FROM PASTOR DAVID’S DESK
Know that the Lord is God. It is he that
made us, and we are his; we are his
people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his
courts with praise. Give thanks to him,
bless his name. For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.
October marks the beginning of the autumn season and the end of the growing season. As we have all noticed, the daylight grows shorter, and the temperature begins to become cooler. Leaves start turning colours of yellow, orange, red and brown. It is a beautiful season and one of the best times of the year.
For me, autumn brings back a wealth of memories, especially about my grandparents. I was fortunate enough to grow up a block from my grandparents. My grandfather, a successful businessman, grew up on a farm. He never wanted to be a farmer, but he had a huge garden and an orchard. The garden was his happy place. My grandmother, whose career was raising two children and spoiling three grandchildren, would spend her time canning and freezing the produce from my grandfather’s garden and fruit from the orchard. Even though it was a lot of work, she seemed to enjoy it.
When autumn came their labour of love was done for another season. The freezer was full, and the shelves held jars of delicious home-grown fruits and vegetables. There were no shortages or empty shelves to worry about. They had everything they needed, and happily shared their harvest with their family throughout the year. Gathering around the table on Sundays or on holidays always seemed more special because of the love that went into the food we ate. The blessings were plentiful and the gratitude with which they were received was sincere.
We celebrate Thanksgiving in October here in Canada with an emphasis on the blessings of the harvest. Today most of us are far removed from the source of the food we eat. Fruits and vegetables are shipped in from all over the world, picked weeks before and processed in a factory somewhere
along the way to our tables. Yet, we are blessed to have this food and the benefits of a successful harvest. Buying locally takes extra effort, often costs a little more, and is promoted as if it is something new.
Even though our blessings look different in this 21st century, we must never lose sight of the source of all our blessings, God the Father. We have all been blessed in so many different ways. The month of October, and especially on Thanksgiving Day, is a time to stop and reflect on all that we
have received from God’s generous bounty. As the activities of this special month slow down, take some time to give thanks for not only the big and obvious things we have received throughout the year, but also for the little things that God provides, from home canned beets and homemade pickles
to my grandmother’s very special strawberry jam. Also, take time to remember and give thanks for all the people who have been in your life, both past and present. In some way they have all played a part in making you the person you are today.
Not only Thanksgiving Day, or even just in the month of October, but each day of the rest of your life, take a moment to thank God for those things, and those people, who have been a blessing in your life. No matter how long you live, I guarantee you will not run out of things to be thankful for. Thanks be to God!
Wishing you a blessed Thanksgiving Day and beyond,
And this is my prayer, that your love
may overflow more and more with
knowledge and full insight to help you
determine what is best, so that in the
day of Christ you may be pure and
blameless, having produced the harvest
of righteousness that comes through
Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of
The summer of 2023 turned out to be an unusual summer. We celebrated the lives of three cherished members of our St. Ansgar family who passed on to God’s heavenly home. We celebrated a baptism in a joint Anglican/Lutheran service at St. Ansgar, and the following Sunday I was invited to participate in a joint Roman Catholic/Lutheran baptism at St. Peter’s Cathedral Basilica. I also was privileged to preside at two weddings in Grand Bend, both the children of long-time friends. In July we had our first adult weeklong summer study session, which we often described as an adult Vacation Bible School. (Enjoy Deborah Holme’s article for the details!)
The title of our adult VBS was “Enriching Our Faith Journey.” Our goal was to explore ways of going deeper with God, based on spiritual discernment, which is about finding God’s yearning for the directions of our life. Spiritual discernment is not a once-and-for-all answer to our questions, but a continual seeking for God’s longing as we accept the invitation to live into the abundance God so
freely gives us. Spiritual discernment is not something new. We find many instances in both the Old and New Testaments. In Kings 19:9-18 for example, Elijah is called to a new understanding of listening to God’s voice. In Acts 9:1-9 we read about Saul who went from persecuting the early Christians to playing a significant role in the future of the church, and Ananias who trusted the word he received and became God’s instrument of healing for Saul. Another example is found in Acts 10. Peter faces a difficult decision when he receives a call to minister to the Gentiles. All these acts of spiritual discernment led to doing God’s will for the betterment of the church and those involved.
