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

Palm Sunday, April 13

by Peter St. Onge

On my first day as a news reporter, I was sent to a neighborhood in Huntsville, Alabama, where a tornado had touched down the previous night. No one was killed in the storm, but the tornado had destroyed more than a dozen homes before leaping back up into the sky.

I walked from yard to yard that next morning, talking to whoever would talk to me. One woman chatted for a few moments, then told me she’d rather not see her name in the newspaper. I didn’t want to just walk away, so I asked: “What are you going to do next?”

She didn’t hesitate. “Well, I’ll pray,” she said.

I didn’t think much of it then, but in the years since, my job has introduced me to many people facing the challenges life brings: a couple whose house had been swept away by the Tar River in eastern North Carolina; an elementary school teacher in Arkansas heading back to her first day at work since a school shooting; men and women facing sudden unemployment or a frightening diagnosis.

Each of them and so many others have talked to me about praying, and I’ve come to realize that they did so not only to ask for something, but to remind themselves of the peace that comes with faith.

“Well, I’ll pray,” that woman said long ago, standing in her front yard. I understand better now, through challenges in my own life, of the peace that comes with praying, and the strength that comes with peace.

Lift in prayer today
Those struggling with depression or other mental disorders

Saturday, April 12

by Mary Ann Tilley
"My Peace I Give"

This gift was given by Jesus in his last days: “Peace I leave with you: my peace I give. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

Peace. Shalom. The deep sense of  wholeness, health, well-being.  What is this peace that passes all understanding? How do we know when we have that peace?  What words can even describe this gracious gift - so desired, so beautiful, so necessary to living in this troubled world? God speaks and things happen.

“I am with you always.”  “Love one another as I have loved you.”

 “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”

Words! Words of love, encouragement and vocation which call us to action as we live our daily lives through good and bad days. The Word made flesh.

 This peace, so hard for this human to adequately describe, has been given to me through written words, spoken words and the loving actions of a beloved community:
  • When my spirit was calmed and settled after reading scripture when circumstances had shattered my life: “The Lord is my light and salvation, whom shall I fear.” (Psalm 27)
  • When friends have spoken comforting words and just sat with me  “I am here with you.” “I will not leave you.”  “I am praying for you.”  “I am here to help.”
  • When words of confession and forgiveness are said and a relationship is restored
  • When watching a gorgeous sunset after a satisfying day of beginning or finishing a project
  • When holding my newborn children and grandchildren and feeling awe and a love so intense I could hardly bear it, especially at their baptisms
  • When words in a sermon opened my eyes to a new way of serving and living love
  • When singing in worship with the whole congregation as one voice, “It is well with my soul”
  • When overwhelmed with gratitude for an answered prayer
  • When participating in the sacrament of communion and the bread and cup are lifted up, “Do this in remembrance of Me”
  • When hearing the words at the memorial service for a loved one, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies: and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die”
  • When God breaks into ordinary daily life and you have that “aha” moment and want to shout “yes,” for you have experienced the living God at work in the world
  • When one experiences a sense of knowing that one is loved, is here for a purpose created by our living God for his purposes
 The Peace of Christ is a presence of the other. We do not have to do this alone.

“It is finished” were Jesus’ last words on the cross. He had bowed to the will of his father. And then there was the wonder of the resurrection and the words “Go into the world. Make disciples of all nations. I am sending you. Do not be afraid. I will be with you always.”

“Go in peace.” “You are my beloved.” “I will be with you always.” How can one not go out with peace, unafraid, knowing we are not alone!

All thanks be to God for his spoken Word.

