Devotional || Psalm 98

By Beth Ferguson, Lay Leader and Member to the Annual Conference.

As we celebrate this season of Eastertide, Psalm 98 is a joyful song of praise. We celebrate Christ’s life and all the wonderful things he did during his walk on the earth- the many miracles of healing and casting out demons, and raising people from the dead. We celebrate Jesus death and resurrection, his victory over death. It is a time for celebration and remembering all God’s wonderful works. God has remembered the suffering of God’s people and sent Jesus for their salvation. Jesus came to bring salvation to all the earth.

We rejoice in singing. We rejoice with musical instruments of all kinds. All the earth is celebrating even the seas and mountains and rivers. We remember that on Palm Sunday, Jesus told the authorities that “if the people were silent, the stones themselves would shout”. (Luke 19:40)

God seeks to bring justice to all the earth. Jesus came to bring justice to all the earth.  God continues to seek justice for everyone, yet we are still all in our isolation at home. We still see injustice, as many among us suffer without adequate healthcare. People are losing jobs and health insurance. We are not all suffering equally during this pandemic. African Americans are dying at a much higher rate than Caucasians. Undocumented immigrants are losing their jobs and are not eligible for unemployment payments.

Yet the Psalm reminds us that God is good, and we can rejoice in all the blessings we have received. We can work for justice in this situation. We can join in the celebration of the resurrection and the promise of salvation. We can look for a time when all the earth celebrates the triumphant return of the Messiah when justice truly rules all the earth.


A Prayer from the Extended Cabinet

By Erin M. Cline, Family and Community Ministries at Baylor University (offered by William V. Burnside II, Conference Treasurer/Director of Administrative Services)

O God of the Last Supper 
God of the Cross 
And God of the Empty Tomb 
We come before you now and we pause.

We inhale the scent of snow white Easter lilies. 
We see the rain as it falls in veils and sheets of April showers.
And we listen. 

Holy Week has passed. 
But how we long to live by the marvelous story we have heard.

Let us remain ever beside you at the table of the Last Supper.
Show us who is hungry. 
And give us the courage to offer them bread from your table.
Show us who is thirsty. 
And give us the strength to lift up the cup of your love. 

Most of all, show us how to linger at the table, serving others—
Doing ALL that we do 
In remembrance of You, 
And the way You were when You walked this earth. 

We lift these simple, limited words 
Up to you, O God. 

Amen

An Easter Proclamation || Matthew 28:1-10

Read Matthew 28:1-10 (CEB, NRSV, MSG, KJV, Compare)


A Hope in Hell

AN EASTER PROCLAMATION DURING A PANDEMIC

By Rev. Dr. Jacob W. Juncker

It was a hellish scene.
After being betrayed by Judas, denied by Peter, and condemned to death, Jesus hung on the cross alone.  The whole earth, records Matthew, was dark (Matthew 27:45). At about three o’clock, Jesus cried out in desperation, “My God, my God, why have you left me?”  It was a hellish scene.  Christ was isolated and alone.  Jesus felt like he’d been abandoned by God.

Some commentators have pointed out that Jesus in this moment quotes from Psalm 22 where the Psalmist declares: “My God! My God, why have you left me all alone?  Why are you so far from saving me—so far from my anguished groans?”  The commentators point out that Psalm 22 ends with God’s deliverance and a hymn a thanks.  So, as Jesus stands there and asks the question—my God, my God, why have you left me?—he must have known the outcome.  Afterall, these  commentators note, God “didn’t despise or detest the suffering of the one who suffered—he didn’t hide his face from me.  No, he listened when I cried out to him for help” (Psalm 22:24, Common English Bible).  What these commentators fail to recognize is the shear desperation of Jesus in that moment on the cross.

The cross is not a sign of victory, but a symbol of complete alienation.  Jesus, in that moment felt completely abandoned by God the Father.  And, the God-forsakenness of the Son plunges Jesus to the most solitary and lonely pits of Hell.

Mark Twain is attributed as saying that you “go to heaven for the climate, hell for the company.”  But, the truth of the matter is, hell is a solitary place.  It is a place of absolute abandonment and isolation.