While our everyday spiritual discernment may not be as dramatic as these examples, it is every bit as important. We were created to be in relationship with the triune God. That does not mean just on Sunday morning or at night before we go to sleep. To be in relationship with God means to be in
relationship all day every day in every way. Like all healthy and constructive relationships, the parties involved must be in a dialogue, not in a one-way communication, but in conversation. This is the result of an ongoing awareness of the parties involved in their relationship to each other.
In our daily opening devotions, we did a form of Lectio Divina, which allowed us to go deeper into the scripture passage being read and to soak in God’s presence in the passage. Our study time each day focused on strengthening personal spiritual discernment which led to some enlightening and some serious discussions. To trust the discernment process, we must assume that God is willing and eager to share God’s longing with us. If we do not believe God wants to share this information and guide us through the Holy Spirit into finding God’s yearning, then it is difficult to walk the journey of discernment.
Our craft activities following lunch were centred around supporting our openness to listening for God’s voice in our lives, in our discernment, and in our faith journey. The Protestant prayer beads help us clear our minds so we can hear God’s voice as we draw closer to God. Using the prayer beads allows us to let go of control and trust the process to bring forth insight. The cross everyone made is a visual aide to help us focus in times of quiet as well as a reminder of God’s gift of love and salvation through Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection. The candle we decorated not only reminds us that Jesus is the Light of the World, but also that God is with us as we discern God’s
will for us. The greeting cards are a way of sharing our love with our friends and family as God shares God’s love with each of us.
There is no doubt in my mind that the idea for this week together was inspired by the Holy Spirit. Preparing for, and making this week happen, was a lot of work for a few dedicated people, but the end result was worth it. Sunday morning acquaintances became new friendships. We learned, we laughed, we celebrated. God was with us as we came together. The final evaluation by the participants was unanimous. They want this week to happen again next year with some positive suggestions to make something good even better. One participant wrote in her evaluation that she “learned to look inside herself.” That alone, made the whole week worthwhile.
Again, I want to thank Deborah Holme, Chris Antonovich, and those who helped along the way for all their hard work that made this week possible and such a meaningful success. I would also like to thank, again, the brave participants who risked a week of their valuable time to come out and join in this experiment. We made this journey of faith together and were better for it. I look forward to continuing to make such journeys of faith with you in the future.
Praying God’s Shalom for you always.
Do not fear, for I am with you, do not be
afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen
you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my
victorious right hand.
It has been four years and almost nine months since I started walking the Camino de Santiago with Pastor Katherine. No words do this powerful experience justice, and it is hard to explain one’s feelings from the experience. But from this journey reoccurring thoughts surface when you least expect. One of the thoughts that recently surfaced has to do with the backpacks we carried.
Many of us started out carrying too much stuff with us in our backpacks. There is nothing like walking for kilometres and kilometres with a loaded backpack to help you figure out what is really important enough to carry on your back day after day, and what you need to eliminate. I know I ended up sending stuff back home as soon as I could after I realized what was important and what was not important. The journey was hard enough without adding the extra weight of things that were not necessary.
Something I read that was written by a Camino pilgrim which has really stuck with me is that “We carry our fears in our backpacks.” For example, if you are afraid you will run out of food, you carry too much food. If you are afraid of freezing, you carry extra clothing, and so it goes, and the list continues to grow. Of course, all this extra stuff is heavy, which makes us tired and sore and often causes us to be irritable and miss the joy of the journey. If we are not careful, our fears become such a part of us that we do not recognize how much weight they add to the backpack we
carry through life, even though our fears always continue to weigh us down.
Life can be like this. We carry our fears with us, and they add extra weight to our lives, and they weigh us down. This excess baggage of whatever it is that we fear, adds weight to the backpack of
our life. Then the backpack each one of us carries with us throughout our life becomes burdensome and uncomfortable. Soon we become irritable, sore, tired, and unhappy. The extra weight can also cause injury. Our backpacks are meant for necessities, and there is no purpose in adding the extra weight of our fears.
Just like someone carrying a backpack on the Camino that contains stuff that is not needed or serves no real purpose, we keep lugging around that we should have dumped a long time ago. The result is that people in our lives do not get to see the real us. They do not get the best of us. Many times, they are on the receiving end of the pain caused by the useless fears we have been carrying around with us.
