God is here among us.
God is love in the midst of us.
Gracious God, bring us to light and life.
(Paraphrase – from The Book of Alternative Services, The Anglican Church of Canada, pg. 213)
Liminality has become one of my favorite words: not only do I like how it sounds, I like what it means.
Liminality is a word that has come into conversations about “the church”, predominantly the Church in the western hemisphere. It comes from the discipline of anthropology. It’s roots are from the Latin word līmen, meaning “a threshold”. At its simplest, liminality is the quality of ambiguity and disorientation that occurs in the middle stages of something – in an anthropological understanding, it is the ambiguity and disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of a rite of passage. Liminality describes a time when things are no longer what or how they were and are not yet, what or how they will be.
The Western Church is, it seems quite clear, in a state of liminality. No longer is the Church in Europe and North America a dominant influential force in society, attendance numbers have significantly declined and the Church has become, dare I utter the word, marginalized. The Western Church is no longer what it was (let alone what we remember it to have been) and we don’t yet know what will become of it or what it will become.
So too, our parish church of St. Peter’s is experiencing liminality and showing the same symptoms as the broader Church; we feel the weight of the ambiguity and disorientation that arises because St. Peter’s is no longer what St. Peter’s once was here in Cobourg and we do not yet know what will become of St. Peter’s or what St. Peter’s will become. Our previous way of structuring our identity and our faith community no longer works in contemporary society and a new way has not yet fully revealed itself.
And now, the world is experiencing liminality as a result of Covid 19. Our world, locally, nationally and globally, is no longer what it was; we are self-isolating, social distancing and just staying home as much as possible. Undoubtedly, we are all experiencing the ambiguity, the disorientation, the uncertainty and yes, the anxiety of the liminal season caused by this pandemic.
But liminal seasons are not just about us not being what we once were; they are not solely about the loss of those things that we know and that we find familiar, comforting and routine. Nor are liminal seasons solely about the feelings of ambiguity, disorientation and uncertainty that are characteristic of being betwixt and between, of no longer being “that” but not yet being “this”. Liminal seasons are also seasons of creation and of hope, for we stand on the threshold of a new way of being: for those of us of faith, we are on the threshold of a new way of being the People of God and a new way of living the Kingdom of God.
This coming Sunday is Palm Sunday, our doorway into Holy Week. Holy Week culminates with the cross of Good Friday which leads us to the empty tomb of Easter Day, the Day of Resurrection. That time between the cross and the empty tomb is arguably the most significant season of liminality in all of Church history. Think of the disorientation, uncertainly and yes, the anxiety, fear and doubt, that the disciples (not just the 12 but all the followers of Jesus) experienced in that dark time. Everything they knew and everything that they expected would come to be, died as they watched Jesus die on the cross. Yet, though they did not know it, they stood on a threshold – they stood on the threshold of the empty tomb. And our gracious God brought them to light and life. And so our gracious God also brings us to light and life.
Though some are, most of us Anglicans are not blessed with a personal memory of our baptism; the memory we have of our own baptism is a created memory which comes only through hearing family stories of that most significant event. No matter the type of baptism memory we have, today I invite us all to remember our baptism for our baptism is the rite of passage by which we have walked under the cross of Jesus, through the door of the empty tomb of the Christ of God and into the new life of grace.
In that life of grace, let us care for each other during these threshold times, be they global, within the Western Church or here at St. Peter’s.
God is among us. God’s love is in the midst of us. And God’s light and life flow from the empty tomb of the Christ of God to wash over us not only today but always.
Bless you all, Ric