Lift in prayer today
Dove’s Nest, helping women
who are battling homelessness and addiction

Friday, April 11

by Jordan Schriefer
"Come, Bring Your Burdens to God"

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.    –Matthew 11:28-30

Our society tells us to go, go, go. There’s hardly any time for rest because there’s always something to do or to be done. This fast paced lifestyle may work for some people, but I am definitely not one of them. As my grandfather reminds me every time I see him, “You cannot burn a candle from two ends, it will burn out very quickly.” How true this is! When we try to do too much all at the same time, we cannot dedicate ourselves fully to one thing; instead, we find that we spread ourselves too thin among many things, not able to give our all. I unfortunately try to believe that I can multi-task and juggle various projects at one time; however, I am quickly reminded each time I do this, that I am not perfect, and it is not practical to be able to do that.

One way I have experienced the peace of Christ is through the Bible studies and devotions I have been involved in throughout high school, and now my collegiate years. My Wednesday night Bible study is something I look forward to every week because I know that no matter what I have going on, it can wait for an hour and a half; nothing is more important than drawing near to our God. Most weeks I find myself physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted by Wednesday yet this is my favorite day of the week; I get to shut the world out of my head and dive into scripture and study with my closest friends. Matthew 11 verses 28-30 tells us that all we have to do is give our burdens and requests to God, and he alone will give us peace and rest. Nothing we do can earn this Peace, this beautiful serene Peace we are given as Children of God, because it is a gift. There’s a song that comes to mind that goes along with this scripture, “Come bring your burdens to God, come bring your burdens to God, Come bring your burdens to God, for Jesus will never say no.” Whenever I feel like there is too much going on, which as a college student seems to be much too frequently, I find a quiet place to sit and close my eyes for a few minutes to just breathe. Just finding a quiet place for a few minutes sends this rush of Peace over me, as if all of my worries are lifted off my shoulders.

We are imperfect beings. Jesus is Perfect. We are weary and burdened. Jesus is Peace.

Come bring your burdens to God, for Jesus will never say no.

Lift in prayer today
Center for Community Transitions,
helping those with criminal records find a productive way of living

Thursday, April 10

by Amy Wright
"Peace in Chaos"

When I ponder on peace in my sometimes hectic life, I first think of quiet. The quiet of a mountain cabin warmed by a wood stove in the dark night, the quiet of a sleeping child after a long day,  the quiet feel of a house when everyone but me has left to go about their business.   But my most powerful memory of peace did not come in a time of silence, but in chaos.

Last fall, I traveled to Haiti with a group from Covenant. It was one of my most difficult, un-peaceful experiences. The Haitian people at the clinic were gracious and welcoming. They were also loud, energetic and overwhelming. The poverty was troubling and very visible. The city was crowded, the traffic seemed to have no rules, and although the architecture was beautiful, most buildings seemed to be crumbling away without care.

We read letters from home in the van on the way to the village.  One letter encouraged us to sing “Here I Am, Lord.”  So we sang. We sang looking out of the van windows at the crowded Haitian city with rough-hewn huts lining the street selling what looked to be Salvation Army leftovers and on into the beautiful countryside. It was for me, among many things, a perfect example of God’s peace that passes understanding. Although I was in a country with problems beyond my comprehension, overwhelming in its hopelessness, God was there.  God holds this world in God’s hands, and singing that I will hold God’s people in my heart gave me a peace and a grounding that made the rest possible. 

Singing has always been important and powerful to me. Singing with a group of people in a foreign land about a God who made everything and still weeps for the people and yearns to heal their pain was a kind of peace that I do not understand, but felt profoundly. It was a peace that did not feel quiet, but instead an undergirding solidness in which to ground myself.

Lift in prayer today
Rebound, a Charlotte Rescue Mission program
helping homeless men who battle with addiction and homelessness

Wednesday, April 9

by Ashlee Cuddy
"A Moment to Receive Peace"

Peace. We all experience times in our lives when we desperately seek peace. In these moments the belief of finding any sense of harmony, tranquility, or serenity seems like an unattainable notion. The amazing thing is that it is a gift that is given to us by God and can be accepted each day. We just fail to grab hold of it sometimes. Why? Because life is busy, the call from God to “be still” can seem daunting; on other days, an impossible task. So you must create a moment of your own for God.