Maybe it is time to do what people carrying backpacks on the Camino end up doing along the way, and that is to unlock our overloaded personal backpacks that we are carrying around with us every day. Examine each item honestly, determine if we actually need it or not and if it is really serving a constructive purpose. If not, then leave it behind and move on.
Releasing something is hard, even if it is of no value, because we have been carrying it for so long and we have convinced ourselves we are not whole without it. Once we have the courage to make the decision to dump whatever is hindering us in our life, walk away from it and move forward, we wonder why we were carrying it to begin with. Lighten your load, get rid of the fears and useless junk from the past, and let the real you walk freely on the journey of life that God has given so graciously to you. Let the real you continue the journey and be a blessing to others.
Praying for continued blessings on your journey,
In the beginning when God created the
heavens and the earth, the earth was a
formless void and darkness covered the
face of the deep, while a wind from God
swept over the face of the waters.
It does not take a rocket scientist to realize that spring is here in all its glory, and that summer
is fast approaching. The parking lots at all the nurseries and garden centres are full and people are planting young plants and different kinds of seeds in the ground in anticipation of the beauty and colour found in mature plants as they fill barren spaces. Spring is a time of new life that awakens in us a deep awareness of God’s ongoing creative work.
When we profess our faith using the words of the Apostles’ Creed, we acknowledge our faith in God as the “creator of heaven and earth.” In the Nicene Creed we acknowledge our faith in God as the “maker of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen.” As members in our Christian community of faith we believe God continues to create as we enjoy and live in the busyness and distractions of our daily lives. Yet, we also have a part to play in all of this. God calls us to care for God’s creation both in our own gardens as well as in the world community.
We know our God through Jesus Christ, whose passion is to create wholeness in our lives and in all of God’s creation. Through example, teaching, healing, loving, forgiving, and suffering, Jesus created a new life for us. Through the grace demonstrated in Jesus’ death and resurrection God continues to call us back to new life. Like a young plant, we were planted in God’s Garden to bear fruit. Most of the fruit we bear we will never know or recognize, but we are called to live in God’s Garden to be fruitful. God watches over us as a good gardener would watch over the plants in his or her garden.
If we take the time to look around, we will always see new expressions of God’s continuing creative work. In this season of the year, it is much easier to be aware of God’s creative work than during other seasons of the year, but God’s creative work continues throughout all the seasons of the year, and all the seasons of our lives. Our living God continues to create in our lives, in our community, and in our congregation. God is never static.
Enjoy the beauty that is spring as it matures into summer. Enjoy the fruits of God’s continuing creative work in our gardens, in our lives, and in us. May we all share in God’s creative work, being fruitful as we are called in new ways to love God’s world and our neighbours.
Wishing you a blessed and fruitful season.
But the angel said to the women, “Do not
be afraid: I know you are looking for Jesus
who was crucified. He is not here; for he
has been raised, as he said.”
Several days ago, I decided to tackle the long overdue and dreaded job of cleaning out my refrigerator. Needless to say, I found several unplanned science experiments growing in the
back of the refrigerator safely hidden by some more recent grocery purchases. I could blame this pending disaster on my hectic schedule during Lent and Easter, but the honest truth is that there are at least a hundred other things I would rather do with my time than clean out the refrigerator.
As I was going through the contents of what my grandmother used to call the ice box, I began reflecting on Lent and Easter. Traditionally, Lent is a time of preparation, which I was doing as I made room for the edible food I would purchase on my next trip to the grocery store. But Lent is also a time of self-examination. I realized how wasteful I had been as I tossed food no longer edible into the trash. I was beginning to feel guilty, and rightfully so. We live in a land of plenty. For most of us there is always more where those food items came from, but that does not make being wasteful right. Cleaning out the refrigerator gives one plenty of time for self-examination, even when Lent is over. Hopefully my prayer life and commitment to my ministry are healthier than the food I was discarding. Lent is also a time of renewal. Recognizing where I fall short allows
me to commit to doing better, including my commitment to not wasting the blessings I have received.
