Sunday, April 08, 2012

The Falls Church Episcopal: A Full Church Remembers the Empty Tomb

Walking through the doors of the Historic Falls Church this morning - our congregation's first day of worship on that property in more than five years - I had no idea what to expect.

Plans were in place for a large turnout, and we even had an option available if we were confronted by someone with a gripe against us and the Episcopal Church and who chose our service as the time to make a vocal statement of opposition. The signage was in place, the nursery was staffed and stocked with activities, and the police officer tasked with getting people safely across the street was stationed on East Fairfax Street.

Everything was ready, and yet I still didn't know what to expect. Truth be told, the whole situation felt a bit surreal. Amy, the girls and I were part of the nearly 80 percent of our congregation who joined TFCE after the 2007 split, and we were all returning "home" to a place we had never attended. Some I spoke with likened it to being tourists who had just been dropped off by our bus and were waiting to enter a historic site to take some pictures and enjoy a tour.

As I stood on the lawn of the church, snapping photos of fellow parishioners and enjoying the spirit of excitement, enthusiasm and joy flowing between and among those who were arriving, I kept hearkening back to some of what's happened in the past. The misconceptions and untruths being circulated about TFCE, from everything ranging from our financial viability to the size of our congregation. Comments from those like Mike McManus who, as recently as three days ago in Virtue Online, claimed that the Episcopal Church is prohibiting the Anglican congregation from the free exercise of religion and who opined, "Shortly after Easter, our 3,000 members must abandon the facility, valued at $10+ million, turn over vestments, prayer books and even our bank account to less than 100 people who remained loyal to TEC. We will have to worship in a high school. This is wrong."

I have been in the communications field long enough - and am enough of a history buff - to recognize and freely acknowledge that all media is slanted, all opinions are designed to favor one group over another, and that all history is written by the winners. As such, nothing that has been said surprises me, no matter how much it pains and disappoints me. And as surprising as this may be to some, I agree with Mr. McManus: this is wrong.

Yes, Mr. McManus, it is wrong - wrong that in the midst of a five-year legal battle, the rumors that continue to be perpetuated and the stories being spread have overshadowed why we are ALL here, are ALL Christians, and are ALL gathering this Easter Sunday: the empty tomb. Easter Sunday should be about the celebration of Christ's resurrection and about the event that makes us who we are as God's people, providing us with the salvation and redemption that God gives freely as the result of the death of His son. Easter Sunday should be about Jesus' triumph over death and the cross.

For me, this Easter Sunday WAS and IS about that, despite what others may say. Plenty of people are anxious - in the words of the Gospel writers - to tear down the Temple, but are reluctant to build it back up. If the last five years have led me to reflect on anything, it is John 11:35.

"Jesus wept."

Yes, the last five years have made Jesus weep. Not for the loss of property or finances or leaving one denomination and aligning with another. Jesus has wept because of the way his children have acted. Jesus has wept because of the hateful words that have been spoken. Jesus has wept because of the way people who were once friends have turned their backs on one another.

All of this was weighing on my mind before this morning's service. But if Jesus wept over the past five years, today He was smiling - and we at TFCE were smiling as nearly 400 people packed the pews ("filled to overflowing", as reported by the Falls Church News Press). Apprehension melted away as nearly 400 voices were raised in unison with the first notes of the processional hymn. Concern about what may happen was replaced by the joy of seeing so many smiling, joyful people. Fear faded as Holy Baptism was held for the newest member of the Christian family. And the tears of the past several years - the tears of hurt and frustration - were replaced by tears of joy as families and friends, young and old alike, were led into the church by 98-year-old Jessie Thackrey, our matriarch and a woman who, despite her frailty, was determined to walk - rather than take her wheelchair - up the front steps and through the narthex door.

And at the end of the day, the real meaning of Easter was as clear and evident as ever.

The tomb is empty.

Christ is Risen.

The Lord is Risen indeed.