by Erin Grasse
Ash Wednesday is one of my favorite holidays because I find something immensely comforting about being reminded that one day I will die. I don’t know many other people who feel the same way, and I think that a lot of that has to do with the fact that even though we rejoice in knowing that in Jesus death is no longer a final destination so much as a rest stop, we still cling to the idea that it’s something bad. Jesus can’t just die; he has to conquer death. He has to have victory over it. Death has to be defeated in a knockout fight and stay down while the angels count to ten and the crowd of souls goes wild, all so that we can be more comfortable with the idea that this life isn’t all there is. To be sure, having hope for a resurrection isn’t a bad thing by any means. But neither is death.
The United Methodist Church has been dying for years. On the outside, it looks like we’re growing. On the inside, we’ve been poisoning our collective body with policies and practices that proclaim that everyone is made in the image of God, endowed with unique and beautiful gifts, and woven together with a call to partner alongside God for the transformation of the world, except for the people who aren’t. We’re slowly being crushed to death under the weight of our own hypocrisy, all while we desperately entertain the idea that bigotry and God’s love can exist in the same space because we’ve convinced ourselves that some have prayerfully arrived at the conclusion that the two are synonyms. Up until now, we’ve been trying to heal a deeply septic infection by simply eating more bananas and praying about it, but now there’s no need for that because General Conference has declared that we’re not sick. We don’t need medicine because there is nothing to cure; we merely need to purge ourselves of the toxins that insist otherwise.
Adopting the Traditional Plan is the United Methodist Church’s way of defiantly screaming to the world that we’re not dying. A life of division, fracture, and conflict is far more preferable than submitting to death because we know that if we were to take Jesus seriously, that death would involve transformation. We know that if we took up our cross of homophobia and were crucified by the collective acknowledgment that we have done unconscionable violence to our siblings made in the image of God, we wouldn’t come out the same on the other side. We know that if we spent three days in the tomb repenting, imagining, and confessing, we could no longer remain the church we’ve always been. We know that if we allowed ourselves to be resurrected it would be on God’s terms instead of ours, and we would no longer be able to prescribe that everyone be made in the image of our false idols of heteronormativity and cissexism. We cannot accept our death because to do so would mean stepping into a new life whose parameters we can’t control, and so we would rather go on hemorrhaging and let Jesus pass us by.
Don’t be afraid of death, UMC. Easter always follows Ash Wednesday.
Erin Grasse is a 3rd-year M.Div. student at Claremont School of Theology.