Long Live Life!

Ed Horstmann

 

1918 was the year of the last global pandemic. Hilda Ives’ husband was one of the millions of people who died from influenza that year and suddenly she was left with a family to support by herself.

In the midst of Hilda’s grief she experienced an awakening; a friend of hers described it this way: “In the days and months of her bereavement she came gradually to find a new power in the Christian faith until finally it took possession of her almost in the sense of a religious conversion.” Out of that crucible of transformation, Hilda Ives decided to become a pastor.

In 1926 she was ordained in the Congregational Church and for the next forty years expressed her faith through service at local, national, and international levels. She faced obstacles at every step of the way. Fewer than two percent of all Congregational clergy were women at that time, and were not given equal treatment with their male counterparts. Yet she persevered, and her autobiography, All in One Day: Experiences and Insights, includes stories about her career as a pastor in rural Maine.

In one of those stories she described a meeting she had with a church leader in the first congregation that called her to serve as its pastor. Clearly this man did not believe that Hilda’s presence would make any difference to that struggling fellowship. “This church is dead,” he said. “Just as dead as it can be. And every pastor they send us is worse than the one before, and the last one is always the worst of all.” This man was clearly never inducted into the Church Hospitality Hall of Fame! And he was in for quite a surprise.

The same resurrection power that led Hilda Ives to the ministry out of a time of profound loss, also gave her the ability to bring strong leadership to a struggling church in rural Maine. And she went on to live out her faith in remarkable ways. She was a delegate to an international Christian conference in Madras, India in 1938 that became a precursor to the World Council of Churches. She was the first woman to serve on the faculty of Andover Newton Theological School in Newton Centre, Massachusetts, and she became a witness for peace with the American Friends Service Committee in Europe following the Second World War.

All of that life and faith, determination and love, emerged from a time of great sadness. But Hilda’s Easter moment brought her to a new vision of life: from despair to hope, from grief to healing. This transformation has been taking place in our world as we emerge from the devastating impact of a global pandemic and turn to a future that can be healthier and holier for all.

“In my end is my beginning…” said the poet T. S. Eliot. For us, too, an ending is becoming a beginning, as the ending of a global pandemic meets the beginning of a new world that will never be exactly like the world it was before COVID-19, but a world where God is calling us to fresh faith and a passion for justice. In the words of a prayer from the Book of Common Prayer: “let us make no peace with oppression.” Now is the time to infuse our faith with greater urgency: to become for others an experience of kindness, and to speak out more clearly on behalf of those whose lives have been made more fragile in the past year, or who have suffered discrimination. Now is the time to dedicate ourselves to the healing of the creation with as much vigor as we have dedicated ourselves to the healing of human lives from the impact of COVID-19.

“In my end is my beginning…” That’s how it was with the first Easter, too. It looked like the end: the end of a man’s life, of his message of love, and of the community that gathered around him. Yet beyond all expectations those endings turned into beginnings. The resurrection of Jesus led to the resurrection of his fellowship, and his disciples carried forward his mission of abundant life and love. Likewise, the dream of Jesus for God’s beloved community on earth did not become a casualty of crucifixion. When Martin Luther King Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in August 1963 to deliver his “I have a dream” speech, he was calling forth the first sermon of Jesus when he declared, “the Kingdom of God is in your midst!” These were uprisings of imagination from people who looked at the brokenness of the world and said, “It can be otherwise!”

God doesn’t let death have the last word. So long live life! May this Easter be the beginning of a new uprising when we turn to the future with the confidence of God and in the power of the Holy Spirit. Alleluia! Christ is Risen! Long live life!

 

The Rev. Dr. Ed Horstmann is the Senior Pastor of Round Hill Community Church. He enjoys making art and is an amateur questionologist.

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