“Searching for Sunday” – Book review

Grace-out-of-hand-Rachel-Held-Evans

“In my struggle to find church, I’ve often felt that if I could just find the right denomination or the right congregation, if I could just become the right person or believe the right things, then my search would be over at last. But right’s got nothing to do with it. Waiting around for right will leave you waiting around forever. The church is God saying: ‘I’m throwing a banquet, and all these mismatched, messed-up people are invited. Here, have some wine.’ ”
– Rachel Held Evans

If she hasn’t already, stick around church long enough, and you’ll find her letting you down.

People respond differently when that happens: some block it out and keep going; some drop out altogether; some switch buildings and start fresh somewhere else.

And some bring light to confront the injustice within it.

In some circles, the author and blogger Rachel Held Evans gets a false reputation for being a hater of the church. But if you read her words for yourself (and in context), you’ll discover quite the opposite. Rachel Held Evans loves the church.

She’ll help you love the church more, too. Through the filter of her own church story, she relates seven things (via sacraments) that the church does and is in her latest book, Searching for Sunday.

“The church tells us we are beloved (baptism). The church tells us we are broken (confession). The church tells us we are commissioned (holy orders). The church feeds us (communion). The church welcomes us (confirmation). The church anoints us (anointing of the sick). The church unites us (marriage).”

Searching-for-Sunday

While “searching for Sunday,” Rachel finds resurrection. In this book she shares about dead things and things brought to life again. I believe it will help believers and doubters alike find hope again through community with God and others.

Here’s the breakdown and a few favorite quotes from Searching for Sunday.

1. BAPTISM

“In the ritual of baptism, our ancestors acted out the bizarre truth of the Christian identity: We are people who stand totally exposed before evil and death and declare them powerless against love. There’s nothing normal about that.

~ * ~

The people didn’t have to go to God anymore; God was coming to the people. And God, in God’s relentless love, would allow no mountain or hill—no ideology or ritual or requirement or law—to obstruct the way.”

2. CONFESSION

We think church is for good people, not resurrected people. So we fake it. We pretend we don’t need help and we act like we aren’t afraid.”

~ * ~

“‘Let’s not forget that Jesus told the woman to go and sin no more,’ some like to say when they think the church is getting too soft on other people’s sin. To this I am always tempted to respond: So how’s that working out for you? The sinning no more thing? Because it’s not going so well for me.”

3. HOLY ORDERS

All belong to the holy order of God’s beloved. The hands that pass the peace can pass a meal to the man on the street. The hands that cup together to receive Christ in the bread will extend to receive Christ in the immigrant, the refugee, the lonely, or the sick.”

~ * ~

The holy Trinity doesn’t need our permission to carry on in their endlessly resourceful work of making all things new. That we are invited to catch even a glimpse of the splendor is grace. All of it, every breath and every second, is grace.”

4. COMMUNION

Indeed it’s easier to remember things together than alone.”

~ * ~

“But the gospel doesn’t need a coalition devoted to keeping the wrong people out. It needs a family of sinners, saved by grace, committed to tearing down the walls, throwing open the doors, and shouting, ‘Welcome! There’s bread and wine. Come eat with us and talk.’ This isn’t a kingdom for the worthy; it’s a kingdom for the hungry.”

5. CONFIRMATION

“And the notion that a single tradition owns the lockbox on truth is laughable, especially when the truth we’re talking is God.”

~ * ~

Our differences can be cause for celebration when we believe the same Spirit that sings through a pipe organ can sing through an electric guitar, a Gregorian chant, or a gospel choir—though perhaps not at the same time!—and that we each hear the Spirit best at a different pitch.”

6. ANOINTING OF THE SICK

“But there is a difference between curing and healing, and I believe the church is called to the slow and difficult work of healing. We are called to enter into one another’s pain, anoint it as holy, and stick around no matter the outcome.”

~ * ~

“In a world of cure-alls and quick fixes, true healing may be one of the most powerful and countercultural gifts the church has to offer the world, if only we surrender our impulse to cure, if only we let love do its slow, meandering work.”

