By Rev. Michelle Foster
Suffering Unto Death
Purpose: To learn to trust God even in the face of suffering and death.
Scripture: Luke 23: 32-46
Key Verse: “Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’ Having said this, he breathed his last.” — Luke 23:46
How do you determine whether someone is worthy of your trust? To what extent do you trust someone? Or, is there anyone that you completely trust? We live in a world that encourages us not to trust. Everyday there are stories in the media about those whose trust has been exploited. Regardless of whether the breech of trust is violated by institutions, family members or complete strangers, we learn to rely and depend upon only ourselves and our own abilities and skills.
Our appointed scripture for this lesson challenges our understanding of trust. In this particular passage Jesus is on the cross about to be crucified. He is surrounded on his right and his left by self-admitted thieves. The taunting crowds are gathered and at Christ’s feet are those gambling for his clothes.
What is Jesus’ demeanor towards it all? Though we are not given overwhelming details, we can hear in Jesus’ words his sense of trust in God. Even as he is being mocked by the crowds he prays that his father would forgive those who are seeking to do him harm. Later on, he assures one of the criminals that they, the criminal and Jesus, will be together in paradise. Finally, just before he draws his last breath he entrusts his spirit into his father’s hands.
Jesus is looking squarely into the face of suffering and death. He knows that his days and moments on this earth are few. All that he had spent his life working for was coming to an end. His legacy was not yet known. Yet there was calmness, a peace, an attitude of trust and surrender that surrounded him. He knew and claimed the presence of God alive and at work in his life, his ministry and in his suffering and in death.
What about us? Can we honestly say that we completely trust God, not just on the good days, but even in those days of confusion, pain and suffering? We have the good pleasure of knowing the rest of this story … Jesus’ death and ultimate resurrection brings to each of us the promise of life eternal. Why, then, are we afraid to trust? How do we surrender to the desires of self-will, human fear and human control in order to commend our lives completely into the hands of God? How do we day after day seek to fully and completely trust God even in the face of suffering and death?
Resurrected Unto New Life
Purpose: To live like Jesus’ resurrection makes a difference in our daily lives
Scripture: Luke 24:1-12
Key Verse: “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.” — Luke 24:5-6
It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and several other women who first discovered the empty tomb on that Easter morning. Scripture tells us that they were perplexed that the body of Jesus was gone from its burial site. These female disciples arrived at the tomb expecting to encounter the dead body, prepare it according to tradition and return to their daily routines. We also know that Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Mary the mother of James were close followers of Jesus Christ. They knew and believed in his teachings and promises; they shared with him in prayer and worship; and even witnessed his last words from the cross as he drew his last breath.
Only three days have elapsed since he was with them. In these short three days they had forgotten the days and times spent at the feet of the master teacher. The women who had gathered to give Jesus a proper burial have forgotten the importance and influence that their relationship with Christ had made in their lives as he lived and led on this earth. It was not until they were confronted with the question of the angels, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” that they remembered the promises of Christ. In this instant, their lives were transformed. Their faith and belief in Christ experienced a resurrection of sorts! It was infused with new life. They ran with energy and enthusiasm sharing the promised good news of Jesus Christ fulfilled: Christ is alive!
How often do we live like Mary and Joanna, as though we are in a relationship with a dead God; a savior whose life ended on a cross and whose body was buried in a cave far, far away? Think about it for a few moments … where in your own life do you express your faith in a savior, God-with-us, who is alive and active in our daily lives? How often do we find ourselves surprised by the fulfilled promises of God? How does our understanding of life and death reflect our Christian belief that Christ’s resurrection makes a difference both now and in life after death? How might we remind others in the Christian community that we serve a risen savior? In what ways will we “run and tell” the Good News of our Easter faith to those who already believe and to those who do not yet believe? How will we sustain our Easter day joy and excitement all 365 days of the year?
Witnesses to New Life
Purpose: To claim our role as witnesses for Christ
Scripture: Luke 24:44-53
Key Verse: “You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised.” — Luke 24:48
Have you ever thought about the job description of a Christian? What would be the vocational responsibilities of a Christian? Though each of us may choose different words or phrases to convey it, I believe each of us could boil it down to four main responsibilities:
• To have belief in and offer worship to the triune God
• To learn and share the word of God;
• To live in love with one another as Christ lives in love with us
• To share the Good News – the death and resurrection of Jesus offers forgiveness to all people in order that we might have new and eternal life with God.