Once the light at the back of the refrigerator was visible, I felt like Easter had dawned. Things were looking hopeful and full of promise. The impossible task was no longer impossible. We tend to forget that Easter is not just Easter Sunday, when we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Easter season lasts fifty days. This year Easter ends on May 28 th , with the celebration of Pentecost. Until then the paraments and vestments remain white, and the paschal candle remains beside the altar and is lit every Sunday reminding us that Easter is not over.
Fortunately, I did not need all fifty days to clean and organize my refrigerator. It was bad, but not that bad. I am now free to enjoy the remaining days of the Easter season. We tend to step back and allow the realization of what Easter is, and means, to fade during the fifty days rather than allowing ourselves the joy that comes from continuing to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. We have been given fifty days to celebrate and focus on the greatest gift we will ever receive. Every Sunday should be a celebration, especially the Sundays of the Easter season. Rather than asking, “Where have all the people gone?” the Sundays after Easter, we should all still be coming together
to celebrate the rest of the story.
For now, my refrigerator is clean, organized, and mostly empty. Soon I will make a trip to the grocery store with the commitment to buy only what I will use, to use what I have purchased wisely, and to waste nothing. I also have recommitted to certain other things in my life that the reflection time I had while doing this unpleasant task gave me. While it is doubtful that my refrigerator will always be this pristine and organized, there is no doubt that God’s love for us in the promise of the resurrected Jesus Christ will last for all eternity. Jesus died that we might live. It doesn’t get any better than that. Come and celebrate!
Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed. Let us celebrate with thanksgiving this Easter season!
Easter blessings to you and your families,
Mary Magdalene went and announced to
the disciples, “I have seen the Lord;” and
she told them that he had said these things
Our forty-day Lenten journey reaches its destination on Sunday, April 2 nd , Palm/Passion Sunday. Our Sunday worship that day marks the beginning of the Holiest week of the Christian year. We begin the week with the celebration of the palms and the proclamation of the passion. We conclude the week with the rituals of the Three Days, as we hear the story of the passion, death, and resurrection of
Jesus Christ as told in the Gospel of John.
Maundy Thursday marks the beginning of the Three Days. The story of the account of the Passover from Exodus is read. The angel of death punishes the Egyptian oppressors of the Jewish people, but the blood of the lamb will mark the door of the Israelites, and so God’s chosen people will live. For Christians, the blood that saves us from death is the blood of Jesus Christ, shared in the meal of Holy Communion at the Maundy Thursday service. So, we begin the Three Days by receiving Jesus Christ as the Passover lamb, the host at our meal, and the servant of all. The service concludes with the stripping of the altar. The emptying of the sanctuary is a metaphor for both Christ and the church being emptied for death.
We silently gather in the stripped sanctuary on Good Friday morning. We are not pretending that Jesus is still dead, but rather in solemn devotion we acknowledge that the cross is God’s gift of life, and how Jesus’ death brings life. The procession of the cross has been part of Good Friday
services since the fourth century. The cross represents Jesus himself, and we worship the Saviour of the world. The cross of death is praised as “life-giving.” As Christians attend the cross on Good Friday, Biblical images assist our contemplation of the meaning of Jesus Christ’s death. Jesus is the suffering servant, the slain lamb, a small plant, a victorious warrior, a rejected worm, a helpless victim, our high priest, and the incarnate God.
The Easter Vigil is traditionally held on Holy Saturday night. For those churches that hold an Easter vigil this is the most significant worship of the year. This is not part of St. Ansgar’s tradition but it was in my first parish. The Easter Vigil is not a prayer vigil, but a time of telling the story from the beginning.
On Easter morning we gather as people of the resurrection. The Easter morning service does not raise Jesus, but rather proclaims and celebrates his resurrection. Every Sunday, but especially on Easter Sunday, the worshipping congregation enacts the message of salvation by joining to Jesus Christ and one another in Holy Communion. The body of Jesus Christ has risen from the dead, and enlivened by the Spirit of the risen Christ, we share in that body and so become that body. The music and worship service are celebratory on Easter morning. Alleluia!
Easter Day is the culmination of the Three Days, and the beginning of fifty days of celebration. Easter lasts seven weeks, through the Day of Pentecost, the fiftieth day. During the weeks of Easter, the first readings on Sunday morning come from the Book of Acts. By listening to the Acts of the Apostles, the church understands that the resurrection continues in the life of the church, with the power of the Spirit seen now in the followers of the risen Christ, including you and me.
