As we celebrated the 90th anniversary of our founding in 2018, I am delighted and overjoyed to report that we continue to grow and thrive as a congregation. To give only a few examples: Over the past year, 105 new members joined us, more that 530 people on average attend our services each weekend, and our membership (1,671 members) is the largest it has been in several years.
However, the good news of 2018 is not just that we got bigger, but that we have gone deeper in our faith. Depth cannot be measured as easily as growth. We cannot count the challenges we meet faithfully, or the love we give unconditionally, or the forgiveness we practice unreservedly, or the grace we share freely. We only know depth to the extent we feel it in our lives and see it in others. And, having listened to and walked with so many of you, I know that in all these ways, and more, we have have gone deeper in our faith as a congregation.
This new depth, I believe, comes from the fact that, just as our founders hoped, we are each finding new life in our fourfold vision, that we would be a place where we meet Jesus, find Joy, share Beauty, and serve Others. Focusing on depth is the best way to honor what our founders did, as only people deeply passionate about the Gospel could found a church as magnificent as ours.
In 2018, we began going deeper by inviting a local artist, Daniel Cascardo, to paint a beautiful mural at the Eucharist before our 2018 annual meeting. As I preached, Daniel painted, and when I was finished, an outline of a Resurrected Jesus and four icons representing our fourfold vision appeared. Over Lent, members of the parish — adults and children — took turns coloring in the outline. Unveiled on Easter Day, the powerful image of Resurrection was a visible reminder of what God did on the first Easter and of what God has in store for us as people of the Resurrection.
The Resurrection is not simply a reminder that the story of Christianity has a happy ending. Rather, it reveals to us that we experience Christ’s victory over the grave whenever we live out our Baptismal vows (BCP 302) — when we turn away from whatever brings death, sin, and the devil into our lives and turn toward Jesus as our life, our lord, and our liberator. By following the way of Jesus, we go with the grain of Christ’s love and the Gospel’s grace in the world, and we participate in Christ’s Resurrection. The very same power that raised Christ from the dead flows through us, raising us to the new life God promises us in Christ.
Therefore, the Resurrection is not a reward given in the distant future, but a promise that the future is now. On Easter Day last year, a powerful reminder of this mystery happened in my sermon. I walked up to the completed painting and pointed out the outline of a figure in a wheelchair. The figure was a reference to Stevie Beer, who had recently passed away. Stevie was someone who embodied fully the Resurrection in his life, and I had initially mentioned him when Daniel was tracing his outline. Though limited physically, Stevie was a giant spiritually. He was truly a Christlike person who somehow brought out the best in others.
Unbeknownst to me, Stevie’s sister, Vanessa, who lives in Ann Arbor and is not a member of Christ Church Cranbrook, decided that same morning to come to our Easter service. She heard the tribute to her brother and burst into tears. She later wrote:. “It is so heartwarming to know the painting is there as a remembrance of all that the church meant to Stevie and what he meant to it’s members.”
This painting, then, already depicts us as we were at a point in time. Yet, because the Resurrected Christ is at the center of the painting, it reminds us that, as much as we are a historic church of the past, God is already leading us deeper in our faith to the present and future he has prepared for us. We may not know what the future will be precisely, but we do know that, through Christ, it is assured. May we continue to go deeper as we faithfully walk in 2019.