Jennifer Garrison Brownell
April 2, 2017
Do you read magazine covers in the check out line? Maybe you look over the impulse items, wondering if you need a nail clipper, a USB drive, a snickers bar. (At one store in my neighborhood, they keep a little stack of avocados by the checkout, and it’s surprising how often I discoever I COULD use an avocado after all when I’m standing there.) Do you look at your phone? Or go over your groceries again, double checking what’s in your cart against what’s on your list?
One thing I’m pretty sure you don’t do – which is the reason we have magazine covers and nail clippers in those lines is Just…. Wait…. In…. line. Just stand there, fully present to where you are, what you are doing. Feeling completely whatever standing in line in the grocery store brings up for you – boredom, fretting about the grocery bill, the judgment of the person in front of you and their cart full of sugary cereal?
When you’re in line at the grocery store you are nowhere, you are doing nothing. You are not yet in the car or on the bus, not yet sitting down to a meal. You are in between one thing and another. You are in a threshold place.
And you know, don’t you, why they put all those shiny distractions in the line, why there are mirrors in the elevator. Because we hate being in between. It’s frustrating being on the threshold, neither one place nor another.
Imagine him if you can. Lazarus, standing, blinking in the sunlight as his sisters and their friends move forward to help him, to unwrap the grave clothes that bind him. What was he was thinking, what was he feeling as he stood there, the cool air of the grave blowing against his back, the warm sun on his face, shielding his eyes from the light, wondering what had happened after all?
They told stories about him to be sure – some people say that after he was resurrected, Lazarus went to Greece, where he died again and his bones were moved to France in some political upheaval or other. Others say that he didn’t go to Greece at all, but sailed by another miracle from god in a boat with no rudder, oars or sail to france directly – or as directly as one can, all the way from one end of the Mediterranean Sea to the other.
Legends about what happened AFTER this moment abound, but we know nothing about what Lazarus was thinking in the moment he stood there, feeling the grave clothes pulled from his body by those he loved. The moment between the grave and the birth. The moment between the resurrection and the life. The threshold.
Because there was a pause, even if it was just a breath’s worth, an uncomfortable moment that was neither one thing nor another.
In the first scripture reading, Ezekiel says of the dry bones that “there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them.”
That’s the moment I’m talking about. The flesh is on the bones, but the there’s no breath in the body yet. It’s a moment of uncomfortable pause, of being neither here nor there.
A man got a new job. This is his dream job at the perfect place for him, in the city he has dreamed of living his whole adult life. After some years of tomb-like difficult conditions, the news of the move is like a, no is not even “like a” IS, a resurrection. But before the new life, there is an uncomfortable inbetween time – packing and putting projects to bed and saying goodbye and the million and one details of moving. He is on the threshold, one foot in the shadows of the old life, blinking in the sunshine of what is new. He wants this time to be over right now, wants to begin the resurrection as soon as possible. But as uncomfortable as it is, he must do this – take a few breaths in the uncomfortable threshold place that is no longer there and yet not quite here.
I knew someone who had cancer – it was very serious. Everyone told her that her time on earth was short. She spent all her money, said goodbye to here children and grandchildren and then, know one really knew how, got better. Good news! And also, a recalibration was required, as she stood on the threshold of that old life and the new one. Who would she be now? What would she do? She took a breath, and then another, felt the discomfort of the inbetween place, and then she could move forward.
We as a congregation are in this place. We died last year, on May 25, when our church caught fire. We are beginning movement on a rebuild – the resurrection. What will the new life be? We don’t know yet, we cant know yet. We are uncomfortable in this inbetween place, on the threshold between what was and what will be, one foot in the shadow of the grave, our faces in the sun. Important not to try to rush through the discomfort of this moment – allow ourselves to be in it. To breathe in, to breathe out.
Luckily we are in good company. I got to hear a great sermon a couple weeks ago, as we said goodbye to our conference minister, Walter John Boris. Pastor Jen Butler of First Congregational UCC in Corvallis reminded us that Phyllis Tickle says that the whole church, every 500 years or so, has a rummage sale, brings everything outside into the driveway, lays it in the sun, tries to decide what to keep and what to toss. Jen says we are in the middle of that rummage sale right now. A death has happened– we are no longer the defacto way to spend Sunday morning. A resurrection has happened – we have committed to rising again, we are here, the gathered community of Christ when we could be so many other places. The body has flesh on this bones. What do we do from here? Take a breath. Feel the discomfort of it. Only then will we be ready to move forward into the new life.
You know, we don’t need a big move, a surprising diagnosis, a fire to be here. Every moment of every day, we are stepping forth from the old life, the dead life that is behind. Every moment of every day, the resurrection has already happened. How will you move into the new life that is your birthright, God’s promise? Take a breath, feel the discomfort and then move forward, on shaky legs if they are shaking, walking and first and then running, running, running. Toward new life. New life.