It’s hard to be surprised by something that you look forward to every year.
Easter worship is grounded in a foundational story. You can’t change the ending of this one even as we look for fresh ways to experience it in music, liturgy, preaching, and environmental design.
Comic wags have sometimes portrayed Easter as a pop-up, Jesus the religious ground hog.
Unlike February ground hog watchers, though, Jesus followers know he’ll show up. I just think that we become overly certain about where and when. While we celebrate the certainty of Jesus’ resurrection on Easter Sunday, we’re mistaken if we think his presence is confined to that hour of worship.
Easter is a jump start to the surprise of encountering Christ alive everyday in unexpected people and places.
British Broadcaster Christopher Trace made famous the phrase (often repeated by Monty Python) “and now for something completely different….” Trace was also known for saying, “Here’s one I made earlier.” Good Easter worship will include much of what we’ve made earlier, faith practices enduring across generations by God’s grace. And the best worship will help open us to something completely different that new generations will create, by God’s grace.
With Easter falling on April Fool’s day, there are many memes crossing the internet and a movement to play tricks like empty eggs on children during egg hunts. (Recommendation-don’t, Easter's not the time to model being mean). Easter has always been meant to invite us into joy, that's nothing new. This week John St UMC reminded its newsletter readers, Many American churches are resurrecting an old Easter custom begun by the early Greek Christians --- "Bright Sunday" or "Holy Humor Sunday" celebrations on the Sunday after Easter. For centuries in all Christian faith traditions, the week following Easter Sunday was observed by the faithful as "days of joy and laughter"
So be open to surprise this Easter.
Be delighted by a love so strong it would come back for you.
In God’s Grace, Karen
The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are being destroyed. But it is the power of God for those of us who are being saved, said Saul of Tarshish after being transformed to Paul the Jesus follower on one surprising day. (1 Corinthians 1: 18). If Saul could be surprised by faith, why not me, why not you, why not anyone?
Well my friends, in the Christian year, we’ve passed through the gates of Palm Sunday into Jesus’ last visit to Jerusalem. The show is almost over. With crosses looming large over the final scenes of Jesus’ life on earth, let's get ready to re-enter the most significant event in human history.
Teams are putting final touches to spaces designed to evoke the experiences of Jesus’ followers, and of the on looking crowd. Musicians are tuning chords to carry the message deep beyond ears into the very fiber of our being. Pastors are polishing up vessels of words for holding God’s grace up to hungry hearts in Holy Week worship.
Blessed be you who set aside time to create worship.
You serve others in early days of Spring when it’s tempting to move on to other activities.
Blessed will be we who arrange crowded calendars around what you offer us,
re-entering God’s story, renewing our own relationships with Jesus Christ in this annual ritual, inviting the Spirit to overtake any obstacles or resistance to our full immersion in God's grace.
I hope you’ll make time alone during this week, or in your covenant group, to read the scripture between Jesus’ branch strewn entrance to shouts of “Hosanna,” and his submission to humankind’s judgement. They are some of the most puzzling and profound of Jesus’ journey. As he comes to his own narrow gate, what will he do with the power God has given him? After all Jesus’ teaching about forgiveness, he will now stride angrily into the temple opposing corrupt mercantile practices. Then he’ll swipe a curse at that poor out of season fig tree when it doesn’t give him what he needs. Just when it seems he might finally come around to the ways of the world, take the crown the crowd offers, and tip toward judgement that holds no hope of redemptive change, we will see him finally submit to humanity’s judgement and, after three dark days, return to the scene of the crime saying, “peace.” For God’s ultimate judgement is healing brought through forgiveness.
The sixth benediction of the Jewish Amidah, a prayer that Jesus would have prayed daily, is “Forgive us, Our Father for we have sinned against you. Erase and blot out our transgressions from before your eyes, for you are abundantly compassionate. Blessed are you, O Lord, Redeemer.” This is what he’s practiced. This is what he’s preached.