This may be more than you ever wanted to know about the Three Days and Easter, but as Christians and Lutherans it is important to know that we are an important part of a religious tradition that has deep spiritual and Biblical roots. We are the torch bearers and keepers of our faith tradition in a world that is blinded by cute bunnies and secular traditions that have nothing to do with the reason for Easter. We share in the body of Christ and are called be that body in a world that does not respect or understand what being a Christian is, or what we stand for in the world. As Christians, we are an important part of all that I have written about, an important part of the true meaning of Easter. When we gather on Easter Sunday, we are privileged to know what it is we are celebrating
and why we are celebrating. For some people Easter is just another holiday, but that is not the case for us. We know what it is that we are celebrating, why we are celebrating, and we experience the gift the risen Jesus Christ now, and in the eternal future.
I hope you will enter into the entire celebration of the Three Days and Easter. This is our time to be who God called us to be: a participating member of the Christian faith tradition. Come and experience who you are and renew your commitment to the risen Christ.
Wishing you a blessed Three Days and Easter.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
Our Lenten journey began on Ash Wednesday, February 22 nd . Many of us were able to attend the
11:00 a.m. Ash Wednesday service. Sadly, some of you missed out because of the cancellation of
the evening service due to the ice storm. The Ash Wednesday service is particularly meaningful because of the inclusion of the imposition of ashes. This ritual uses ashes to remind us of two central truths of the human condition. The first is that we are mortal. Each year I say, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” as I mark your forehead with the cross of Christ made of ashes. The second truth is that we are all sinners, and as the Hebrew tradition ritualized this, we repent in dust and ashes.
This month we continue our Lenten journey. The entire month of March is included in the forty days of Lent, excluding Sundays, for Sunday is always a celebration of the resurrection. During this special time of preparation for Easter some people give up things such as certain foods, forms of entertainment, or other things they enjoy. Other people choose to do additional things such as spending more time reading their Bible and in prayer, reaching out to their neighbours in a meaningful way, or donating extra money to worthy causes. It is important to remember that these,
or any other Lenten ritual, are not necessary to win God’s approval. Whatever we choose to not do,
or to do, is a way to remind ourselves of the renewal of life that baptism brings.
At St. Ansgar we have scheduled midweek services and are providing Lenten daily devotional guides as
opportunities to enrich your Lenten experience. Our midweek services will be less structured than our Ash Wednesday service, and the morning services are followed by a soup lunch and fellowship. The first soup lunch was well attended and the fellowship especially enjoyable. There is a time to make your Lenten journey alone, and there is a time to make your Lenten journey supported by community. The journey is always easier when shared in community. Please feel free to invite a friend or neighbour. All are welcome!
The traditional prayer after communion for Lent summarizes the meaning of the Lenten season. Compassionate God, you have fed us with the bread of heaven. Sustain us in our Lenten pilgrimage: may our fasting be hunger for justice; our alms, a making of peace; and our prayer, the song of grateful hearts, through Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord. AMEN
We join together, pilgrims through Lent on our way to Easter. I pray God’s blessing on your Lenten journey. May this year’s pilgrimage to Easter be especially meaningful and renewing.
Jesus emptied himself, taking the form of a
slave, being born in human likeness, and being
found in human form, he humbled himself and
became obedient to the point of death – even
death on a cross.
February 22 is Ash Wednesday, and the beginning of our Lenten journey toward Holy Week and Easter Sunday. Historically, the Lenten season was a penitential time, more focused on Jesus’ suffering and death and on human sinfulness as the cause of Jesus’ suffering and death on a cross. In more recent times, the church has tried to achieve a balance by lifting up the baptismal emphasis that resonates with Luther’s concept of ongoing baptismal renewal, of daily dying and rising with Jesus.
Normally, no one looks forward to the Lenten season. It is not a time of celebration like Christmas and Easter. But this year I am excited about the plans we have made for the Lenten services at St. Ansgar. Our mid-week Wednesday Lenten services will be done differently than they have been done in previous years. First, instead of a soup supper before the evening worship service, we will be
having a soup luncheon after an earlier worship service. We are offering a “relaxed” worship service at 11:00 a.m., followed by a soup lunch and fellowship.
