April 20, 2020
When we are walking,
doubtful and dreading,
blinded by sadness, slowness of heart,
yet Christ walks with us,
our invitation: Stay, do not part.
[Evangelical Lutheran Worship #374, verse 2]
The readings for April 26, 2019, the Third Sunday of Easter, are as follows:
Where have you seen God this week?
This is one of those questions that pastors like to use as conversation starters at church gatherings, whether it be a Bible study, a council meeting, or other get-togethers.
The answers, obviously, are as varied as the responders themselves, for our experiences are unique to our individual surroundings and situations.
What we do share in common, especially these past several weeks, are the restrictive conditions that the - dare I mention it - Coronavirus has forced us to live under. How we cope, I believe, depends on our sense of how present God is in our lives.
I also believe that one of the blessings of the "Stay at Home" order limitations, and the absence of public in-person worship, is that we have become much more aware of our need for worship. We don't miss something we take for granted until it is taken away.
It has forced us to give a newfound priority to the rhythms that have been disrupted by our inability to sit in the company of our family members, our friends and acquaintances once a week; to go through the all too familiar repetitious liturgy, listen to a hopefully not too boring sermon, and go back home pretty much unchanged by the encounter.
We now find this practice meaningful. So much so, that many of us have created spaces dedicated to worship in our homes. Some have gone so far as to adding symbols - a candle, a cross, a bowl of water - anything that will be for us a living reminder of the presence of God with us.
And we now gather together weekly, or even more frequently, as family, in front of some electronic device in hopes of hearing a message of comfort and inspiration from that person whose words we may not have found all that arousing before. Depending on which media platform one uses, even those who live alone can feel connected by the instant messages that float upwards across the video screen.
These first three weeks of the Easter season our Gospel readings are marked by the surprising appearances of Jesus following his resurrection. As I've written before, this year, we are hearing them with a different set of ears because of the situation in which we find ourselves.
The reading for this upcoming Sunday is perhaps one of my favorite of the post-Resurrection stories, because there's a certain element of realism that I don't find in the others.
On the day of the Resurrection, two travelers on a seven-mile trek to a town called Emmaus spend time "talking with each other about all" that has happened, including the discovery of Jesus' empty tomb. The sad events of Good Friday and the mysterious discovery of the empty tomb are still fresh in their minds, making this quite a slow, sad, journey.
On the road, they meet up with a seemingly clueless and out-of-touch stranger, and they begin to relate to him "the things about Jesus of Nazareth who was a prophet mighty in deed and word."
The Road to Emmaus -- Art by He Qi
As one of them says, "We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel."
The feelings of disappointment and loss expressed by the two disciples on the road seem to me much more familiar to our own experiences after the death of someone dear to us.
But this story is a disturbing reminder of how we remain oblivious to God's presence even when God is right beside us. This story is truly one for us. This is our story.
"WE had hoped,
" the disciples lament. We echo their despair.
Human hope is fragile. But it is essential when we are suffering, and we only see more pain and worry ahead of us in the future.
Our current anxiety challenges our faith and hope. We continue to struggle with the daily statistics that show an increasing number of COVID-19 related deaths and the discouraging lack of any signs of improvement. We want to get out of the house, back to work, back to school, back to CHURCH!
However, we are not in control, as one health official said, the virus is.
To which I would add, "for now."
glimpse of the Lord may drive us to new confidence, a new hope, even a new way of remembering. That's why we need the symbols. That's why we require the reminders.
Our situation in life may not be or look so brilliant at the moment, but because Jesus has died and risen again from the dead our future is a bright one, despite all evidence to the contrary.
Our faith gives us a confident knowledge that God loves us, and cares for us, and is constantly looking out for our well-being. We have a "living hope", we have a living Savior raised to life from the grave, who knows and understands our weaknesses.
Because the risen Jesus is walking alongside us, we have a vision of hope for the future. This hope is not wishful thinking. It is real.
So, where have you seen God this week?
This Tuesday morning I was to have been in Columbus to lead weekly chapel at Trinity Lutheran Seminary at Capital University. I will still do that, but electronically. I look forward to being with the students, who themselves are scattered far and wide during this time of pandemic.
The Nelson Trout Lectures, which usually take place during this final week in April, have been cancelled.
Tuesday afternoon our Conference Deans meet electronically. We have been holding these meetings every other week to stay in touch and share what it is happening throughout the synod. If any rostered leaders have an item you wish to bring to our attention, please contact your Dean.
Sherman Bishop - Cleveland West
|Scott Henderson - Richland-Ashland
|Erin Burns - Eastern
||Don King - Cleveland East
|Doug Fidler - Akron-Wooster
||Steve Patrick - Southern
Bruce Roth - Canton-Massillon
Our Synod Council meets Saturday. We hope to arrive at a decision regarding the rescheduling of our Synod Assembly during this meeting. There are a number of factors that complicate that decision, but we hope to at least come out of the meeting with a contingency plan in place. We will make that announcement as soon as possible following the meeting.
We pray this week for those who have had to adjust to a new way of life because of the Coronavirus, as well as for business owners and families facing financial stress.
Lord of all Creation, as families adjust to everyone being home as businesses and schools close, we ask that You guide people in their new realities. Give spouses grace for each other. Prompt worn-out parents to speak words of kindness and encouragement to their children. Help children find creative ways to experience the beauty of all You have created and continue learning.
We thank You for Your faithfulness in how you have guided and equipped people in their jobs and have provided in the past. It can be scary and overwhelming not knowing how bills and obligations will be met or to not be able to provide for families. As people feel financial strain during the uncertainty, bring them comfort and peace, reminding them that You are there for them. Provide for them in their times of need. Amen.
+Bishop Abraham Allende