Christ is Risen. He is Risen Indeed! During the Easter Season we are called to reflect upon what it means for us to claim that Christ is alive. I would like to share with you what several saints have said about the significance of Christ’s resurrection.
An early Church father John Chrysostom, in an Easter sermon that is read by the Orthodox church every year, wrote:
“Let no one grieve at his poverty,
for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again;
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.
Let no one fear death, for the death of our Savior has set us free.
He has destroyed it by enduring it.
He destroyed Hell when He descended into it.
He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.”
Dr. Munib Younan, Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, reminds us of what the Lord’s resurrection means to the people in the Middle East who face continuing violence. As he wrote in an Easter sermon:
“The resurrection reveals how the justice of God is wholly different from the justice of the world. Where the world insists that death and fear and jealousy and mistrust and deceiving are unavoidable facts of existence, a culture we must accept and work within, necessary evils which ensure our own personal happiness, the resurrection proclaims exactly the opposite. By rising from the tomb, Jesus shows us a new path forward. The Risen Lord has given us a Culture of Life.”
And our beloved Martin Luther wrote during the reformation:
“We must consider that it is ours, that it has to do with you and me. We should not only consider how the resurrection happened, but that you recognize that it happens for you, as the Lord says in the words: “Go and tell my brothers!” (Matthew 28:10). There we hear what he intends with his resurrection.
This is the true teaching of the resurrection: that each person receives the resurrection as his or her own. For there is a great difference between ‘Christ is a Savior and king,’ and ‘Christ is my Savior and my king.’ But just how difficult this is, is indicated by the disciples, who scarcely believe that Christ is raised—not to mention that he is raised for them […] This is our comfort, that Christ comes forth: Death, sin, and the devil cannot hold him. The sin of the entire world is powerless. When he appears to Mary Magdalene, one sees in him neither death nor sin nor sadness but sheer life and joy. ”
As I reflect on what the resurrection means to me, I am reminded of the hope that Christ gives us. In John’s gospel, the first few words Jesus gives his disciples are “Peace be with you.” The risen Christ brings peace and life. In moments of chaos and uncertainty, Christ gives us peace. When fear of death and the unknown come upon us, we know that Christ endured death and returned with the words “Peace be with you”. When we feel surrounded by sin and guilt, Christ gives us words of peace and forgiveness. Remember this the next time we share the peace in worship. The risen Christ is there with us.
Be blessed this Easter season. Reflect upon what Christ’s resurrection means for you.
-Pastor Mark Molter
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” – Luke 23:34.
As Jesus is in agony on the cross his thoughts turn to not himself but to God the Father and to our sorry state. This is love. How often does our own pain turn us inward? Often when we are in pain we lash out at others. The reality of life is that most of us don’t know what we are doing. We often fail to truly understand each other or God. And yet Jesus offers love and forgiveness.
Then the robber crucified next to him said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” -Luke 23:42-43
We often assume that the Kingdom of God is someplace in the distance after we die. However, When Jesus talks of the Kingdom it is always in the present tense. What might the world look like if we lived like the Kingdom of God was here and now? That is Jesus. For the thief on the cross, he simply had to ask and Jesus graciously granted it to him. Are we bold enough to ask for ourselves?
When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home. -John 19:26-27
And Jesus on the cross shows concerns for others rather than himself. He offers his brother and disciple and new mother. And his mother a new son. We are adopted into the family of Christ at baptism and we are not left alone. In the great cloud of witnesses, we are given new brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers. This communion of saints walks with us on our journey of faith in Christ.
And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Matthew 27:46
Yes, even Christ felt forsaken. There are times when we feel God has abandoned us. There are times we feel abandoned by those around us. It is painful. Yet we know that God is the source of our salvation. We know that Joy will come in the morning because although Jesus is on the cross here, there is resurrection yet to come. Lament, Wail, Cry, Curse, you need not deny your pain. Yet remain in hope.
After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I thirst.” A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. -John 19:28-29
We all thirst. Thirst comes in many forms. We thirst for physical things like water. We thirst for things like peace, justice. We often have a hard time finding a place to satisfy our thirst. We know that Jesus offers us living water when he encounters the Samaritan woman at the well.
An orthodox priest was once asked “If God is everywhere, Why is the Church necessary?” And he replied “Yes, God is everyone but so is water. Water is in the air we breathe but, we still must go to a well or stream. The church is that well.” What wells do we go to for water? We are reminded every Sunday through the means of Grace (Baptism and Eucharist) that God promises to be present. Let us not forget to come together and receive the water that quenches thirst and the bread that satisfies hunger: Jesus Christ.
Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last. -Luke 23:46
Jesus breathed his last and trusted the Father. What does trusting God look like to you? Would you be willing to die in that trust. These last words of Christ remind us that we all need to die. We need to let go of our ego, our pride, our own way of doing things. When we let go and trust. New life can begin. What needs to die in you so something new can begin?
