Easter Sunday, April 20

Easter Sunday Worship Services
9:30 am in the chapel (traditional)
9:30 am in the sanctuary (contemporary )
11:00 am in the sanctuary (traditional)

by Bob Henderson
"Going Home"

But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.
–Mark 16:6-8

From the days of my early childhood Easter pushed the envelope of credibility. Even if you could get your mind around Santa being pulled by reindeer on a one-night global tour, there was something about the notion of a big rabbit delivering baskets and eggs – the same eggs you colored the day before – that struck me as slightly bizarre. The chocolate part was a good idea, I always thought, and still do.

What I liked best about the whole peculiar routine were those large eggs made of hardened sugar, decorated elaborately, with one end open so you could look in – and inside the egg was a magical miniature world; tiny trees and houses, children playing, sometimes a horse or a cow. I was always fascinated by that alternate world but embarrassed to admit it. Dreamy escapism was not highly valued in my home of origin.

I now understand that that alternative world is not a bad metaphor for the message of Easter; an invitation to live in a new reality, a world in which the dead don’t stay dead and even the most gruesome events become a force for life. That is an idea so big, so earth-shattering, the most eloquent can only stutter about it, or stand in reverent silence – which is exactly how this first story of the first Easter tells it.

Jesus, an itinerant rabbi from Galilee, came to Jerusalem for Passover and five days after his arrival was arrested, tried in a hurried kangaroo court arranged by the religious and political authorities, convicted, sentenced, executed and buried – all very efficiently. The crowd that welcomed him on Sunday turned on him. His friends abandoned him fearing for their own lives. So he died alone – except for the women, the only ones to stay with him.

The Romans made sure he was dead before sundown on Friday when the Jewish Sabbath began and then turned his body over to a local – who buried him in his own garden.

Saturday is the Sabbath, a quiet day. And then at dawn, on the first day of the week, three of the women who were there as he died showed up at the tomb. They wanted to pay final respects, anoint the body with oils and spices. They were focused on the task at hand. Their concern was pragmatic. There was a large stone covering the tomb and they weren’t sure they could move it.

What they found when they arrived was disconcerting to say the least. The stone was already rolled away. It would have been very disturbing, but what happened next was terrifying. Fearing the worst – that someone had stolen the body – they peered in and were startled to encounter not a dead body, but a young man who said, of all things, “Do not be alarmed – he isn’t here – he has been raised – go tell Peter and his disciples that he is going ahead of you to Galilee.”

Galilee? Why there? Why not march back into the Temple and show those Romans who has the power now? Why not Rome, where he could lead a grand processional to the emperor’s throne and take his rightful seat? But Galilee …? That’s just a rolling hillside of tiny peasant towns of little consequence.

Except for the fact that it’s home for them. That’s where they live, have families, work and play. Galilee is daily routine. That’s where the risen Lord promises to meet them. What an intriguing suggestion – that the risen Christ comes to us, not in places we expect him, structures we have made for him – religious tradition and rites, liturgies, creeds – churches, or even halls of power. He promises to be where we live and work and play. He promises to bring hope and life and rebirth and love and new possibilities into our lives at their most human and most ordinary. He promises to bring the power of love and creativity and new possibility into our life situation whatever it is.

Distinguished scholar Walter Brueggemann says – Easter is “not only truth disclosed, but it is life disclosed. Because of Easter,” Brueggeman says, “I can come out from behind my desk, my stethoscope, my uniform, my competence, my credentials, my fears – to meet life a little more boldly.”

That’s what Easter is about – stepping out from whatever we are hiding behind and meeting life more boldly, more hopefully, more confidently because in this person named Jesus, the Christ, God has overcome the power of death, brought new life, and promises to meet us right where we live.

Jesus Christ is Risen!

Lift in prayer today

All the ways we see that “Christ is Risen”
in Charlotte and the world.

Saturday, April 19

Children’s Easter Service
(Today) Saturday, April 19; 10:00 am
Egg hunt and baby animals on the green
followed by “BYO” picnic lunch on the church grounds

by Robin Goodson

I wonder how often others forgive me for my long list of shortcomings. Are my “TOP 10 LIFE OFFENSES” events that I even recognize or remember? Flipped around, how often do I let things go and forgive? Forgiveness has been a hard and unnatural lesson on loving my neighbor, a beautiful blessing that I have worked to claim and had to practice and repeat in order to finally understand. Though long a stumbling block in my faith journey, I believe forgiveness is God’s gift to our spirit, a lifting and freeing of burdens we sometimes do not know we carry.
In March of 2012, my father was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. After 35 years of chronic alcoholism, lung cancer was the last way I expected Dad to go. He left this world on June 19, 2013, the last six weeks or so spent sober. Our relationship had been hard for all the years I remember, and if anyone had told me that I would give a eulogy at Dad’s funeral, I would have laughed. Yet, I did just that, and the topic was, “What I learned of the Father from my father.”  I share the last part:

