have had church members yell at me over light fixtures, coffee pots, and toilet paper. I have counseled people about marriage, divorce, and children. And I have cleaned toilets, shoveled walkways, and replaced smoke detector batteries.
I have sat with people as they have walked through some of their best days and some of their worst days. I’ve been with them after they were told about cancer, learned their loved one was dead or were served divorce papers.
I’ve counseled people on the verge of divorce, people grieving their infertility, and people wrestling with how to tell their family they were gay. I’ve helped people file for food stamps, give their child up for adoption, and turn themselves over to the police.
I have visited jails and prisons. I have fed the homeless in Brightmoore and Cass Corridor. And I’ve kissed newborn babies.
Someone asked me recently how a friend would describe me and what I do. I told them my friends would say I was deliberative and idealistic. The person thought I was overthinking it.
But now that I have had time to think about it…
My friend would say that, despite all the ugliness I have seen in this world, I’m still an idealist who believes people matter to God. And I drink a lot of coffee!
A few years ago, my friend was in a serious automobile accident. EMS arrived on the scene and they had to call for the Jaws of Life to cut her out of the car. My friend’s wounds were relatively minor in comparison to the wreckage. The seatbelt had cut into her skin, though, and there was blood everywhere. Since EMS couldn’t tell where the blood was coming from, they put a neck brace on her, strapped her to a backboard, and whisked her away in an ambulance.
Once they were at the hospital, the medical staff cut her pants off to find the blood. My friend then said to me, “Jo, there is no dignity when they’re trying to save your life”.
On Good Friday, we are reminded that there is no dignity when Jesus is saving our lives. Darkness covers the land and Jesus cries out in a loud voice. He has been beaten, stripped, and mocked for all to see.
And when Jesus cried out again on the cross, He gave up His spirit.
We can think of it as Jesus sending His spirit out or casting it out from Him. Often, the Church uses this passage to imply that Jesus was separated from the rest of the Godhead. I confess I have even taught this perspective. However, Jesus was not separated from the rest of the Godhead. It’s not theologically or ontologically possible. He is one eternal, indivisible God. He cannot abandon Himself.
The same is true for us. God cannot and will not abandon us. It’s not in His nature. His nature is to love and love means He is sticking it out with us to the end.
It might help us, in our humanness, if we think of Jesus stretching forth His spirit. A few weeks ago, we talked about the parting of the Red Sea. There, Moses records how the sea was rent or torn open. It was divided. It was divided and they passed through the waters.
The gospel writer wants us to make the connection between the parting of the Red Sea and the parting of the Temple curtain. Moses stretched out his hand [staff] and the sea was divided. We identified Moses’ staff as symbolic of the Spirit’s power. In other words, Moses stretched for the Spirit and the sea separated. Likewise, Jesus casts out His spirit as if stretching forth a proverbial hand. And the Temple curtain is separated; torn in two from top to bottom.
At that moment, when Jesus stretches out his proverbial hand, three things happened. First, the curtain was torn. It was torn in two so we could pass through. We can pass through and enter the holy of holies. We can be in the presence of God. The curtain was not torn to allow God into our presence. It was torn to allow us into His presence.
At that moment, when Jesus stretched out His spirit, the earth shook and the rocks split. First, it was Jesus who was crying out. Now, Creation was crying out in response to her Creator. She was singing His praise. Just as Jesus predicted in Luke 19:40
If they keep quiet, then the rocks will cry out!
At that moment, when Jesus stretched out His spirit, a third thing happened. The tombs broke open. They broke open in preparation for what was coming; the resurrection. It’s worded strangely here. But it appears that after Jesus was resurrected, these saints were also resurrected. It was a resurrection, though. It is different from what we see when Lazarus is raised from the dead. Lazarus will die again. But these saints experience the same resurrection as Jesus.
At that moment, Jesus stretched out his hand. And, at this moment, Jesus continues to stretch forth His hand through the power of the Holy Spirit. The tombs are broken open and we live as people who are resurrected (with God’s power).
And we help usher in the Kingdom of God as we wait for the final resurrection of the dead.
I have a confession. I love the Church!
So many people are talking about her with so much disdain. And it makes my heart break. She may be broken, but she is beautiful! And I love her!
I think the biggest problem is that we see her through our individualistic worldview. We see one person or a few people who do not reflect Christ and we turn and criticize the Body of Christ. Is that how we also treat ourselves?
What do you see when you look in the mirror?
When you look in the mirror, do you see all of your flaws? Do you have anxiety over your weight? Your hair? Your skin color? Do you tell yourself that you are fat, skinny, ugly, bald, hairy, or flabby?
What about those who love you? Do they notice those things? I think they see your beauty. They see your generosity. Your tenderness. Your kindness. They see your strength. Your persistence. Your fierce love. They see who you are to the depths of your spirit.
This is what I see when I look at the Church. I see her generosity. I see her tenderness. I see her kindness and her fierce love. I see her persistence in the midst of brutal rejection. I see her determination to love anyway.
I see when she gives up grocery money to help someone in need. I see her love the children that no one else will love. I see her welcome the one who has used up all their “free passes” with their biological family. I see her bind the wounds of those broken by a cold, bitter world.
I see her bleed and weep for those who have been cast aside. I have even seen her weep for me!
The Church is broken, but She is beautiful! She radiates the love of God to a broken world. She has been the tangible expression of the hand of God in my life. And in the lives of so many I know.
If you have been hurt by the Church, I hope you will take a chance on her once again. I hope you will see past the gray hair, the wrinkles, warts, and the broken places. I hope you will see into the depths of her soul. I hope you will see Christ shining through. I hope you will stick around long enough to experience her fierce love that changes everything it touches.
Come. See the beauty of the Bride of Christ. She is the only true witness to the glory of God.