Monday, April 11, 2011

Pastor's Letter; April 2011

Dear Friends in Christ,
      Easter Sunrise services are always joyful.  For some of our younger members, however, it can be a bit much to ask them to show that joy at 6:30 in the morning.  I remember my first Easter Sunrise service as a pastor, in Humboldt, Iowa.  Much like Easter here, the Sunrise service and Easter Breakfast were the duties of the LYF.  Service time was 6:30, just as it is here.  That particular year the LYF kids were participating in a drama during the service, and the youth leader had told them to be there by 5:30 a.m. so they could practice one more time before the service.  It may have also been the week Daylight Savings Time began—that happened more than once when I was in Humboldt.
      Anyway, the bleary-eyed high school students began trudging in, their hair wet from a quick shower.  I, on the other hand, was wide awake, having been up for an hour already.  I greeted one freshman boy with the traditional cheery Easter greeting, “He is risen!”
      Without skipping a beat the tired teenager replied, “Barely.”
      It’s just hard to get some people excited about anything at 5:30 in the morning—even the resurrection!  But even if we aren’t altogether risen at that hour of the morning, Jesus is!  Matthew reports the facts.  “After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb…The angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.  He is not here;  He has risen, just as He said.’”  (Matthew 28:1, 5-6a)
      My folks, too, were a little leery of getting three kids up for a 6 a.m. service, which is probably why we didn’t go to sunrise service when I was younger.  But the Easter Sunrise service has become one of my favorites.  There is just something about coming to church early on Easter morning, after the sadness of Good Friday, and seeing the processional with the redecorating of the altar, the Easter lilies being set out, singing the joyful strains of “Jesus Christ is Risen Today!  Alleluia!” and getting to shout that joyful news again:  “He is risen!”  We get to live that joy that the women had that first Easter morning when the truth finally dawned on them—Jesus was indeed risen, just as He had said.  That is exciting!
      He is risen!—sin did not defeat Him.  Our sins nailed Jesus to the cross.  They had Him dead and buried.  But not any more.  He is risen!  Our sins are gone.  We are free from them.  They are fully and forever—forgiven!
      He is risen!—death could not hold Him.  Death had been the great enemy of the human race ever since the Fall.  But death is no match for the Son of God!  Our victorious Savior is stronger than death.  In the struggle between life and death, life wins!
      He is risen!—the grave is not our final resting place.  For all of you who have stood at the graveside of a loved one, for all of you who have placed flowers on the grave of a loved one at the cemetery, the good news is that your loved ones are not there!  Their souls are already with Jesus, and you will see them again—alive!  “Because I live,” Jesus says, “you also will live.”  (John 14:19)
      I want to personally invite all members of St. John to get up early on Easter morning for Sunrise service and journey with us to the tomb—you will find it empty!  I extend a special invitation to those of you who haven’t been to church in a while, maybe for too long.  Come and hear the joy of those words again:  “He is risen!  He is risen indeed!”  If you can’t get up that early, that’s okay—come join us for worship and Holy Communion at 10 a.m.  The risen Christ comes to meet you in Word and Sacrament.
      And that’s something worth getting up for, even if it’s 5:30 a.m.!

                                    Easter joy and peace in our risen Savior,
                                                         Pastor Merrill

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