The Lord is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!
That’s kind of in reverse to how it first happened. The first “Easter Sightings” of the resurrected Lord were shrouded with fear, uncertainty, and doubt. Those who followed Jesus as disciples did not know whether it was good news or bad news that Jesus had returned. They had guilty consciences to deal with. (They also considered ghosts a realistic possibility.) Did Jesus return to punish….to haunt….to condemn….or would he say, “Hey guys, it’s ok. Water under the bridge.” The resurrection only becomes good news when
+ People encounter Jesus for themselves.
+Encountering Jesus, people experience peace.
+Being sent by Jesus, people proclaim what they have experienced as life changing good news
+ And that’s different today, how?
Substitute the word “church” for “Jesus.” What’s different, how?
When we see the purpose of a congregation one and the same with the purpose of Jesus in the resurrection, there isn’t much of a difference. A congregation should be a place where people encounter Jesus, experience peace, and are sent from to proclaim life changing good news through their lives.
When we are at our best, that is what we look like. We aren’t always at our best. For some people, it doesn’t seem like we’re hardly ever at our best. It’s hard. Very hard.
I hear a lot about how much people love their church. I know I have given over thirty years of my life loving churches and serving the church. People express their love for the church even when it has been difficult to love, even as at the same time they express their fears for the future of the church in the midst of these times.
Substitute the word “Jesus” for “church” in that last paragraph. What’s different, how?
I have heard a lot in every congregation I served about their traditions, history, and the faithful generations that built their foundations. Congregations are indeed rich in those ways, and well-loved.
But Jesus loves more. Jesus loves his Church so much that even if our congregations were to die, Jesus would still love the Church and kindle it into a new life. That new life may look nothing like the old one, or look like a really old one recycled, upcycled, and repurposed.
Substitute the word “me” and “I” for “Church” and “congregations” in that last paragraph. What’s different, how?
Let that rattle around with you for a bit. Did it “rattle your cage” at all? Should it?
Every church is two congregations. One of them is a glorious roster of saints, generation after generation baptized, nurtured, married, and buried within its walls. God help us, but a few have probably been conceived there too. There’s the congregation that receives offering envelopes, newsletters , cards when you are sick, and reserves your place in your pew for you and welcomes you back now matter how long you’ve been away. Jesus loves that congregation, and so do I.
The other congregation is on no roster at all. They don’t receive offering envelopes, newsletters, or cards when they are sick. They don’t always understand worship, never completed confirmation, and have no idea whether they would be welcome back or welcome ever. They have never experienced the proclamation of Jesus risen from the dead as news that is good for them. It’s news that is received with as much guilt or doubt as it was received at the beginning, only now it is also tainted with every injury well meaning and not-so-well-meaning Christians have dealt out. BUT, it’s news that still rings with cautious hope and optimism, as it was at the beginning, only now even more so because Christians throughout the ages have continued the good works that Jesus performed: teaching, healing, feeding the hungry, proclaiming release to the captives, salvation and peace. Some have even experienced their lives transformed so much it is like being raised from the dead themselves.
Jesus loves that congregation too. So do I. Whenever church people love that “ congregation” as Jesus loves it, the Easter proclamation will ring and sing as good news, good news indeed.Does that rattle your cage? Read John 3:16-17 and ask yourself The Good Lutheran Question.*
[Theologian’s Side Note: The proclamation is good news quite apart from whether I believe it or not, or what witness I give to it, but can it be heard and experienced as good news for me, for you, above the din and rattle of the church’s squabbles, money woes, gossip, hypocrisy, lecturing and scolding?]
*Good Lutheran Question, from Martin Luther’s Small Catechism: What does this mean?