The lunch will be soup, a good bread, and something sweet to end the meal. The idea behind this is to give people who cannot come to the evening service the opportunity to gather in community, to worship, and for fellowship. An evening service will also be offered for members who cannot come
during the day, beginning at 7:30 p.m. No meal will be offered at the evening service.
Our theme for the five services during Lent is, “Living Our Baptism.....Five gifts of discipleship.” When you were confirmed, you were asked if you intended to continue in the covenant God made with you in Holy baptism:
to live among God’s faithful people,
to hear the word of God and share the Lord’s supper,
to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed,
to serve all people, following the example of Jesus,
and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.
Your response was: We do, and ask God to help and guide us.
The goal of our time together at these mid-week services is to rediscover and claim the God-given gifts of discipleship. These gifts overlap and are intertwined as one gift flowing into another and into faithful living. We will be using the four chapters that form the letter of Paul to the Philippians. Each week we will look at one of these five gifts of discipleship. Based on our readings, a discussion will follow, and questions will be asked. It is my sincere hope that everyone will be inspired to take part. As a community we can learn and grow together.
I look forward to worshipping with you in a “relaxed” worship service, sharing a simple noontime meal with those who are able to attend the first service, and casual conversation with you in Christian fellowship each Wednesday during Lent.
Praying God’s Shalom for you always,
And let us consider how to provoke
one another to love and good deeds,
not neglecting to meet together, as is
the habit of some, but encouraging
one another, and all the more as you
see the Day approaching.
As we enter a new year, we are looking for a fresh start, a new beginning. Some of us are looking for a return to normal in the new year, whatever that is. We have survived covid with all the restrictions and adjustments to our way of life that came with it. Yet, covid is still with us and continues to threaten our return to normal. We are tired and growing accustomed to living a more isolated life. Community life has become a virtual experience rather than real in-person
Church attendance has been slowly increasing since our return to in-person worship, but it is not what it used to be. Many have become comfortable watching a worship service on the internet or on television. While these two options have been helpful and served us well during the lockdowns, and during severe weather, they were never intended to become the new normal.
Communities are people. A community is a group of people who share something in common. St. Ansgar is a church community. We are people who share a rich heritage and common faith, who are alike in some way, and who feel some sense of belonging and interpersonal connection. We don’t just belong to some organization. But like so many other church communities, our church community is in danger.
The key to a successful church community is coming together, in person, to worship together, to informally share time together, to do God’s work together. We find a peace in worship surrounded by members of our church family that is not possible in front of a screen. We are all on a pilgrimage, and we can only support each other on that journey through personal interaction. Only by coming together can a church community recognize that those who have gathered for worship make up the body of Christ.
Private devotions in the sanctuary of one’s own home provides serenity. The stillness of reflecting on God in the solitude of the woods or walking on the beach is inspiring. But these experiences, as important and meaningful as they are, still leave us with a need to participate in a worshipping community, for in the worshipping community we are empowered by the blessings of the Holy Spirit, and the blessings of each other.
I am truly grateful for those who have returned for regular worship and fellowship. It is my sincere hope that more of the St. Ansgar Church community will return for regular Sunday worship and fellowship in the near future. The Church Council has taken every precaution to ensure a safe place for all those who enter our building. It is safer in the church than in the grocery store where you shop, or the restaurant where you dine. We miss you and want to see you back among us as we make our
pilgrimage through life together. You are an important piece of the body of Christ. I look forward to seeing you in worship with us in 2023.
Praying God’s Shalom for you in the coming year.
Easter Message from Bishop Younan
The Easter Message from Bishop Younan
As we continue our Easter journey through the fifty days to Pentecost, I am sharing this timely Easter message from Bishop Younan, the Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land. Having spent a total of six weeks in Palestine and Israel I am acutely aware of the oppression the Christian people suffer in these countries. These are the descendants of the original Christians. Many have left, with many coming to Canada. In light of the reality under which these people live, I hope you can find the same meaning and hope in Bishop Younan’s Easter message as I have.
Shalom, Pastor David
Resurrection Joy in a Fearful World
Easter Message 2017 – From Bishop Dr. Munib Younan
“…the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.” ~ Matthew 28:5-8
Alleluia, Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed, Alleluia! Al-Masih qam! Hakkan qam!