When we begin to read the appointed scripture for today we learn that it is Easter evening. Jesus’ disciples know that he is no longer dead — he is alive! He has, according to Luke, already appeared to some disciples who were on the road to Emmaus, and now is appearing to all of his disciples. In verses 44-47 the risen Christ explains to the gathered disciples why this day has unfolded as it has and what will happen next. In verse 48 Jesus informs the disciples that they will become witnesses to the world. His next sentence seems to be offered almost as a way of calming their fears and questions even before we can hear or see the nervousness and anxiety of the disciples. Jesus says in verse 49, “And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised.” Here Jesus is referring to the coming of the Holy Spirit whose role it is to teach and remind us of all that Christ had first taught to us.
It is interesting that even as Jesus calls his first disciples to a new “job” with new responsibilities, he also equips them to do their new job well. The gift of the Holy Spirit is offered as companion, teacher, encourager, and advocate who will join with the disciples as they go into the whole world as witnesses of Jesus’ ministry of love and forgiveness.
We are like Christ’s first disciples. We, too, are called to be Christ’s witness in the world. Though we are not eyewitnesses to Jesus’ ministry as he lived on this earth, we have witnessed the ministry of Jesus Christ. We have witnessed the ministry of Christ through the recorded Word, the movement of God’s Spirit in our own lives and in the lives of others, and the life and ministry of the church.
We call ourselves Christians and take advantage of all the “perks” that come with that job title. We know the job description. We know what is expected of us, we have been given the tools to do the job well, and we also recognize that this work may at times challenge us, confound us, and cause us to be uncomfortable. The question becomes: Will we accept not just the title, but also — and more importantly — the job?
Bringing New Life to Those in Need
Purpose: To go into the world sharing God’s gift of new life
Scripture: Acts 9:32-43
Key Verse: “Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, ‘Please come to us without delay.’” — Acts 9:38
The theme for this month’s Sunday school lessons is new life. It is no coincidence that the theme of new life is also connected to the church’s celebration of Easter. It is through Christ’s death and resurrection that we are offered new life. This is the joy of Easter!
Already we have seen the joy that has come to the disciples as they begin to experience new life in Christ. On Easter Sunday we witnessed the joy that overcame the women when they realized Christ was alive. Last week we studied how the risen Christ appeared to the disciples preparing them for what was to come next. The appointed passage for today moves us, with the disciples, one step closer to a more thorough understanding of new life in Christ.
Our scripture today centers around Peter, a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ who went about the areas of Caesarea, Lydda and Joppa instructing and encouraging Christian communities in the Christ-like way of living. Specifically we are given two healings in which Peter is directly involved. The first is the healing of Aeneas who was made to walk. Peter found him as he went from place to place in ministry.
The second account of healing is even more fascinating. It is the healing of Dorcas, aka Tabitha. Unlike the healing of Aeneas, Peter did not find or come across Dorcas in his travels; the family of Dorcas came and sought out Peter. When the disciples found Peter and requested that he come quickly, we are told that Peter went without delay. It is interesting to note that we are not told the intended purpose of Peter’s summons. Was it to comfort those who mourn and assist in the burial of Dorcas, a beloved disciple, or was it to raise her to new life in Christ? We know that upon arrival, Peter found Dorcas dead in her bed. As we continue in our reading we discover what Peter did – he raised Dorcas to new life. Why is this significant? Peter, representing the church, took the love and compassion of Christ to those who needed it at the time that they needed it.
As a child do you remember the little church hand game where you interlock both of your hands together and say:
“Here is the church
“Here is the steeple
“Open up the door and look at all the people.”
The cute little rhyme defines the church as a building where people gather to worship and praise God. I would dare say that this is only one-half of the definition of church. Maybe a second verse of this little rhyme could be:
“Out they now go
“To serve in Christ’s name
“Reaching and teaching the poor and the lame.”
Truly, the church is at its best when it stands at the doors of its sanctuary, looks outward into the world and goes, without delay, to witness and share the new life of Christ where ever it is that God beckons us to go. Peter took the church into the world. People received new life because of Peter’s faithful acts. How will you serve as Peter served this week in the world?
Foster serves on the conference staff in Connectional Ministries working with ministry to children and family ministries.