One of the ways I experience the peace of Christ is during the mornings when I journal. I carve out time each day before the sun is up, before the world awakes to find my peace with God. If you want to hear what peace sounds like, step outside at 5:00 in the morning and take a deep breath. Even if you are not a morning person, try it once. For me it all started about two years ago when I was feeling incredibly stressed. I opened my Bible to Philippians 4: 6 and read, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” So I found an old notebook lying around and poured my heart out to God. I praised him for gifts and his provisions; I lifted others up in prayer and then with thanks listed all my worries. I read the verse again this time through verse 7, “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Find the time to create your moment. Not a morning person? Maybe you are a night owl. Maybe it is in your car on the way to work or when taking your lunch break, after the baby goes down for a nap or before the kids get home from school. Whatever works for you. Create this time for you and God to receive his incredible gift of peace. In Matthew 7:7, the Bible reminds us how to find those things we are looking for: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Approach God with Christ-like faith, with persistence and intention, and he will bless you with a sense of calm that can only be described as his peace.

Lift in prayer today

Tuesday, April 8

by Donna Wise
"An Excellent Practice"

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.   –Philippians 4:7

In Paul’s letter to the Philippians we are reminded that God’s peace is greater than our ability to understand, and that this peace will guard our hearts and minds in Christ. Several verses later, Paul tells us if we practice excellent and praiseworthy things, this God of peace will be with us.  What a promise that is!

Participating in interfaith activities has become an “excellent practice” for me, and I have found God’s peace in amazing ways. Conversations and experiences with people of other faiths who don’t look to Jesus for salvation have been enriching. I am convinced that the peace of God is what all people of good will are seeking.

In March 2013, Covenant’s Holy Land Peace Seekers hosted new friends from the Islamic faith community. Seated beside Muslim cleric Sheik Bassam, Joshua Ralston from Union Seminary in Richmond explained what Christians believe about the Trinity. We shared a meal together that allowed opportunity for us to get to know each other better and celebrate our similarities.

Along with people from all walks of life, I participated in the United Nations’ International Day of Peace at NoDa’s Neighborhood Theater in September. There was evidence of peace in action when people from many different faith communities danced, played musical instruments, shared native foods and read verses of peace from their various sacred texts.

The next month at a Washington, DC, conference on Peace with Justice in the Holy Land, Christians, Muslims and Jews explored ways to eliminate the walls that divide. At that conference I witnessed peace in every small group, quiet conversation, and newly formed relationship.

It is at times such as these, along with too many more to mention, that I experience God’s peace in new and rich ways. My prayer for you is that you will seek opportunities to share God’s peace with others and that in doing so your lives will be enriched.

Lift in prayer today

Samaritan House,
housing homeless people recovering after hospital discharge

Monday, April 7

by Ann Sanders

We feel peace in knowing that Jesus Christ is our redeemer and savior. But what does salvation mean and how did Jesus achieve salvation for us? 

Salvation is God’s promise of new and everlasting life – a life beyond our life on earth. It is God’s victory over sin and death, and it is achieved through the life and death of God’s son, Jesus Christ.

Jesus was fully divine and fully human. We relate to Christ’s humanity, in that Jesus experienced an earthly life: he walked among us and we have shared human experiences. But Jesus was also divine: a more difficult concept for us to get our hands around. Importantly, he was without sin; this makes him different from you and me.

God forgives us of our sins and also gives us everlasting life through the life and death of God’s son, Jesus Christ. Jesus submitted himself to the will of God, his Father. He allowed himself to be unfairly tried and convicted, and he experienced a painful death of crucifixion. Then Christ descended into hell. Christ submitted to such suffering to make us right with God. Only through his humanity could Jesus reconcile us to God – through his unjust and painful death and descent into hell. 

