Rev. Lori J. Steffensen expressed heartfelt gratitude to the families of the pastors and laity who had gone on to glory: “We are who we are because of what they have done for us.”
The Celebration of Death and Resurrection on Thursday evening paid tribute to the fruitful ministry in the lives of Susquehanna Conference’s departed saints. Though “service to our beloved church at times took them away from you,” continued Steffensen, “we grieve in the expectation of future hope.”
The Celebration of Death and Resurrection is a yearly memorial punctuated by the dedication of stoles and Bibles in honor of the deceased. Placed on or at the foot of a symbolic yoke, these gifts — 22 Bibles and 23 stoles — will bless the pastors of Sierra Leone, just as the saints themselves blessed many of us. This material legacy is only a fraction of the spiritual fruit committed by these men and women who represent over 790 years combined in ministry. Through such commitment, they sacrificed in their own efforts to “make new places for new people” to follow Jesus.
“We live in that place that society sees as a contradiction,” said Steffensen. These contradictions resonate in us as we mourn the loss of brothers and sisters in Christ who are yet united as members of Christ’s body (Romans 12:4). Unlike the cold, lifeless stones that adorn gravesites, Rev. Steffensen reminded the Conference that the faithful remain forever “engraved on the palm” of God’s hand. They live in us as our church seeks unity, in spite of division over human sexuality. They speak to us through John 12:9-17, which was Steffensen’s chosen sermon text: “Now remain in my love … [now] go and bear fruit” (John 12:9b, 16b).
Steffensen challenged the Conference to heed Jesus’ seeming contradiction: stay in deep relationship with God in order to go and bear fruit for the gospel. Remaining in relationship with God “is not the leftovers, is not remaining unchanged.” Remaining in God’s love means seeing God as the perfect home.
As an Annual Conference, we took time to remain in God’s love together during the Celebration of Death and Resurrection. Together we celebrated communion, a foretaste of the coming feast in glory. Together we supported an offering to the Cup of Water Fund. Together we cried and sang with saints – past, present, and future.
“What fruit are we called to produce?” asked Steffensen. In reply she quoted demographic data that suggests upward of 80 percent of people in our districts still do not know Christ’s redeeming and forgiving love. For the people of the United Methodist Church and the Susquehanna Annual Conference, fruitfulness is not gauged by buildings or titles or committees … it’s not even about whose sin is bigger than the others. Fruitfulness is found in the core of our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.