Council recently approved three areas of focus for the 2017 – 2018 time frame; one of these is Spiritual Growth. But what does that mean to you? It is really a self-defined term; it is by definition very personal. It means something different for everyone since the Holy Spirit empowers us each in different ways for the building up of the body of Christ – the church. However, it is certainly not religiosity. Just the opposite! To me it is an internal drive, given by the Holy Spirit, to learn more; but primarily to experience more. At the beginning one is usually not even sure what the search is for. But there is a heart driven desire to reach out for something or to sit back and let the spirit sweep over and engulf one. It usually means a change in one’s jungle path, i.e., go to a different style of worship service, attend new or different Bible studies or participate in prayer meetings. All of which can be intimidating to a newcomer. Not by design, but arising from an internal fear of the unknown. Those who feel that they are further in their journey must be patient and provide a sense of encouragement to the “searcher.” The Holy Spirit is in charge and will bring the person along the path in God’s good time.
I would hope that the church can encourage all to pray for their empowerment by the Hole Spirit – to start the journey into deeper spirituality. To me, we need “mystical” experiences. They are always occurring around us; we just need the eyes of Christ to see them – to let them speak to us and to encourage us. To wisp us along on our journey into a closer relationship with God. Recently while sitting in a waiting room, I was listening to new age music. There was a mystical element to it. I had the same experience also when listening to “epic” style music on YOUTUBE. A very challenging feeling – one of mystery and emotion, raw, secret with multiple meanings. Perhaps dangerous to the uninitiated; it is no wonder that most folks fear entering the “spiritual” world. This is not a place for Sunday school stories and games; it is a place of vulnerability. I feel as if I have experienced but a tiny bit of the banquet; but I hunger for more. Why is it that the teachers/leaders so often have head knowledge, but no experiences to guide them? We need to break through the stoicism that our culture has bestowed upon us. We need to let go emotionally and allow the Holy Spirit to use us and to guide us. I suspect that far too many folks talk about “it”; but never actually progress through the barrier. It stays as an abstraction, not a reality. Years ago I was led by the Holy Spirit and didn’t really know what I was getting into. But what a blessing! I want more; I pray for a mentor. I want to experience more. I want to be flooded with “coincidences”! With so many that I could write and write. What would it look like to have a true resurgence of “Spiritual Growth?” What would our metrics look like? The metrics that we develop will tell the depth of our understanding of what it is we are searching for!
We’re not even into mid-winter yet and I am being consumed with the blahs! I know the reason; due to family travel issues, we celebrated Christmas both on Christmas weekend and on New Year’s weekend and then, of course, we got buried in snow. I have missed three weeks of Sunday worship. I need the community of believers for spiritual support. Christ did say that when two or more gather in his name that he is there. Of course, he is here all the time, but when Christian disciples gather in his name as a community of believers it is truly different. I need the opportunity to hear the word, interact with visitors, sing, pray and just interact with fellow disciples.
Yes, I have agape love for my fellow disciples in spite of their differing views on politics, sexuality, finances and everything imaginable. These are my companions in my spiritual walk through life here in this place at this time. In my mind, when I joined this congregation, I pledged to do worship with, do ministry with and care for these fellow members of the community regardless of our differences.
A good example of community is our choir. While currently quite limited in size, when all are present we make a great sound for the Lord. But when folks are absent, our collective capability is diminished even though we have several excellent and quite strong voices. We continue to persevere and to serve in spite of our limitations, just as is the case with our whole community of believers.
Inclusiveness is so very important. When injury or illness keeps someone from participating and contributing to the work of God, we should deliberately keep them actively involved doing things for our ministries within their capabilities. Preparing postcards for mailing to visitors and shut-ins, clipping coupons or being an avid prayer partner are just examples.
I can’t wait for this coming Sunday! Shalom
From Pastor Mark:
As I was preparing for my Christmas Sermon a colleague of mine shared this story with me. This preaches more than anything and I could say.
- You have probably never heard of the island of Molokai. Well, it's located in the state of Hawaii. And it has quite a history. You have to go way back to the late 1800's to understand its significance. You see, back then, there was no cure for the highly contagious and deadly disease called leprosy. A disease that would attack the extremities of the body, the ears, the toes, the nose, the fingers. A horrible dreadful disease which today is curable, But, it wasn't back then.
- So, in order to keep the disease at bay. In order to keep it from spreading and creating an epidemic, the government would send lepers to a colony on the island of Molakai where they would be secluded and isolated from those who were not infected with the disease.
- Well, in 1873, there was a young, brave Catholic priest named Father Damien who volunteered to spend his life serving the people secluded on the island of Molokai. When he arrived, he was was startled to see people who were not only suffering physically, but socially, and emotionally, and spiritually. In the leper colony he saw extreme drunkenness, immorality, abuse, and an overall sense of hopelessness. What he saw were people who desperately needed to know the answer to a question we all ask... where is God? They needed God's presence in their life.
- And so, in 1873, Father Damien lived among the 700 lepers. Knowing the dangers, realizing the inevitable results of so much personal contact with a highly contagious disease. He built hospitals, clinics, and churches and built some 600 coffins. And the whole while he was giving them the answer to that question... where is God?
- And whenever a church service was held. He would stand up in front of the lepers, and he would warmly, and lovingly address them as "my dear brethren." But then one morning in 1885, at the age of 45, in a calm clear voice, instead of "my dear brethren," he began with, "My fellow lepers, I am one of you now."
- You see it was out of love that a humble priest became one of the them. Out of love he gave those lepers a gift that would change their life for all of eternity. He shared with them the answer to the ever present question... "Where is God?" And the only way he could give them the answer is by becoming one of them.