But that is not the end of the story. Jesus, as a divine being, gives us new life. He returns to life with his resurrection, and with this act, God is triumphant over death, and new life is given to humankind.  Righteousness is restored; that is, God’s mercy and truth prevail, and we are invited to participate in God’s kingdom. We will never be divine (so we shouldn’t act as if we are!), but through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are adopted into God’s family and, as humans, can try to live as Christ did on earth. Walking with Christ as we lead our lives, with the promise of life everlasting, brings us peace and comfort indeed.

Lift in prayer today
Hope Haven, providing life skills and support
for homeless, chemically dependent adults and their families

Sunday, April 6

by Robin Goodson

Focus for the Week: Confession and Reconciliation

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.    –John 14:27

In June, after my father’s funeral, my cousin Dwight was helping me load my car. While we were making one trip, I mentioned that at the end of February when my sweet mother-in-law Wanda died, I had wakened up in the middle of the night because I felt someone in the room. I turned on the light to see who it was but found only a sense of a beautiful, peaceful, happy presence, cool air and light. I knew it was Wanda’s spirit passing. It allowed me time to pray and wish her well and be grateful for her role in our family. Wanda’s three-year battle with Alzheimer’s disease had left her in peace. When Mike called home from Raleigh at 6:00 am to tell me she had passed, I told him I already knew.

I had hoped for some similar experience when Dad died, 3½ months later, but did not have one, and told Dwight that I was trying not to think about it. The next morning, after getting both kids to the airport for trips and going to church, I had an email from Dad’s second cousin, someone I correspond with infrequently. She recounted a dream she had the night Dad died. She dreamt of Dad following the voices of his family through the clouds as he cussed and fussed, disoriented and confused, not sure where he was or which direction he should be heading. I will skip most details but will share the image of heaven’s Welcome Table offered in her dream:
He was then led to a huge, long dining table that seemed to go on for miles, jammed-packed with relatives and old friends he needed to see/meet. The tables were full of peaches, corn, tomatoes, doves, and everything he could possibly imagine. He was completely overwhelmed. Somehow he knew I was watching from another place. I couldn’t hear him speak except through a “mind/thought” transmission process. I could hear him think “I have finally arrived, and it doesn’t get any better than this” … and he told me, “I promise to save you a seat.”  He also said, “I hope that Jesus and God will forgive my transgressions to everyone I love but know that I am happy here and fully healed in every way.”
That glimpse of God’s welcome table, of healing in a way impossible on earth, offered peace and closure, a personal glimpse of what a room in God’s mansion might be like, open and welcoming for sinners like Dad, sinners like me. Sometimes God offers peace to us through the experience of someone else. We carry a responsibility to seek God’s kingdom on earth each and every day, and in whatever way we can, we are to share the peace of Christ with one another, even when it makes us vulnerable. My peace I give you, not as the world gives.   
Prayer:  Thank you, God, for being ever-present in times of transition and for offering peace and forgiveness, gifts not of this world.  Amen. 

Lift in prayer today

Big Brothers and Big Sisters, pairing at risk children with mentors

Saturday, April 5

by Everett Gourley

Serving the Navy during World War II on a minesweeper as my way of fighting for world peace, I felt peace each time we swept for mines and our ship survived.

I felt peace going to Brazil as a married missionary after originally planning to go single. My faith gave me peace after my wife died following the birth of our second son.

Returning to the States and living with my parents gave me peace knowing the three of us were being well cared for.

My parents felt peace when I remarried, moved out and established a home with my new wife and our 18-month-old and two-year-old sons.

Peace was felt when my wife survived the birth of our third son.

A great sense of peace was achieved when all three sons finished college and grad school.

Our children felt peace when we moved to Sharon Towers knowing that we would be cared for if we became unable to live independently.

Peace is found in studying scripture.

Peace in war goes at a great price.

The peace of Christ cost Christ his life by giving us ours as we follow and serve God.
Peace is elusive, but we should never stop seeking to achieve it.