7. MARRIAGE

“This is the church. Here she is. Lovely, irregular, sometimes sick and sometimes well. This is the body-like-no-other that God has shaped and placed in the world. Jesus lives here; this is his soul’s address. There is a lot to be thankful for, all things considered. She has taken a beating, the church. Every day she meets the gates of hell and she prevails. Every day she serves, stumbles, injures, and repairs. That she has healed is an underrated miracle. That she gives birth is beyond reckoning. Maybe it’s time to make peace with her. Maybe it’s time to embrace her, flawed as she is. Maybe it’s time to smile back.”

~ * ~

“I’m not exactly sure how all this works, but I think, ultimately, it means I can’t be a Christian on my own. Like it or not, following Jesus is a group activity, something we’re supposed to do together. We might not always do it within the walls of church or even in an organized religion, but if we are to go about making disciples, confessing our sins, breaking bread, paying attention, and preaching the Word, we’re going to need one another. We’re going to need each other’s help.”

Rachel ends her book with an epilogue entitled simply “Dark.” In it she gives this beautiful definition of church. It’s what I’ve learned, too, in my own struggles with church through the years.

And it’s so worth it.

“Church isn’t some community you join or some place you arrive. Church is what happens when someone taps you on the shoulder and whispers in your ear, Pay attention, this is holy ground; God is here.”

* * *

How’s your relationship with the church? Had its ups and downs? Please share in the comments.

My thanks to Nelson Books for my review copy of this book.

12 thoughts on ““Searching for Sunday” – Book review

  1. [email protected]

    Oh, what we’ve missed along the way in our search for the perfect church. All the time forgetting that we, ourselves, are so far from having arrived.

    Some of my life’s most painful experiences … and glorious moments … have revolved around this earthly community.

    I long for the someday heavenly place.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I feel the same way, Linda–some of the best of times, some of the worst of times, have been with the church. There have been moments in the past when I’ve wanted to give up on church altogether, but God always gave me one more reason to stay. And I’m glad.

  2. Bill (cycelguy)

    I have been involved in the church all my life. As a pastor I was always looking for the perfect church. It probably was until i wen there and blew it! 🙂 I have much to say but it would take way too long to put it in a comment. I can say Rachel talks about sacraments from her Anglican or Episcopalian community (can’t remember which one she is now a part of) that are foreign to me. Confession. Holy orders. Confirmation. Baptism (I’m guessing infant sprinkling). I don’t practice those in the same way she does so I would find it difficult to follow with her. Not a criticism just an observation. 🙂

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Yes, as soon as we show up, there goes the perfect church. I’m glad God made allowances for that. 🙂

      I wasn’t sure when I started the book if I would relate to all those particular sacraments either because I don’t come from a “high church” practice either, but Rachel somehow made them all very relevant regardless of our particular traditions. It was a lot to think about and a lot to celebrate too.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      It was such an easy and encouraging read. I think you’d like it too, Jennifer. Although Rachel’s journey had several potholes along the way—like each of us—she writes from a redeeming viewpoint about the overall journey.

  3. Anita Ojeda

    This looks like a great book, Lisa! I don’t ‘do’ church very well, (ok, maybe I don’t do community very well), but I certainly believe that God wants us to form community and to learn to get along and love each other. Any book that helps me on my journey sounds like a good one!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I think a lot of people would agree with you that doing church isn’t a great experience for them either, Anita. I think Rachel will hit home with many who feel this way in her book. I’ve really broadened my own definition of “church” greatly in the past few years. I now see church in so many different places; it makes it exciting again. 🙂

  4. Mike Coleman

    Lisa,
    I wished both you and Elizabeth both could have come. It was not the most pleasant day I had had. It was snowing when we went to the visitation at the church. They had brought some of Mom’s paintings and quilts for the visitation and the funeral service. I was sitting next to Caroline, and she was holding Patch’s hand and mine. She took Mom’s death pretty hard. At the burial, Karen put her hand on my shoulder and asked me if I was Ok. I said I was saying hello to Grandmother and Granddaddy, she was too. Dad is taking this better than we thought. He says he wakes up feeling blue. After 61 years, no wonder. Coleman Funeral Home as a Tribute Video online. It is at: http://www.colemanfuneralhome.com/obituaries/Shirley-Coleman-4/

    Mike

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I so hated I couldn’t be at Aunt Shirley’s funeral! 🙁 Loved this video; thanks for sharing the link, Mike. I’ll write you more in an email…


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