I have loved you with an everlasting love;
therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.
[Jeremiah 31:3]
It's Holy Week.
This is one of the busiest, if not the busiest, weeks for pastors, deacons and church leaders. There's a lot of planning that has already gone on and will continue to go on until Sunday.
I am hoping that, along with all your other plans, you are making plans to welcome people who have not been to church for a while. For those who come to church on a regular basis, it is easy to be cynical and look down your nose at those who attend on a less frequent basis. But that is not what Christ asks of us.
I confess here that I wrote some of these thoughts for a parish newsletter several years ago, but I feel they are worth repeating again.
As I read through the readings for this Lenten season from the Gospel of John, I was struck by how Jesus basically walks up to strangers and engages them in conversation, while others (his disciples, mainly) stand back and pass judgment.
Jesus and the Samaritan woman
Take, for example, the woman at the well, which we heard on the third Sunday in Lent (March 19). Although it was not customary for a man to approach a woman, nor for a Jew to engage in conversation with a Samaritan, Jesus casts aside convention and asks her for a drink of water.
Jesus heals a man born blind
The fourth Sunday in Lent, again, Jesus' disciples were casting judgment on a man who had been blind from birth, wondering who was to blame for the man's condition. Jesus, instead, walks up to him and heals him of his blindness.
In both cases, the people that Jesus encounters realize that He is the Son of God. They undergo a conversion experience.
There are many examples in the other Gospels. I chose these two because they are current in our lectionary for this year and this season. But consider overall of the criticism Jesus regularly received for "eating and drinking with prostitutes, tax collectors and sinners."
People are lonely. They often feel like outsiders. If they do make it to a house of worship on a Sunday morning it is not to meet friendly people. It is to find friends!
I wonder what, if anything, would change in our own lives and the lives of our congregations, if we were to practice that kind of genuine love for the stranger? That stranger God has placed in our path for a purpose.
This coming Sunday, we will see many faces we have not seen in months, even years. We will also meet newcomers who have never entered the doors of your church. At some point, you may have been one of them. You found your way and were welcomed into your congregation. It is easy to forget that experience and the impact it had on you.
So, let us prepare for Easter. Make way for the coming of our Lord. Make way for the transformation of hearts, not only yours, but the person you welcome as well.
Have a blessed Easter!
A quick reminder for rostered ministers that tomorrow morning, Tuesday, April 11, we will gather at Trinity Lutheran Church in Kent for our annual Renewal of Vows liturgy in which we renew our vows of ordination, or consecration, and bless the oil which we'll use for anointing during the next year.
It's also the Home Opener of the baseball season for our beloved Cleveland Indians. But that is at 4:00 p.m., so it should have no bearing on your attendance.
Thursday, April 13 , at 7:00 p.m., I will join the people of God at St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Newcomerstown, as we observe Maundy Thursday, which recalls Jesus' last meal with his disciples the night before his arrest, trial and crucifixion.
But the story does not end with his death. The sadness of Thursday and Friday will convert to amazement, disbelief, and joy on Sunday as we learn that Jesus is not dead, but alive. 
Sunday is the first day of a new creation.  Jesus Christ is risen!
May you experience the love of God in your comings and goings this week and always!   
+Bishop Abraham Allende