Spending quiet time alone with God brings me peace.

Lift in prayer today

Central Avenue Bilingual School,
Covenant’s partner school helping at-risk Hispanic students

Friday, April 4

by Barbara Ann Zizzi
"Peace Through A Camera Lens"

I received my first camera at the age of eight. Little did I realize then what that gift would allow me to discover. At first, my photos were of haphazard subject matter, and more often than not, most were out of focus. After a few college photography courses, countless boxes overflowing with developed photographs and years of trial and error, I learned how to capture a moment in time which might have otherwise gone unnoticed. It is through the medium of photography that I feel most comfortable expressing myself. By capturing images of everyday occurrences, I not only discover the beauty and peace in the world around me but also experience it.

Last summer I had the privilege of traveling to Kenya with fellow Covenant and THAD church members to offer a hand in friendship and to work alongside our friends from Nairobi and Renguti. We were blessed to break bread and worship together. We laughed, cried, and celebrated together. They had much to teach me about living, loving, overcoming and celebrating. They had much to teach me about faith.  And when we left, I carried their images in my mind and their stories in my heart.

So, when invited to share a story of peace, my mind automatically recalled images from that trip to Kenya.  Literally thousands of images … all taken while I looked through a camera lens … peaceful images that have developed even more beautifully in my mind since my return.

Here are just a few of those images…
  • The rosy glow of the sun rising on a day full of promise and new beginnings
  • A tenderly cradled sleeping child in the arms of a Covenant member at New Life Homes
  • A tattered and treasured textbook laid open on a worn wooden desk
  • Students’ hands eagerly raised  in the air, all hoping to be called upon to answer the teacher’s question
  • Happy and laughing faces of children at play on a knee-high grassy playground
  • A single delicate flower growing toward the heavens despite having sprouted in the compacted, nutrient-void soil of the Mathare slum
  • A gathered community of faith lifting their voices in joyous song in a language other than my own
  • The face of a Kenyan child with eyes tightly closed and hands clasped in prayer
  • The wisdom and beauty shining forth from the face of a beloved grandmother
  • A vibrant rainbow in the darkened sky after a torrential thunderstorm
  • The brilliance of a setting sun sinking silently on the horizon of the Masai Mara
  • Twinkling stars revealing the vastness of the heavens on a clear summer night
Prayer:  Gracious and loving God, thank you for the peacefulness that you bring to our everyday lives. Help us to discover that peace in unexpected places and carry those images with us during this Lenten season.  Amen.

Lift in prayer today
Covenant Church’s children and youth

Thursday, April 3

by Jordan Chapman

Peace: placidly sitting on a sofa reading a favorite book; ruminating on a park bench on a cool and sunny March afternoon; experiencing focused reflection during a worship service.

I rarely find this idea of peace. In fact, experiences that I think should seem peaceful often stress me out. For example, on Sunday mornings, I treat myself to any combination of the following: reading the Sunday New York Times, attending church, cooking, practicing yoga, or listening to WDAV’s “Biscuits and Bach” radio program. These activities bring me peace, but the thought of choosing which one to do can stress me out. In church, I find myself making a checklist to structure the rest of my day. At yoga, I still cannot push myself to try a headstand without using the wall. Reading the various sections of my favorite newspaper even stresses me out! I get disappointed in myself if I fail to read the entire editorial section cover-to-cover. If nothing immediately strikes my fancy in the international section, I call myself out for being too self-centered. Writing this reflection even makes me feel guilty, as I criticize myself for complaining about such wonderful weekend options. The cycle just doesn’t end. Worse, it repeats almost every Sunday morning.

Recently, though, I have realized that different states of peace exist. Peace does not have to mean sitting in a chair with a vapid smile, absent of thought, worry, or critique. Isaiah 55:12 tells us, “You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.”  I love how this passage communicates that peace comes from experiencing nature. It strikes me as a symbiotic relationship; we respect nature, and in return, mountains, hills, and trees speak to us. Peace, therefore, can be active: joyful, exuberant, and busy. Peace means finding happiness in all of life’s Sunday morning gifts.