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ, on Palm Sunday morning, after being in church and feeling encouraged by the message of “Hosanna!” sung by the children and the congregation, I heard the sad news of the massacre of our sisters and brothers in two churches in Egypt. One cannot receive such horrific news except with tears. The feelings of great joy on our feast day, and great sadness over such a horror, are inseparable—much as the great joy and great fear of Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were inseparable as they ran from the empty tomb.
And so I must confess that as I prepared this Easter message from Jerusalem, the city of the crucifixion and resurrection, to the whole world, I had some doubts in my heart. I thought: What message can I bring this year that is different from past years? Has the Easter message lost its meaning, disregarded by Christians as well as others? Is it just a message of idealism, far from the lived experience of people today? What does the resurrection of Jesus have to say to us in the midst of the terrors, chaos, and uncertainty of today’s world?
But then I remember that the life of faith is not always one of assurances or certainties. Jesus’ own disciples struggled to understand his teachings and his journey to the cross. Peter denied Jesus three times. The guards at the tomb were so afraid that they became “like dead men.” Mary Magdalene and the other Mary ran from the tomb with “fear and great joy.” And on the walk to Emmaus, the disciples did not recognize the risen Christ until the breaking of the bread.
Therefore, there is no shame to admit that here in the Middle East it is a very challenging time to proclaim and live the Good News of the resurrection of Our Lord Jesus. The struggles we are facing are very real and are becoming even more complicated. We have good reason to feel confused! And still, the message of Easter comes to us very clearly: Christ is risen! The powers of sin and death have been defeated! And as the angel of the Lord has promised, the risen Christ now goes before us to lead the way in this broken—and often frightening—world.
I think of the story of St. Augustine, who was full of doubt but prayed earnestly for the gift of faith in God. While he was praying, he heard the voice of a child saying, “Pick it up and read! Pick it up and read!” He thought this could be the Lord telling him to read the Holy Scriptures, so he searched and found a Bible. Then he opened it and read the first verse he saw, from the Letter of Paul to the Romans: “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh or the gratification of your desires.” (Romans 13:14) The young Augustine read no further, for there was no need. He later wrote: “No sooner had I reached the end of the verse than the light of certainty flooded my heart and all dark shades of doubt fled away.” (Confessions)
Thanks be to God, the risen Christ always comes to us when we are full of doubt, and shows us the way of love and light! For this reason, even in the midst of our confusion and sadness over the killing of innocent Christians at prayer, we can say with certainty: There is no religion which accepts the killing of innocent worshipers, who were doing nothing but seeking closeness with God. These acts are untenable and unaccepted in any religion. We are grateful that the vast majority of Muslim friends also stand with us as equal citizens against such horrors.
Today we are also facing a horrible and confusing situation in Syria, in Iraq, and across the Middle East. We see the images of chemicals stealing the breath from children, and of cities lying in rubble, and we wonder, “What can we do?” At the same time, we see missiles flying and we are afraid of what comes next – for Syria, and for the whole Middle East.
And again, although we may feel confused, because we have seen the risen Christ we know one thing for certain: Syria has no need of more weapons, more violence, or more massacres, or more extremism from anybody. This is creating international tension, straining relations between friends and partners, and we are afraid of what comes next. I urge world leaders to hear the words of Jesus to Peter in the Garden of Gethsemane, after Peter had cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant: “Return your sword to its sheath! For those who live by the sword will die by the sword.” Violence breeds violence, whether it is committed by terrorists or by governments. I call on the leaders of the world: Return your swords to their sheaths! Bring instead peace based on justice to Syria, to Iraq, to Palestine and to the whole Middle East. Bring a future for us and for our children.
As Christians in the Holy Land today, the turmoil in these many neighbor countries is very frightening. At the same time, here at home we are in our fiftieth year of occupation. Many Palestinian Christians are asking, “How long, O Lord? When will this end? Where do we belong?”
For this reason, I feel it is important to acknowledge that even as we sing our joyful “Hallelujahs” and celebrate Our Lord’s victory over death, some fear and confusion and doubts still remain. And yet, we must remember that we are not alone. These are the very same feelings the disciples felt after the resurrection of Jesus.