Have you ever noticed that the only repeated part of what we call “The Lord’s Prayer,” and the only part where Jesus found it necessary to add teaching is: “forgive us for the ways we have wronged you, just as we forgive those who have wronged us.” (Jesus repeats), If you forgive others their sins; your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you don’t forgive the sins of others, neither will your Father forgive your sins.” Matthew 6: 12, 14-15
God even handedly gives out creation’s gifts. Imbalance comes from our human actions and inactions You have heard it said, “you must love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven. He makes the sun to rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous. -Matthew 5: 43-46. We come to Jesus’ last days laden with baggage that tips the balance. We come burdened by the impact we’ve had on others, and on creation, by the impact others have had on us. So much stuff piled up over the courses of our life, and inherited from our forebears, a spiritual load blocking our way through the narrow rebirth passage to God’s reign.
How can we be relieved of the weight of all we’ve accumulated or ignored? How can we be forgiven (even of our unwillingness or inability to be forgiving)? “It’s my work, my yoke, my burden,” God answers. “Give it to me. Let me carry it to the cross. Let me carry it through death’s doorway.” Let me bring you into the light.
Forgiveness is always an action of God. We are not up to it ourselves. And if we are not willing to let God’s action work in our lives then we commit the only unforgiveable sin, the sin against the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 12: 31-32). We harden ourselves and block God’s ability to remold us as willing clay. The alternative to forgiveness is judgement allowing for no possibility of change, in us as much as in another. That is a choice we are allowed to make. That does not mean it’s easy.
The apparently harder, and more fruitful, choice is to forgive, to let God’s spirit say through us, “I love you, I love you, I love you,” even to the ones who have hurt us most, even as we hold each other accountable for repairing the consequences their actions and inactions. We live as we forgive. Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete. -Matthew 5: 48
On Easter, Jesus chooses to re-enter our story. He forgives any claim to retribution. He is fully unburdened and completely alive. He extends the invitation to we who have wounded him unto death to now become fully and willingly part of God’s life.
Blessed be the choices you will make in these sacred days.
Slidell Mission Trip 2018
Day 1 – Arrival, March 4th
There wasn’t supposed to be a Year 13.
Let me step back a bit.
It is 71 degrees and sunny right now in Slidell, Louisiana. It’s 36 degrees with a forecast for snow at Kents Hill. Just saying. This is the first entry in our blog for the 13th Mission Trip to the Gulf Region. For those just joining us, we have been coming down to Louisiana and Mississippi since March 2006 to work at what is now the Epworth Project. Then, it was in response to the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina in August/September of 2005. Since then, there have been many more natural disasters and this has been one of the hardest hit regions in the country. Hurricanes, tornados and floods seem to be a way of life down here and there is a steady list of things for us to do. And earlier this afternoon, the Executive Director, Jim Fatic let me know that he still gets calls for houses that haven’t been touched since Katrina. This week, we will be mostly working on houses that were damaged in floods from 2016. As always, we will be working for clients who do not have the means to otherwise make the repairs themselves. But we aren’t supposed to be here. Because this trip was only supposed to be a five-year gig when we first envisioned it.
Here's another good reason we aren’t supposed to be here. On August 25th last summer, Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston and other areas of the Gulf region. Two weeks later, Hurricane Irma blew through the Caribbean and into Florida. Ten days later, Hurricane Maria became the worst natural disaster to ever hit Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands. None of these storms severely impacted the Greater New Orleans area. At the beginning of the school year, I was asked if we be going to Florida or Houston this year. But I had already signed us up for Slidell based on this nagging feeling that we were going to be needed there. Upon arrival, I was told that this week there are 96 people from 4 organizations working at Epworth. And that is more than all of the folks combined since July of last summer. What I suspected was going to happen did in fact happen – the volunteers shifted to other areas and the folks here are struggling to meet the needs of the clients they have. So I’m glad we didn’t shift away, and the Epworth people are as well.
I just finished a four day drive to get here (I selfishly left a day early to detour and meet my newest grandson, David.) Dr. Link and his daughter have just arrived from their three day adventure through the Nor’easter to arrive, and we are waiting for the groups who flew to arrive from the airport. And for the next several hours, they will come filtering in. Last arrival should be here by midnight. And bright and early tomorrow morning we will hit the job sites. Houses will be fixed, skills will be learned and stories will be shared. Lives will be changed, and at the end of the week we will be tired but it will be good. It always is. Even if we aren’t supposed to be here.
Karen L Munson
A pastor and artist, I'm wondering while I'm wandering through God's marvelous creation.