I am thankful for each of you on this Holy Week. As you are preparing to journey to the cross with your congregations, you continue to offer compassion and concern. Even as you offer some of the most familiar and exciting words of our faith “Christ is Risen!” you are willing to walk with people who are in unfamiliar places, dark places, watching as hard truths are exposed. While the death and resurrection of Jesus is on our minds, we remain watchful to care for those whose lives are complicated, conflicted, mixed up with all kinds of hurts and frustrations. You assist as people come to you, wondering what it is to be forgiven or how to forgive. You continue to pray with the weak who long for healing; you keep constant contact with those whose healing is to transition to their eternal home.
I’m drawn to this scripture for next week from Acts 5: 27-32, as the High Council questions Peter and the apostles:
“We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.”
The question that comes with this scripture in Disciplines (a devotional some of us read) is: when has your faith compelled you to rise up, stand up or kneel down in obedience to God rather than earthly authorities? I add to that question – when do we kneel down in obedience rather than focus solely on the life of the church? Our call is to God and to the church and to people, to neighbor.
This past Sunday I drove out to meet with a pastor to discuss the future: appointments, what’s coming in the UMC, what life may bring next for this person. It was good to gather, to have conversation. And … I was hungry. I had come straight from church services to a meeting with a congregation and then to meet with this person. So I stopped at a tiny sub shop, the kind that shares space with a gas station and is found in even the most rural of places. The two women working there were cleaning up, in the back and were in conversation when I arrived. They asked me what I did for a living. I told them I was a pastor; I could have said anything, but I shared that I was a pastor.
As they asked my order, their conversation continued to linger. One woman was to be married this Thursday and she was nervous. She was marrying into a family of Baptist preachers; I should have prayed for her on the spot or maybe told her to flee – preacher families are, well, you know! The other woman was clearly hurting, though she tried to speak without emotion. She asked, “How do you let go of a hurt that is out of your control? You keep feeling bad about something that you didn’t do but it won’t stop bothering you.” I wasn’t 100% sure what she was talking about but it sounded like a question of forgiveness, maybe of another person or even forgiveness of herself. A tear escaped her right eye as she put lettuce and onion on my sandwich. My hunger faded as I tried to answer.
She tried to keep up the work of making a sandwich, interspersing “what kind of cheese?” with emotions that come with a hurting heart, of not knowing what to do. I offered a gentle response about releasing herself from this hurt, of letting go of things beyond her control, of forgiveness of self. I paid for my food and then set it down and prayed with these young women, one full of nerves, the other plagued with little streams of tears and self-doubt. The door chime rang and we prayed but we were still alone when the Amen came and we opened our eyes.
As I reflect on this procurement of a sub sandwich, I realize that all ministry is interwoven with life. It is Easter week and not “just” Easter week for people. These women didn’t recognize it was Palm Sunday or that we pastors were moving into our busiest week of worship. They did recognize someone who might bring them comfort or answer questions, so they inquired. And we worked out some faithful responses, some possible ways to inch forward in faith, in life.
The call of Christ in our lives brings so much more than church on Sunday morning, more than the worshipful work of preparing and proclaiming God’s word. You are tending to the people right where they are. It brings the simple moment when the name of Jesus is uttered between the placement of ham and cheese, when a prayer is uttered between the administering of medication and adjusting a pillow in the hospice house. Thank you for all you do to proclaim the risen Christ this week. And bless you for attending to all who seek Christ, who seek forgiveness and blessing, whether Easter is on their minds or not. I am grateful for you who put aside so many things to be sure to attend to others. May you find rest and recovery of spirit as you take Sundays glorious “hallelujahs” into next week and the season of Easter ahead.
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