To me, peace requires us to approach life with joy. I can handle that. Although I may never find that quiet peace that I often imagine peace encompasses, I can start with joy.

Lift in prayer today
North Carolina Board of Education

Wednesday, April 2

by William Yates
"Sloppy, Beautiful Goofballs"

I experience the peace of Christ through the middle school youth here at Covenant. No, I’m not kidding, and no, I’m not being paid to say this. For me, it’s just true. When you sit back and watch them and listen and talk with them, it becomes very clear that they are walking more fully and honestly and transparently in the way of God than I think most of us believe possible. In BASE, QUEST, and Guys’ Group, I’m given the chance week-in and week-out to catch a glorious – and sometimes sweaty, without-deodorant – whiff of God’s scent through our kids. They don’t pretend to know that much about “God” or “faith” or any of that “religious” stuff. Instead, what they bring to the table time and time again is themselves. These selves are awkward, gossipy, loud, obnoxious, at times frustrating, and always clamoring for attention; but in the same breath, they are radiant, vulnerable, curious, outrageously hilarious kids who come in and let what you see be what you get. They come seeking affirmation, encouragement, purpose, and validation of their worth, and are open enough to let whelps and gleeps like you and me fumble along beside them as they find the God people talk about in the everyday stuff of their school and sports and home and extracurricular lives. Through them, I am learning that peace is not a feeling or an ideology; rather, peace is intended to permeate the very essence of who we are. It is a spirit – the Spirit – that is modeled after Christ: with humility, awkwardness, humanity, and grace. We carry God’s peace with us all the time; I’m thankful that our middle school youth are teaching me that what matters most is our becoming aware of it. From kids with braces and voice cracks and the latest fashion trends or no-no’s, I’m being given an irresistible invitation into the smudged heavens of God’s peace here on earth. It’s always fun to remember that even Jesus endured puberty; even he was once a middle schooler too.

Lift in prayer today
Highland Renaissance Academy,
Covenant’s partner elementary school,
where the majority of students are considered at-risk

Tuesday, April 1

by Lita Gatlin

I have experienced the Peace of Christ through … Promise
Promise, not in the sense of “I promise to be careful” or “I promise you are my best friend” or “I promise to be nice to my sister,” but the promise I found at Renguti School in Kenya this past summer. 

Promise was a little girl I met last June while on a mission trip with Covenant. Promise could speak only Swahili, and I could speak only English.  However, anytime I spoke to her, her face would turn into a smile and the most beautiful message (in Swahili) would come out of her mouth.  A beautiful, melodious sound that put everything in perspective for me: Promise had a sense of peace that gets buried in my busy, “to do” world.

In the same trip, I was introduced to the wonderful women at Amani ya juu, where women from around the continent of Africa learn the trade of sewing. A recent email from Amani introduced Elizabeth, who lives in a slum in Nairobi and runs the distribution floor at Amani:

Each morning, the seamstresses stop by to see Elizabeth so they can gather the materials they will use on their projects for the day. She offers more than just zippers and kitenge (fabric). She showers co-workers with hugs, conversation, and often the question, “How can I pray for you?”
At Amani, Elizabeth has discovered peace.

An unknown author offers the following definition of the word:

Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.

Promise and Elizabeth are two examples of peace. Like the rest of us, they struggle, living with uncertainty, yet they still have a sense of peace that can pass to others with a simple smile or a prayer, spoken or unspoken.

Although our worlds are worlds apart, we are connected by our one Creator. There is a peace in knowing that our Creator has it all figured out and offers peace to us.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.  –Romans 15:13

Lift in prayer today
Teachers and administrators in the school system

"Peace Like A River"
Drawing by Alyssa Smith (4th grade)
Daughter of Tricia and Kevin Smith