Sunday, April 23
Acts 2:14, 22-32
1 Peter 1:3-9
It was great to have so many friends and family in Bethel’s Worship services yesterday. The 6:30 AM service was attended by about half as many folks as usually come to the eleven o’clock Worship on regular Sundays, and then the eleven o’clock service held a lot more folks than usual !
This phenomenon is common in churches all around our land, and a variety of reasons might explain it. We might guess that, if one only goes to church services only a few times a year, it would make sense to pick Easter and Christmas, since that’s when the Sanctuary is most beautifully decorated. Also at Christmas and Easter, sometimes special events happen, such as having a musical performance instead of a sermon— although we in the choir were not able to get that together, this year— please pray for our choir members to get well and stay well ! On top of those reasons, with these holidays, there are family gatherings with special meals, making it more attractive to stick together with the family than on some “ordinary” Sundays.
On Easter Sunday, the church starts up its annual cycle of proclaiming that Jesus Christ is alive.
Our United Church of Christ’s Statement of Faith puts it this way: “In Jesus Christ, the man of Nazareth, our crucified and risen Lord, [God] has come to us and shared our common lot, conquering sin and death and reconciling the world to Himself.”
In other words, someone who was killed almost two thousand years ago did not remain dead, but instead went on to develop his relationship with “the world.” And, through the church, God is reaching out to all the world with this good news: “He seeks in holy love to save all people from aimlessness and sin.”
Some of the benefits of joining in a serious, committed relationship with this Savior include the following: “He promises to all who trust Him forgiveness of sins and fullness of grace, courage in the struggle for justice and peace, His presence in trial and rejoicing, and eternal life in His kingdom which has no end.”
Awesome benefits package, eh?
So, why is it likely that our church, like most other churches in our land, is likely to return to “normal” attendance in the coming weeks ?
Now, we hope that some of the folks who came to Bethel on Easter Sunday have other churches that they faithfully attend, other weeks.
Or, perhaps that, having been inspired by the good news and friendly greetings and hospitality they received here, they will begin to attend Bethel faithfully as their church-home.
But I am afraid it is more likely that, for many, worshiping God in Christ in a church gathering will continue to be reserved for ‘special occasions.’
The Gospel According to John says that the resurrected Jesus appeared to a group of his disciples on the evening of the first Easter. However, John says, the one called Thomas was not with them, and so he didn’t get to see Jesus first-hand. The other disciples, who had seen Jesus powerfully alive, failed to convince Thomas that Jesus had truly come back to them: Thomas wanted to see Jesus for himself, or else he would not believe.
Maybe the folks for whom worshiping God in Christ among the gathered church is not a top priority… have not seen Jesus Christ alive with us.
Is there a way we could show them, something we could do to convince them that the One Who “calls the worlds into being, creates man in His own image and sets before him the ways of life and death” is truly, personally present in our Worship? Could we learn how to show them SomeOne Who they could personally experience, and reverently cry out, “My Lord and my God!” ?
Over the coming six Sundays of the Easter season, I hope to rehearse with you some of the ways that we as a gathering of disciples might convince people that that SomeOne is here in our midst.
When the Risen Christ came back to his disciples, he gave them his Holy Spirit to not only comfort them, but to inspire them and empower them to be his body, wherever they may be. Well, here we are.
For a community of Christians to fail to represent the Risen Christ convincingly would be tragic... as if the first apostles had not only lost Judas, but Thomas, too....
I keep the LORD always before me;
because He is at my right hand,
I shall not be moved.