Last August I borrowed lines from Synod Bishop Mary Froiland to start my letter – this month I borrow lines from ELCA Bishop Elizabeth Eaton.
“At the Lutheran World Federation Assembly, a delegate from Russia told this story of freedom in Christ. There used to be a Lutheran church in St. Petersburg. It was a beautiful structure witnessing to the glory of God where the Lutheran immigrants who arrived in the 18th century could worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness. It was skillfully crafted out of wood. St. Mary’s Lutheran Church still stood in St. Petersburg, renamed Leningrad.
The church was a place of worship and hope during the siege of Leningrad during WWII. But people were freezing and starving to death in Leningrad. There was no wood for heating or cooking. So the Lutherans looked at their beloved church and then looked at the suffering around them. Piece by piece, they dismantled their building and gave it away for the life of their community.”
It is a tragic story of loss, yet it is ultimately an inspiring witness to generosity, love and hope. It is the essence of what Christ’s cross is about – what appears to be a senseless death and waste becomes God’s abundant outflow of forgiveness, grace and new life to us and to all creation.
In a world that seems increasingly focused on getting what’s “ours,” maintaining “our” stuff/privileges/whatever, sticking with those who are like “us,” the message of the cross and the witness of St. Mary’s in Leningrad go quite against the grain. But as recipients of God’s incredible selfless giving, the Church is both empowered and enlisted to give itself away as Christ has given to us, selflessly, generously, freely.
Bishop Eaton concludes,
“This is what being free in Christ looks like. This is part of our Lutheran story. This is part of your congregation’s story. We live in the freedom of Christ.”