Remembering Rachel Held Evans

I’ve always had a hard time with Easter. I think it’s that so much of the day is a celebration of life defeating death, of hope triumphing over loss, of gladness trumping mourning that sounds good, but just doesn’t seem all that true—at least not all of the time—in the real world.

That’s why I have always been more of a Christmas kind of person. Immanuel, God is with us. That was the message of Christmas. That when the world seemed to be coming apart at the seams when loss and fear and hopelessness seemed constant and likely and with no chance for something different…God showed up.

Easter points me to the bigness of God. Easter consoles me with the triumph of God. Easter reminds me of what God, almighty God, all-powerful God, all just and right and imaginative God, is capable of.

Christmas reminds me of the nearness of God. Christmas soothes me with the presence of God. Christmas reminds me that when what we ask of this almighty, powerful, just, right, and imaginative God doesn’t happen? He is still with us in the midst of it.

And that’s no small thing. Because the truth is, the reality of the world we live in waits for the God of Easter, but survives each and every day because of the God of Christmas.

Rachel Held Evans, author, speaker, blogger, and prophet, died Saturday, May 4th. She was divisive in her political and religious views. (But these days, who among us isn’t? If we profess anything, we anger someone.) The thing about Rachel was, I’m not sure it mattered if you agreed with her or not, it was that she was so incredibly gracious and kind and loving and accepting and compassionate to those most in need of it, to the ones that mattered, that I remember.

To those the Church had discarded or written off, excluded or isolated, Rachel stood in the gap. Rachel opened her arms wide to them, all of them, regardless of color or gender, sexuality or ethnicity. She made room, like the master in the parable in the great feast, saying again and again and again, ‘There’s still room for more,” and if the Christian establishment wasn’t making room for them, she would do it herself. Which she did. On more than one occasion.

In the hours since I learned of her passing, and thought of her husband and two young children, of her parents and sister, of those who knew her best, and those of us who felt we knew her because she spoke so honestly to a place in our souls that could only have been reached by someone who knew us well enough to understand that place, I’ve thought about both the God of Easter and Christmas.

And I’ve thought how glad I am that Easter is true and the resurrection is real and on the days when we need hope in someday, the God of Easter reminds us of the someday that is coming, and the glimpses of it we get these days, but never the full taste.

But I’ve also thought how it’s the God of Christmas I’m relying on to get through the coming weeks and months and years when I’m sure I’ll find myself wondering…”I bet Rachel would have had a really beautiful way to articulate this, convict us, challenge this, and change us.” It’s the God of Christmas I pray will be near to Dan and her children when waking in the quietest hours of night, when sloughing through the slowest hours of the day, when facing milestones she should have been there for when living everyday life she should have been around to bask in.

It’s the God of Christmas, the God of presence I am counting on to fill in the gap Rachel’s presence leaves. The God who is with us, when our loved ones no longer are. The God who is near, when the ones we count on to be near, no longer can be. The God who is compassionate in his suffering alongside, when “suffering” is the only word we know to describe the state of living we are experiencing here and now, when we long for the there, and later of an eternity too far away.

How lucky we were to have shared this space and this time with Rachel. To have breathed the same air. To have walked the same earth. To have been part of the same Church that proclaimed Christ born and killed and resurrected, that sets the table for a bigger feast on a better day that makes room for far more than we may be comfortable with, but who delights the heart of the Father to no end.

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