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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Easter - April 30, 2006

Easter is the central celebratory feast of the church year; and I don’t just mean Easter Sunday; I mean the whole seven week season.  To quote from one of the liturgical resources the ELCA provides, “The 50 days of Easter are an abundance of feasting, joy, and passionate immersion into the new creation revealed in the death and resurrection of Christ.  Easter is a week of weeks, seven times seven, our rejoicing multiplied over an entire season.”  That’s what it says.

And yet…it’s easy to let Easter Sunday be a day of rejoicing and feasting and high church attendance followed by a letdown, a quick return to the ordinary and much smaller numbers in church.  Those of us having the luxury of taking a little vacation time right after Easter may be able to sustain the Easter joy more easily, but for those who have to go right back to work or school or just back to the usual routine, it’s more difficult.  In church though, we try to keep it going. 

We try to keep the spirit of joy alive, which can be a challenge for the reserved Scandinavian, Northern European types which many of us are.  We try to keep the spirit of joy alive even though some of us probably feel more at home in the repentance and guilt of Lent.  But we’re Easter people; the good news of the Resurrection and new life in Christ is our core Christian confession so two weeks later while the array of flowers isn’t quite so vast as it was on Easter Sunday, there are still Easter flowers; we still sing Easter songs; we omit the confession of sins for this season as we understand ourselves to be in a state of grace; and there are still many proclamations of Alleluia throughout the liturgy.

It’s still Easter!  The celebration goes on!   There is cause for joy!  But our gospel texts this year during these first weeks of Easter do present a few obstacles to joy or at least joy is in short supply in them.  On Easter Sunday Mark’s story ended with the women fleeing the tomb, saying nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.  Not much in the way of joy.  Last week there was a move to John’s gospel for the annual visit with doubting Thomas which to be fair does have some rejoicing on the part of the other disciples and finally a confession of faith on the part of Thomas himself.  But still, it’s not really a joyous story; the initial fear of the disciples and the questioning on the part of Thomas tend to be the parts that stick. 

And then today, from Luke we get the final appearance of Jesus to his disciples prior to his ascension and still there is fear rather than joy.  “They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost.”  There is a mention of joy on the part of the disciples but their joy is couched with disbelief and wondering.  It’s supposed to be a season of joy, the atmosphere and tone of this season are intended to be uplifting, but if all we had were these gospel lessons, we’d be hard pressed to find a whole lot of joy.

What all three of these gospel lessons do though, is point us to a joy that really is lasting joy and not just a quickly passing Easter high.  While not overtly joyous in themselves, these lessons bring light to the journey of faith, a journey that is in essence so joyous that it overcomes or at least can cope with the parts of the journey that are more burdensome.  

I said a couple of weeks ago that in his ending that isn’t really an ending Mark said what he thought needed to be said.  Rather than including actual resurrection appearances by Jesus he suggests that if the women, if we, want to see the Risen Christ, we should go back to Galilee, not literally, but figuratively.  We are to go back to the beginning of the gospel which starts in Galilee, and read it again.  There, as we read again, we will not just learn more about Jesus, we will encounter the Risen, living Christ.  An engagement with scripture though, is central to that encounter.

Looking at Luke’s account of the Easter story, one could draw the same conclusion about the centrality of scripture to encountering the Risen Christ.  Luke starts with the discovery of the empty tomb by the women but there are no encounters with Jesus until later that day.  First there is the Road to Emmaus story as Jesus appeared to two of the disciples as they traveled from Jerusalem.  Then follows today’s story which happens after these two return to Jerusalem and tell the others what happened on the road.

What these stories from Luke have in common though is that in both of them it is as Jesus  explains scripture to those he has appeared to that who he is and what has happened and what it all means starts to make sense.  With both Mark and Luke there are other things going on in their Easter accounts; it’s not just about the role of scripture in an encounter with the Risen Christ.  But it seems clear that these early evangelists are letting it be known that Jesus, God is to be found in the sacred writings.  These biblical writings are not just a place to learn about God, they are a place to actually encounter God.

As Lutherans we should know this.  After all, it was in his study of scripture that Luther found revealed the God of grace that had eluded him previously.  He was the first one to make reading and study of the Bible the heart of a life and journey of faith not just for trained clergy but for everyone.  As I said once before, Martin Luther pretty much invented Bible believing Christians, but we’ve allowed others to take the claim of Bible believing Christians away from us. 

For a long time I have believed that the way to Lutheran church growth, renewal, whatever you want to call it, doesn’t lie in any gimmicky programs, it lies in the Bible.  It lies in teaching our own members that there is a Lutheran way to read the Bible, which is not the way the Da Vinci Code people read it; it’s not the way the Left Behind people read it; it’s not the way the Channel 27 people read it. 

It’s a way steeped in the grace and love and welcome of the Risen Christ and it is a way so joyous that I am convinced that there are many out there who would embrace it and might even want to be part of our church if they knew that this was how we read the Bible.  It doesn’t deny the existence of difficult and conflicting texts, but it ultimately comes down on the side of a gracious, forgiving, inclusive God.  ELCA Lutherans aren’t the only one’s who read the Bible this way, but as the church of sola scriptura, scripture alone, we have much to offer.

I am pleased to report that the ELCA apparently agrees with me.  On April 11 they announced a multi-year emphasis on scripture.  Now I must confess that I can sometimes be somewhat suspicious and cynical about such churchwide emphases and renewals because they do tend to be gimmicky but this one intrigues me, I suppose because I agree with the stated purpose.  The intent is to “explore foundational Lutheran principles for reading and interpreting the Bible.” 

You may be thinking, “I didn’t know there was a Lutheran way to read and interpret the Bible.”  Like I said, it’s not strictly Lutheran, but there is a way to read the Bible that is different from the way the Bible is read and used by the Christian groups with the loudest voices.  It’s the way that I try to read the Bible as I do what I do because I think it is a way that is more faithful to the God of grace that Luther and others have found revealed there.

So stay tuned.  I’m excited about this new ELCA emphasis but it won’t mean much unless you get excited too.  We’ve got a faithful group here that regularly attend one of our Bible studies but they’re always looking for company.  After all, if you want to be a Bible believing Christian you do have to crack the book once in awhile. 

When you do, you do a very Lutheran thing.  You follow in Luther’s footsteps, but even more importantly you accept the invitation of those first evangelists, Mark and Luke, an invitation that leads to a joyous Easter encounter with the Risen Christ.

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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