The final lesson Dad taught is one of reconciliation and forgiveness. This one has been the most important – and life-changing. Every family has its issues, and ours did too. For all of the light and laughter that Dad brought, a light that would not go out no matter how much darkness was also part of the equation, life was at times quite hard. The last decade or so had much distance in our relationship. I believe God plants in us a need for our fathers, both our earthly and heavenly fathers. When things are not right there, no matter how right just about everything else in life is, balance is hard to come by. Years of Bible study, years of praying for Dad to change, all kinds of stuff, I was still carrying anger toward my earthly father. I would give it to God, and then pick it back up again – a repetitive cycle of disobedience that I am guessing some of you can relate to. About three years ago, God moved my immovable heart, helping me to let go and find forgiveness of the past, present, and whatever would come. It was a big smack in my dense head when I finally accepted that if I wanted God’s grace, if I wanted to be forgiven for all of my shortcomings, if I believed that Jesus really took it all to the cross for me, I could not withhold forgiveness, especially for someone as important to me as Dad.  God was not answering that my father would change, but that my heart would. It sounds so simple, but it was the hardest thing I have ever had to work through.

When Hospice indicated Dad had five or six weeks left, my husband found me sitting in a chair on our patio crying. While forgiveness had come several years before, knowing that Dad’s time was short and still desperately wanting and needing his blessing in my life, I cried, “He is going to die and I am not going to get anything that I need from him. I am not going to get that he loves me, that he is proud of me, that he is sorry for how hard some of his choices made life.” My heart ached.  The next day as I sat in Dad’s room talking about his oldest grandchild, soon to graduate from high school, Dad said, “You must be proud of her,” and I said I was. Dad then said, “I am proud of her too. And I am proud of you.” I began to weep. Over the course of the next 45 minutes my earthly father told me that he loved me. He told me that he had done some really bad things in his life. I agreed that he had done bad things and reminded him of the good things that he had done, that he had taken me to church and given me an education, two things that changed my life. I reminded him of forgiveness, most importantly God’s forgiveness of him. I was able to tell him how much God loved him and that grace and the cross were all-sufficient in covering him.
As my dad sat with tears streaming down his face at the possibility of God’s forgiveness, my earthly father taught me what would be his final lesson, and my heavenly Father healed the darkest place in my heart. God has the ability, no matter the circumstance, to bring the most beautiful light out of even the darkest, hardest places. What a gift.

Prayer: Lord God, forgive my stubborn and disobedient heart. Help me seek the love and light you offer through Jesus. Holy Spirit, move my heart ever toward forgiveness that I may see and claim your blessing anew.  Amen. 

Lift in prayer today
People in need of assurance
that Jesus has risen from the dead and will bring them new life

Good Friday, April 18

Good Friday Worship Service
7:00 pm in the Sanctuary
  • The Covenant Choir, with soloists and strings, presents "Wondrous Cross" by Alan Bullard, a contemporary British composer
  • The musical setting includes opportunities for congregational singing, reading, and prayers

by Jessica Patchett

Standing in the long shadow of death,
we are small, weaponless.
The walls of finitude close in
and the darkness is smothering;
Implacable ‘Why’s?’
pound our aching heads and shatter our hearts.
We surrender our petitions to silence.
The savior of the world
did not save himself.

Lift in prayer today
People in the holy lands

Maundy Thursday, April 17

Worship Service in the Covenant Sanctuary
begins at 7:00 pm
Led by the Contemporary Worship Team
with participation by 
the Worship Arts Team and the Dance Ministry

Scenes from the 2013 Maundy Thursday service

Lift in prayer today
People at Sharon Towers and other retirement communities

Wednesday, April 16

by Grady Moseley

I possess a small collection of devotional books, most from the 1950’s, that were presented to school-age children designed to provide Christian encouragement.  They are inscribed by Sunday school teachers and parents typically on the date of a graduation, Easter or Christmas.

Through the years I have read them as an adult searching for “simple but true” reflections, and from time to time have even used them in sermons.  While the topics are geared towards those growing in their faith as they are striking out into the world, there is a character trait that these little books all point toward:  the joy that comes with trusting our Lord in all things.

We do not often hear of “joy” spoken of these days.  “Happiness” and “success” are the words of our age.  From our youth all sorts of formulas are used to define success - so we can successfully go to the right university, so we can successfully earn the best degree and establish the best networking relationships, so we can successfully launch professional careers … all to ensure our success and happiness throughout the rest of our lives.

