A Message From The Rector - "God Help Us"
We are a couple of weeks into the Great Fifty Days of Easter and I’m still high on the joy of such a wonderful season. Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and Easter Sunday were rich with meaning and I hope you left engaged and inspired each time you worshipped here.
Easter is an opportunity to celebrate the faith we have, as well as the chance to invite seekers into our community. This year, I hope the invitation to join our faith family is more explicit and intentional, because I think the need is greater than it has been in living memory.
I made an apologetic plea to those outside our faith community in my Easter sermon and have already received some encouraging feedback. Christian apologetics is a branch of theology that seeks to provide a thoughtful defense for the Gospel. Although much of what we do as Christians can be thought of as a form of apologetics, I hoped to tackle some of the easiest criticisms of Christianity, and intend to continue that thread through the Easter Season.
One of the threads of thought I introduced was based on a recent survey of US adults. For the first time ever, surveys show that there are as many atheists as Catholics and Evangelicals in the US. The number of “nones,” those adults who do not identify with any faith group (atheist, agnostic, etc), has surged since the early 1970s, so now, they are statistically dead even with the other two largest faith groups.1
I’m guessing this report doesn’t surprise you. It’s no secret that church attendance in the US, and thus religious affiliation, has been declining for decades. The decline is across the board in every major US religious group (the exception would be the very statistically small, yet growing, Muslim population). Although this might sound more dire to those of us in a faith community like Saint Michael, I believe that every person, even those who identify as atheists or agnostics, should be very concerned.
As religious affiliation declines, the rates of illness has climbed. In almost every health category, studies show that those who are connected to a faith community are healthier, happier, and live longer. A recent Pew Research Center report shows that actively religious people are more likely than their non-religious neighbors to describe themselves as “very happy,” to join charitable and civic organizations, and to live longer.2
The research doesn’t stop there. Countless other studies and surveys have shown similar results. Psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky, a self-proclaimed atheist, reports that, “If you are having serious cardiac surgery and receive strength and comfort from your religious faith, you’ll be almost 3 times more likely to be alive 6 months later.”3 Scientists don’t know exactly why this is true, but they have their suspicions.
People who are connected to religious communities are simply less lonely. I don’t mean the feeling of loneliness—everyone feels that way every now and then—I mean that people who belong to religious communities are literally less alone. By their very nature, churches and other faith groups gather together regularly. People who attend those gatherings, whether they be for worship, study, or service, get to know other people and get to be known by other people in a much deeper way than those who are unaffiliated.
Personal connection is desperately important for all of us. There are countless social platforms and specialized technologies that allow for people to “connect” with others, but the dark side of those connections is that they are rarely life-giving. When we post and like and share, we get a shallow sense of connection. But when we hug a friend, sing together, share a laugh, or say a prayer, we connect in a very deep way. And that’s what I hope for all of you.
This connection becomes critical when we face the worst that this world can throw at us. Consider the devastating tragedy of the Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka. At the time of this writing, nearly 350 people died in the blasts that hit churches and hotels, while countless others are wounded and in critical condition.
These despicable acts, targeting innocent people as they gathered to worship on Easter, is almost more than we can fathom. But then we remember that Jesus said, “You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy (John 16:20).” We grieve when we see people hurt and when evil rears its ugly head. Pain and loss are a part of this earthly life, but I hope in the name of the Lord who will wipe away every tear and make all things new. Our Easter hope, and indeed the hope of the world, rests with the promise of God’s redemptive love.
This brings me to the real point of this article: We need one another. We need one another to share our lives. We need one another to laugh and to cry, to lift us up when we fall, and celebrate when we achieve. In addition, we need to know that we are not alone. The world can be a scary place when we feel disconnected, but when we find hope in one another and in God who loves us as we are, we can make the world a better place.
There are groups of good people all around you, good people who want to love you and need your love. Not because of anything you’ve done, but because God loved you first. There is a place for us here at Saint Michael, and we can make sure that everyone else feels like they belong here, too. This Easter, make sure that you extend the love of Christ to everyone you meet, and in doing so, I believe we can change the course of our world for the good.
The Rev. Dr. Christopher D. Girata