Risen Indeed?

          Alleluia! Christ is risen!

When you read that did your mind go immediately to the well-conditioned response?

          Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!

That grand Easter greeting has been around for a very long time. It’s a wonderful way to invite celebration of the gift of new life offered through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

And, yet, I wonder if any of the first witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus would have immediately responded so confidently.

Think about those stories. Almost no one immediately recognized resurrection as it stared out at them from the empty tomb.

We are told in the 24th chapter of the gospel of Luke, for example, that the women who first made their way to the tomb were “perplexed” by its emptiness. And the men thought the story the women then told was an idle tale and didn’t believe it.

Through the veil of her tears Mary thought the risen Jesus was a gardener [John 20:11-17]. And the despondent disciples on the road to Emmaus thought he was a clueless stranger [Luke 24:18].

Resurrection power did not burst forth like spontaneous combustion from the tomb and into the hearts of waiting believers to suddenly set the world ablaze.

It did, of course, eventually change the lives of the followers of Jesus: they found forgiveness and healing and new and abundant life. They began to draw others into the fellowship of the crucified and risen Christ and to change the world.

But this change wasn’t instantaneous. It’s as if resurrection power simmered for a while in the world, unexpected, unrecognized, unwelcomed, untapped.

It wasn’t until echoes and tremors from the empty tomb found their way into the mundane moments of every day life that the disciples experienced its transforming power.

This power rose up and transformed them through words spoken and bread broken and wounded hands extended and fish fried on the beach…all offered by the risen Jesus to eventually move those early folks who were so much like us to proclaim with power, confidence and joy: Christ is risen…he is risen indeed! [Luke 24:30-32; John 20:26-29; Luke 24:36-49; John 21:1-14]

Dear brother, dear sister, it’s not likely that every challenge in our lives will be solved, every brokenness restored, all hopelessness overcome this Easter Sunday or even in the fifty days that follow.

But the Word we proclaim these happy, holy days, the hymns and songs we sing, the fellowship and meals we share, even the pastels and the butterflies and the eggs remind us again of the sure and certain promise that because Jesus lives resurrection is afoot in the world. It simmers just below the crusty surface of our days, waiting to grab hold of each and every one of us and work the wonder of new beginnings, new and abundant life in the risen Jesus.

Look for it. Listen for it. Sense its nearness. Surrender to it. Share it.

Alleluia! Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!

(You may listen to a podcast of this reflection at http://iksynod.org/podcasts/. Happy Easter!)

Whistling Alone or Playing Together?

No one can whistle a symphony.
It takes a whole orchestra to play it.
[H.E. Luccock (1885–1961), Professor of Homiletics (Preaching), Yale Divinity School]

Where did we get the idea that every local community of faith could or should whistle the entire symphony of the gospel by itself? At best, each local community of faith, each gathering of the baptized, is a section of the orchestra; it’s not the whole thing. And not a single section – no matter how big or small or gifted or well-rehearsed or disciplined – can pull off by itself the fullness of the breadth and depth and power and beauty of the symphonic good news of Jesus crucified and risen for the life of the world.

Perhaps this is why the apostle Paul wrote, “There are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” [1 Corinthians 12:5-7].

We tend to hear these words with individual members of a particular congregation in mind. That is not a bad place to begin and, most assuredly, it was at least part of what Paul had in mind when he wrote to the oft-troubled Corinthian community. But the orchestra (Paul called it the body) of Christ is much more than any one congregation, one denomination, one institutional expression. And the abundant life offered in Jesus cannot be proclaimed and lived in its fullness for a needy world by just one section of the orchestra playing its part the best it can.

Take a little time to read, reflect on, and talk with others in your local community of faith about 1 Corinthians12-13 as if Paul were writing to communities rather than individuals. What if the various parts of the body Paul writes about were imagined not as individuals so much as congregations or campus ministries or new missions or denominations or social service agencies? What if your congregation is the gospel’s trumpet section and the congregation down the road (of whatever denomination) is the flutes? What if a cluster of congregations is the violins and synodical, churchwide or global leaders and communities are the French horns, clarinets and cellos?

Perhaps this familiar passage will take on a different tone for us. Perhaps we will find the horizon of our vision broadened, the resources available multiplied, partnerships and collaborations blossoming in ways that far exceed what any section of the orchestra could ever do alone.

Your congregation is gifted, filled with gifted people who bear the mark of Christ on their brows and the power of God’s Spirit in their hearts; God has promised that. The local gathering of the baptized of which you are a part has the gifts it needs to do the work God has given it. But it does not have all the gifts needed to embody the fullness of God in Christ or to engage all the complexities and challenges of the world around you that is in such need of good news.

To collaborate is to co-labor, to work together. If there was ever a time that both the gospel and the world needed us to collaborate deeply and broadly, that time is now.

[Four key priorities have emerged from the listening posts and other conversations we have had with one another in the Indiana-Kentucky Mission Territory over the last year or so under the theme New Vision for a New Day: Listen Deeply. Think Creatively. Act Boldly. This is the third installment of brief reflections on each of the four priorities.]

Peacemakers in a Violent World

We live in a violent world.

Some violence occurs so far away that it’s hard to comprehend, even when the images of it flash across our consciousness night after night on the evening news. Some is as close as the air we breath, making it difficult to even acknowledge and overcome. Near and far, day after day, violence inflicted by human beings on other human beings steals life, scars spirits, and inflicts fear.
I must admit that sometimes when I think about all the shooting and bullying and beating and bombing in our world – and the often rancorous and so far ineffectual debate over what to do about it – the psalmist’s words express my own thoughts:

I would hurry to find a shelter for myself from the raging wind and tempest…for I see violence and strife in the city…and iniquity and trouble are within it; ruin is in its midst. [Psalm 55]

Yet those of us who are marked with the cross of Christ and sealed with his Spirit are not called to lock ourselves in some underground bunker. We are called to do something about the violence around us and within us. We are called to own up to and address our own violent tendencies and to wage peace in the world around us.
The sixty-five synodical bishops of the ELCA crafted a pastoral letter about violence when we were together in Chicago at the beginning of March. This letter calls us to active participation in the cross-formed reign of the Prince of Peace. It also provides a list of resources to assist you, your congregation, your circle of friends, and your family to discuss violence and to do something about it. 
Kathryn Lohre, ELCA Director for Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Relations and President of the National Council of Churches (NCC) also suggests these helpful resources:
  •  2010 NCC Resolution, “Ending Gun Violence: A Resolution and Call to Action by the National Council of Churches of Christ, USA” 

Through the prophet Jeremiah God once said, “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” [Jeremiah 29:7]. As we seek our world’s peaceful welfare together through repentance, prayer, and action, we walk in the promise sung by that old prophet, Zechariah, ages ago and echoed every time we sing the Gospel Canticle of Morning Prayer [Evangelical Lutheran Worship, p. 303]:

In the tender compassion of our God
     the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
To shine on those who dwell in darkness
     and the shadow of death,
And to guide our feet into the way of peace.
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Table Scraps by William O. Gafkjen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.