It was Jesus’ experience on the cross.  It was the experience of the disciples as they cowered in fear behind locked doors after Jesus’ crucifixion.  And, to some extent it is our experience through this pandemic as we are asked to “social distance.”

Many of us are fearful to leave our homes for fear of passing the coronavirus.  While that fear is warranted; and, indeed, we should all be limiting our contact with those outside our immediate day-to-day social circles, it is still a hell of sorts as we sit at home isolated from personal contact with others.

We were not made to live life alone, isolated and secluded from others.  Indeed, one of the first observations God makes about humanity is that “it is not good for the human to be alone” (Genesis 2:18).  Sure, we have things like computers, phones, and mobile devices to keep us connected, but its not the same as personal, in-the-flesh, encounters with one another.

E.M. Forster—in his futuristic short story entitled “The Machine Stops,” writes in 1909: “I see something like you in this plate, but I do not see you.  I hear something like you through this telephone, but I do not hear you.”  While technology can give us glimpses of reality, its not the same as being together in person.  It works for now.  We need to be physically distant today (and, undoubtedly, for many more days to come in order to protect the most vulnerable around us); but, make no mistake, live-streaming and face-timing are nothing like being together in-person.

I don’t know about you; but, I find myself on this Easter morning yearning to be gathered together with you and others.  I long for the day when we can safely gather again.  Those feelings of wanting to be together, but not being able to be together, must have laid heavy over that first Easter morning.

After the Sabbath, around dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb of Jesus.  In Matthew’s telling of the story, they were not carrying spices.  They were not preparing to bury Jesus’ body.  In Matthew’s gospel, the women come simply to look.  I tend to think that they came because the hell of isolation was too much.  In their grief, they had to see.

Just as we visit the graves of our loved ones in order to find some sort of connection with them, so too these women came looking for a connection that had been lost to death.  They were grieving, feeling disconnected from their friend, the one they’d come to believe was the Messiah.  All that they had believed in seemed lost.  With all they had hoped in buried in a tomb, they found themselves wandering in hell.

As they approached the tomb, the ground began to shake.  The guards ordered to protect the tomb from thieves ran away in fear as the stone sealing the tomb rolled away.  As the women approached they saw an angel, he told them not to be afraid, but how could they not.  Matthew records that “with great fear and excitement, they hurried away from the tomb.”

Jesus intercepted them.  He “met them and greeted them. They came and grabbed his feet and worshipped him.  Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t be afraid.”

And therein lies the good news for us on the Easter as we sit in isolation, separated from one another, and those we love—Don’t be afraid.  Jesus meets us behind our closed door.  He comes to us in whatever hell we may find ourselves in.

The good news of Easter, the promise we bear witness to in the resurrection of Jesus Christ is that when all else seems dark, when we feel alone, when we’re isolated and estranged, God comes to us.  For “nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers or height or depth, or any other thing that is created” (Romans 8:38-39, Common English Bible).  “God’s steadfast love lasts forever” (see Psalm 136, Common English Bible).

Indeed, it comes to us even when we’re socially distant.  So do not be afraid.  God does not abandon us or leave us as orphans.  Indeed, Christ will go to hell and back, he will traverse death and God-forsakenness, to remind us just how much we are loved.

So hear the good news, dear friends, Christ is risen!  He is here.  We are not alone.  Do not be afraid.

Amen.

Devotional || Psalm 136:1-9, 23-26

By Beth Ferguson, Lay Leader and Member to the Annual Conference.

Psalm 136 is a beautiful reminder of God’s love for all of us, manifested through God’s creation.

God is good, all the time! All the time, God is good!

We repeat “God’s faithful love lasts forever” after each line as a reminder of all that God has done for us. We remember that God rules over all. God rules over all of our secular leaders as Lord of Lords. We celebrate God’s creation, the skies, the earth, the light from the sun and the moon and the stars. We rejoice that God walks with us during our troubles and provides for food for us and protection from our enemies. And we know that God is the God of heaven and God will take us home when our earthly life ends.

