He is not here…he is going ahead of you

April 1, 2019
The Rev. Canon Heather L. Melton, Staff Officer for the United Thank Offering

But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.

— Matthew 28:5-8

Early on in my time as the UTO staff person, I would consistently get calls asking about applying for funding from UTO to deal with deferred maintenance in congregations. In all honesty, I still get a few from time to time. I try to explain that UTO was founded to fund ministries the Church budget hadn’t been expanded to include, and once it has been, UTO moves on to fund something else. Often this is met with the very real anguish of people trying very hard to find ways to keep their churches open and safe. I get that, I have worked in those congregations; however, this is not the work that Jesus has called us to do with UTO. The work of UTO is caught up in the belief that the resurrection is real and that new life can be found if we are simply brave enough to try to head out on the road.

In Matthew’s Gospel, while the disciples are locked away for fear of persecution, the women head out with fear and trepidation to do the work that their faith requires – to anoint the body and care for the grave. The women find the angel and are told that Jesus has gone ahead of them to Galilee. This is such a powerful and important story, and one of my touchstones for Christian living. We can get so caught up in how things were or ought to be that we miss that something new is happening in the midst of us or in spite of us. It is easy to grow fearful or frustrated about what to do next and miss that Jesus is begging us to come and find him. There’s that old joke about Episcopalians: “How many Episcopalians does it take to change a lightbulb? Change? We can’t change that lightbulb, that was given by my grandmother!” I often share that joke when working with congregations in distress because there is a deep truth about us found within it. I have often walked into a room full of things that cannot be parted with simply because they hold some memory of better times, while the congregation ignores the need in the community to use that space. Often, we get so afraid of change that we work ourselves to death to stay the same and miss that Jesus is calling us to something new.

One of the many things I love about UTO is that when it was founded, the women chose to go out on the road with Jesus and look for the new thing Jesus was doing in our Church. They did not look for Jesus within the things that were going well or the things that needed repairing simply for the sake of being repaired, but these women looked for him on the frontier of ministry. Sometimes, when I am needing a bit of inspiration, I like to look back at the UTO Grant list and think about all the big, crazy ideas congregations and dioceses have invited UTO to join them in out on the edge of ministry. Each year, I delight in hearing the excitement of grant applicants as they tell me about the new thing they are trying, and I often hear the fear and joy in their voices as they head out on the road to Galilee. Even this morning, I was delighted to get a picture of freshly poured concrete in Costa Rica to start a building project funded by UTO that was so far ahead on the road to Galilee that it took the hope and determination of all the companions in Rochester and Costa Rica who were involved to get to this moment.

UTO is a constant reminder to us that Jesus is just ahead of us on the road and all we have to do is move from fear, to fear mixed with joy, to find him. Fear mixed with joy is how I would describe my feelings about roller coasters, which aren’t that unlike lives lived in search of the risen Christ. So as Easter approaches, I hope you will see your Blue Box not only as a reminder to stop and give thanks for all the good things God is doing in the midst of your daily life, but also as a reminder to search for Jesus who is going on the road just ahead of you and calling you to come along.

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