When our Lord was raised on that resurrection morning, the earth shook, an angel arrived in a flash of lightning, and the stone rolled away from Jesus’ tomb. It seemed the very foundations of heaven and earth had shifted. What we proclaim today as Good News, at that time was only confusing, frightening news! The guards, the women, and the disciples were all afraid of what they saw and heard. They were all afraid of what would come next. They wondered what the resurrection meant for their lives.
And yet, this same earth-shaking event is the one that gives us hope today. The powers and principalities of sin and death could not overcome the love of God. Yes, they could crucify Jesus. Yes, they could bury Jesus. But they could not bury God’s love for the world!
In the midst of their confusion, the angel told the ones gathered at the tomb, “He is not here, He is risen!” In the midst of bombings, Christ is risen! In the midst of persecution, Christ is risen! In the midst of violence and occupation, Christ is risen! In the midst of poverty and sickness, Christ is risen! In the midst of war, Christ is risen! And in the midst of our families, our communities, and our churches today, Christ is risen!
This is our hope, and we must cling to it. The message of Easter is not idealism. Christ’s victory over sin, death, and despair, is the only hope that has kept Christians steadfast in this land for two thousand years. It is the only hope that carried the saints of every age through trials, struggles, and persecutions. And it is the only hope that today will carry us through these confusing times in the Middle East and throughout the world. The Good News of the resurrection gives Christians clarity and purpose, no matter where they are, and no matter what the future brings. Jesus, the Morning Star, goes before us to lead the way—and the Way of Jesus is always the way of peace, justice, mercy, healing, reconciliation, respect for diversity, and living together as one people of God.
Therefore, Palestinian Christians will continue to be steadfast in our land. We will continue to carry the message of resurrection in the face of all who promote a culture of death. In the midst of power struggles, political maneuvering, and the growth of extremism in our world, we will only proclaim the culture of life and life abundantly, will full dignity for every human being. As we celebrate Our Lord’s victory over death, in this 500th year of the Reformation, let us trust that Jesus Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection have already liberated us by grace. We are not afraid! Despite all troubles and tribulations, let us go out from our churches and into the world with the joy of the resurrection, knowing that the risen Christ goes always before us. Let us encourage one another with the two-thousand year-old Easter greeting of Jerusalem:
Hallelujah! Christ is risen! Al-Masih qam! Hakan qam!
April 2017 Message from Pastor Dave
Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but he has risen. (Luke 24: 5)
Is Easter incomplete if you did not receive a chocolate Cadbury egg? Thanks to modern media advertising many people, young and old, think Easter is a failure if they do not receive the expected goodies. After all, what is Easter without enough assorted candies to cause a diabetic coma? Sadly, for many Easter ends with the Easter basket.
Those who know me know I love my sweets, and no one enjoyed their Easter basket growing up more than I did, but Easter in my family did not stop with the colourful eggs and jellybeans nestled among the assorted candies. Easter was a time for family and for church. Holy week was a week that always felt different in my home. There were the usual joyful preparations for family arriving and Easter dinner, but there was also an underlying seriousness that grew as we approached the Three Days. We attended Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services as a family. The reality of Easter was better understood in the context of the worship experience of the previous two days. After all, you can’t have Easter without Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. I am very grateful that my parents made sure my sister and I knew and experienced the entire story, not just the fun part.
As we approach Holy Week and the Three Days, I hope everyone will participate in the entire journey, and not just settle for the easy parts. Easter is not just about running to the empty tomb. Easter is also about the journey after the empty tomb, about allowing this journey to take us to the deepest regions of our hearts and minds. In the resurrection of Jesus Christ God gave us such a miracle of love and forgiveness that it is worthy of our full attention and consideration. The resurrection is not an ending, but a beginning.
A chocolate Cadbury egg is so very insignificant compared to the gift of the resurrected Christ that it probably should not even be mentioned. Yet, it receives more attention during the Easter season than does the risen Christ. So, I guess the question is, “What is in your Easter basket? Is there room for the entire Easter story, or have the Cadbury eggs crowded out the true gift of Easter, the entire story of the Resurrected Christ?
Shalom, Pastor David
Content Copyright © 2023 St. Ansgar Lutheran Church - All rights reserved.
Programming Copyright © 2023
- All rights reserved.