But lifetimes teach those who are paying attention that success is fleeting and happiness often thin and temporary.  Success and happiness in the eyes of the world are shallow and only divert our attention away from the One who made us for “Joy.” Yes, God made us to live in Joy, an experience so consuming that for those who experience the “joy of the Lord” there is nothing better.

Jesus knew the “joy” of being in relationship with the Father.  Paul knew that same “joy.”  The author of Hebrews encourages us to strive for this “joy” -  just as Jesus Himself did, and that there is nothing that compares with living wholly in relationship with the God.  Anything else – including success and happiness in this world - is far less than we were meant to experience in all of God’s creation.  If this were not so, Jesus wouldn’t have given his life so that we may “enjoy God forever,” from this very day through eternity.

Lift in prayer today
Salvation Army Center for Hope,
providing shelter and services for homeless women

Tuesday, April 15

by Lucy Crain

Can there be peace in brokenness? It is not something everyone readily admits to, but sometimes in our family, we refer to being a bit depressed or out of sorts as being “a little broken.” There are many events in our lives that try to break us and we are all familiar with the phrases, “What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger” or “God never gives you more than you can handle.”  Indeed, Scripture even reassures us that we can “do all things through Christ who strengthens us” (Philippians 4:13). However, the Bible does not promise that we will avoid bruises and scrapes along the way. Sometimes our trials are so significant they seem almost to rip out our very insides. So when the pain of life seems to be too much, where is the peace?

Most everyone asks this question at some point, and it seems to go hand in hand with the age-old question, “Where is God?” Isn’t that really what we are looking for if we say we are looking for peace? The reassurance that God is with us would be the ultimate peace, would it not? That may seem like a trite answer, but the very presence of God would be the way of peace … at least for me. When the waves of the sea seemed to Peter as if they would swallow him, his peace came in putting his eyes on Christ and having his Lord reach out for him  (Matthew 14:29-31). However, sometimes the waves are too high and our eyes may be tightly shut out of fear and we cannot see the face of Jesus.

Years ago when I was in a class on marriage counseling, a wise professor said that there may be times in a marital relationship when it is too painful for the couple to look to one another for healing. Perhaps the couple is handling a difficult loss in different ways, or one spouse feels betrayed by the other, or some other issue is dividing them in ways that seem too big to overcome. However, problems like these do not have to mean the marriage is over, and this professor recommended that if the couple has children, they may need to look away from one another for a time and focus on their children while their relationship is healing. After all, he said, the children are an outward expression of the couple’s love for each other.

If there are times when we cannot see the face of our Lord because we feel he has betrayed us and left us alone or finally given us more than we can bear, where do we focus? What is the outward expression of his love for us? Perhaps the answer comes in the loving actions of others. In my own life, when I have been “a little broken” and could not clearly see the presence of God, I have seen his children in action. In the despair of a beloved child’s funeral, I have seen joy in the volunteer actions of others. In the silence of a hospital room, I have heard music. In the desolation of poverty, I have seen the abundance of generosity. In the isolation of grief, I have seen a community of caring. In the exclusion of labels and stereotypes, I have been welcomed by those different from me. In the loneliness of fear, I have had the company of a loving hand to hold. Peace for me has come in the actions of God’s children caring for one another through unspeakable pain. Looking outside ourselves to the gifts of this life …the loving support of other children of God … is a place of peace. May we share it with others and find it when necessary.

Lift in prayer today

Friendship Trays, providing balanced meals to the infirm and elderly

Monday, April 14

by Annette Bedford
"The Worlds of  Peace"

And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body, and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.       –Colossians 3:15-16

There are two worlds for which peace is sought:  the outside world and our inner, personal world. This inner peace, which enhances our relationship with God, is a means for shifting our attention away from ourselves to where Christ has called us: to love the Lord’s creation held within ourselves and to love one another. The path to peace is peace, an awareness of a beautiful presence, one we feel in our hearts, our bodies and our minds. Scripture reminds us that God desires peace for all, which means our having a personal and meaningful relationship with the Almighty as well as a similar relationship with the world outside. Inner peace is the means for deepening this relationship with our Lord and Savior.

We cannot forget that we belong to one another; if we forget, we can have no inner peace nor can we bring peace to the world. Our inner peace relates to how we see ourselves, not to how others might see or what they may demand of us.  We strive faithfully to achieve a sense of calm and quiet, through meditation, reading of Scripture, singing of hymns, being in the midst of the community of faith. This is the peace of God and is often very different from the world around us.

Inner peace is the foundation for our relationship with God and the way we envision the outer world.  “Our work for peace must begin within the private world of each one of us  …”  (Dag Hammarskjold, Markings.) Personal, inner peace is the only means of building a world of peace.

Blessed, indeed, are the peacemakers, for they are truly the children of God.

Lift in prayer today
Loaves & Fishes, providing a week’s worth of groceries
to those experiencing life crises