On this most strange Easter Sunday, when we are worshipping in our homes and connected through computers and telephones, we remember that God’s faithful love endures forever. Christ has risen! Through his enduring love he offered himself as a sacrifice for us. He rose again to bring us eternal life.  For  God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life. (John 3:16)

God loves all of us, whether we are at home in isolation, in hospitals working to save lives, in police departments and fire departments as first responders, in grocery stores and other essential businesses, whether we have sick family members that we can’t visit, whether we have lost a loved one, but can’t have a public celebration of life, God’s faithful love lasts forever!

Today, as we celebrate Christ’s resurrection, but aren’t together physically, we remember that God is with us in our homes, in hospitals, in every place and God’s faithful love lasts forever and finds us wherever we are.


A Prayer from the Extended Cabinet

By Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar, Resident Bishop of The New England Annual Conference (based on John 20:1-18)

God, our Creator,

Thank you —
     for your generosity and mercy,
     for your power and grace,
     for the resurrection of Jesus,
     who lives among us.

This Easter — 
     we will miss traditional
     gatherings at sunrise,
     voices raised in unison hymns,
     the sound of organ, drum, and trumpet;
     our sanctuaries adorned with fragrant Easter lilies.

This Easter —
     there will be no
     community Easter breakfast,
     no Easter parades or bonnets,
     no neighborhood egg hunts,
     no extended family at our tables.

In the midst of our disappointment, fear, and anxiety,
     in the face of a pandemic that has brought
     illness, death and economic hardship,
     our Easter traditions will not comfort us —
     our idols of wealth, sports, pride, and competition,
     will not save us.

This Easter —
     we need to hear the voice of Jesus;
     we need to see him and hear him ask,
     “Why are you weeping?”
     “For whom are you looking?”
     Like Mary, we need to hear him
     call us by name.

Come to us again, O God —
     to shatter our idols;
     to melt us and mold us,
     to challenge and inspire us;
     to raise us up from the tombs
     where we have stayed too long.

Speak to us once more of —
     your message of life,
     your plan for creation,
     that Easter may be the miracle
     that we live every day.

God, this Easter, we pray most especially
     for people everywhere —
     physicians, nurses, medical support staff,
     pharmacists, scientists, transportation personnel,
     cashiers, farmers, first responders, clergy, civic leaders, and public servants—
     who are risking their lives,
     giving their best,
     leaving self-interest behind,
     in order to take us from a Good Friday world
     to an Easter world;
     we pray for people who are moving us toward
     the vision of your peaceable kin-dom:
     watch over them and their families,
     and grant them your protection and peace
     in this challenging time.

Creator God, we see your majesty all around us —
     robins, crocuses, spring buds and blooms.
     So may our hearts, minds, and souls
     experience resurrection;
     So may we be released from
     apathy to service,
     bitterness to love,
     fear to courage;
     So may we tell the resurrection story
     with our lives.

Holy God, hear our prayer —
     Make us bearers of Good News in the midst of bad;
     Bring us hope in our hour of despair;
     Grant us your peace, in Christ, through the power of your Holy Spirit. 

In the precious name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, who taught us to pray:

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come.Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us, and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom and the power, and the glory, forever and ever.  Amen.
 

Sunday, April 12, 2020 || Easter Celebration

Join us for an Easter Celebration and Love Feast on Sunday, April 12, at 10am. You can join this service virtually through Google Hangouts by clicking this link (http://meet.google.com/ens-kcoq-bgg) or by calling 1-262-885-7027, the PIN is 172 874 072#.

You can be view and download the bulletin for this service below. To add this event to your Google calendar, click here.

In order to participate in the Love Feast, you are encouraged to “bring with you” to worship some sort of bread (a piece of bread, a roll, crackers, a cupcake, anything really) and some water or other beverage. During the Love Feast, you will be invited to share your hope and/or a word of encouragement with the gathered community. What gives you hope in these uncertain times? What do you hope for? What encourages you? What might encourage others? I hope you’ll consider sharing your hope and experience as part of our shared Feast.

All are welcome.