Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Ash Wednesday, the Post-Anxiety Church, Putting on Christ

Craig Barnes' Faith Matters article, "The Post-Anxiety Church" in the February 3rd issue of the Christian Century struck a chord in me.  I think it will with you as well.   Two lines that may perk your interest:  "The church has never looked less attractive than when it dresses in anxiety...Little good comes from getting fixated on the empty pews..."  I highly recommend reading his article.  https://www.christiancentury.org/article/2016-01/post-anxiety-church   

How do we become a post-anxiety church?  One which frets not, but lives out its calling of following Jesus and joining him in his mission of bringing the reign of God to earth. The antidote for the anxiety which generates the worst in us, it seems, is at the heart of our faith.  The early church addressed its fear by enacting its faith in the baptismal liturgy.  Barnes writes, "Those who were about to enter the church would take off their old clothes as a means of putting off the old, anxiety-ridden life and walk down into the water.  The waiting priest would place them under the water saying, 'Buried with him in baptism.'  As they rose the priest continued, 'Risen to new life in Christ.'  They put on new clothes as a symbol of putting on Christ.  The rationale for this burial form of baptism was to make the members of the church go through 'dying' and get it over with.  Once they were no longer anxious about Caesar's persecutions of the church, they were free to boldly proclaim the gospel.  You can't scare dead people." 

This is why when I am invited to lead worship I often begin at the baptismal font, pour water into the font and remind us who we are.  The baptized have already died in Christ.  What more can anyone do to us?  We have been raised to live boldly.  There are so many scared, fearful, anxiety filled, unhealthy, ill persons, congregations, denominations today.  We see it in anger filled rhetoric in political campaigns and in fear filled conversations in the church about our congregation's and our denomination's future. Yet, we are called to this ministry. 

So this Ash Wednesday and season of Lent, I challenge, encourage, and invite you to claim again the core of our faith.  This Ash Wednesday, as you receive ashes on your forehead, let those ashes represent the death of your fear.  As Barnes reminds, "You can't scare dead people."  Let that anxiety die in Christ.  Engage the spiritual practices of this season of Lent to help you examine your fear, as in the early church's baptismal liturgy, and lay aside the old clothes of your "anxiety-ridden life" and prepare you for putting on Christ.  

Barnes concludes, "the church belongs to Jesus, and its future is in his hands.  Fretting about the viability of our denominations only distracts us from the only thing that has ever given us purpose--keeping up with Jesus."  

Yours in Christ,