It is traditional to sing “Christ the Lord is risen today” (UMH 302) on Easter Sunday. In some congregations, it is accompanied by trumpets and fanfare. The joy of our Easter celebration should ring out and shake the heavens. But how can we rejoice this year when the Ukrainian people are suffering at the hand of Russian invaders? I feel more akin to singing “When we are called to sing your praise with hearts so filled with pain” (FWS 2216).
Who would have thought that our world would be in this predicament as an empire invades a neighbor? The unrelenting bombing has caused widespread destruction as buildings have been demolished and reduced to rubble and debris. It’s unimaginable to me that a building sheltering refugees, mothers and their children, could be targeted, not to mention local schools, hospitals, businesses and gathering places. Imagine turning to look over your shoulder at your home to see it as rubble and debris. What must this shelling do to the people? What trauma must it instill? What paralyzing fear must settle on the children?
How can we celebrate Easter with hearts so filled with pain?
Unsettling grief also stalked that first Easter as the womenfolk made their way to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body with spices. It was only days before that they stood at the cross witnessing his tragic death, gruesomely, cruelly executed to crush the movement of God in our world. Now those women stand at the entrance of the empty tomb wondering what happened to their Lord and Savior.
So we stand with the people of Central Europe wondering whether God hears our cries, listens to our prayers, and pays attention to our pleadings.
Christians throughout the ages have found themselves in similar predicaments when persecution was unleashed, and cruelty meted out, as faithful followers confessed that God will save them, and even if God didn’t save them, they would not bow the knee to ungodly rulers. They stood firm in faith and pushed back against the rulers, authorities, the forces of darkness as they trusted themselves to God.
We stand with the people of Ukraine as we share their pain at such cruel suffering.
How shall we push back? Since the beginning, Christians have pushed back by offering praise to God. Singing our praise declares that our trust is in God, and our hope is in the victory that Christ enacted on the cross. Even though our hearts are filled with pain yet we will rejoice in the Lord.
So it will soon be Easter. Despite the sadness and the pain, we will sing “Christ the Lord is risen today” for indeed he is our assurance, our hope, and our victory. Whatever may happen in Ukraine, we declare to the principalities and powers that our God reigns, and we have every hope in what is yet to come. As Wesley said, the best is yet to be!
Easter blessings, Graham N. West, pastor
Avoid 10:30 am in Greenville - that’s when they head out.
Within a short distance behind us, is an Amazon Distribution Center, or Fulfillment Center. It is strategically located allowing its vans to head out daily on a network of highways that take them in every direction.
I have tried on various occasions to count the number of vans in the parking lot, or should I say lots as they have commandeered adjoining lots for parking. I have to count quickly as they are moving to load up and get going, say 150 vans, maybe 200.
The vans head out about 10:30 am, a long line like ants, first picking up their cargo for the day at the center, and then hitting the highways. When they return at the end of the day, mostly after dark, they first gas up at local service stations, then return to the center, and eventually to the parking lot, filling the spots to capacity.
I tell you this because that’s what the church is meant to be. Typically, we gather for worship on Sundays, then after the benediction, we scatter into the community, heading in various directions, wherever our daily activities take us.
It was always intended that our scattering was the way the gospel of God’s love in Jesus Christ would be shared in the communities where we live. Faithful followers of Christ would carry the message of God’s love to the localities where they lived, worked, served, socialized, and hung out.
If the gospel is good news, and the people of our communities are in need of God’s love, then we should share it with them. Tell them about God’s love and its impact on your life, about Jesus Christ and his forgiveness, redemption, and healing.
Just tell them! Invite them! Host them!
We all have family and friends, neighbors and colleagues, people who daily cross our path in need of the love and grace of Christ more desperately than we imagine. So why hold back? Is it awkwardness, embarrassment, or clumsiness with our words?
Here’s an approach that may be helpful: Identify someone you would like to share with, or invite to church. Pray to ask for God’s help in doing so. Look for an opportunity to share or invite that person. Tell your story in simple terms: what God has done in your life. Invite them to church. Bring them or meet them, and host them during their visit. Then thank God for using you to share Christ’s love.
If every worshiper invited just one person, we could double the size of our congregation.
Every blessing, Graham N. West, pastor