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Sunday, March 28, 2021

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Dear St. Luke family,

This Sunday we begin Holy Week.  When I was a child, we went straight from the “Hosannas” of Palm Sunday to the jubilation of resurrection on Easter.  As someone asked me a few years ago, “Why would we want to revisit the events of Holy Week when we know how it ends?” 

It’s a worthy question.  I suspect there are many good answers, but I’ll give you mine:

The stories we hear during Holy Week show us that Jesus’ life, teachings, choices, and most especially his fidelity to God increasingly challenge the powers of this world.  He moves from being a nuisance to being a threat.  I do not believe God required Jesus to die or wanted Jesus to die.  I believe Jesus was willing to stay true to the truest truth he knew: the love of God for all people.  His death was the natural and human consequence of that fidelity.  As he makes his holy way toward a very human death, God’s love for the human family is revealed to us in its fullest.  The message is not that suffering is good, or that God wants Jesus or anyone else to suffer.  In fact, we learn that suffering is tragic, the opposite of God’s will.  It is my belief, based on what we see of Jesus in Scripture, that God weeps when God’s beloved children suffer.  And so, we learn that there is no place we can go, no depth to which we can plunge, no farthest shore to which we can flee, that God is not with us.  Nothing can separate us from the love of God, not even death.  What could possibly be more meaningful than to gather for worship again and again in the span of a week to remember, give thanks and stand in awe of God’s wondrous love? 

There is also the issue of contrast.  To journey with Jesus to the depths of betrayal, denial and crucifixion also has a way of raising our spirits to new heights on Easter morning.  When we call out, “Christ is risen; he is risen indeed!” it rings with a more exuberant joy and resonant truth because we have experienced the darkness.  

At St. Luke, we will gather on Maundy Thursday at 7:00 p.m. on Zoom.  “Maundy” comes from the Latin word that means “mandate,” and it refers to the new commandment Jesus gave to his disciples in the Upper Room – that we love one another as Jesus loved us (John 13.31-35).  We will observe Maundy Thursday with communion, contemplative Taizé chants, and prayers.  And we will gather on Good Friday at noon on Zoom with music and art that retells the story of Christ’s crucifixion, and centers on the seven last words of Jesus.

But first, we will worship together this Sunday, Palm Sunday, a day of irony on which Jesus is celebrated as a king, but we know what’s coming.  The crowd shouts “Hosanna!” which means “Save us!” or “Rescue us!” in Hebrew.  Scott Black Johnston asks, “When we wave our palms and boldly cry out, ‘Hosanna,’ do we dare imagine what we really want God to save us from?”  Maybe Holy Week is a chance to explore that question.

See you Sunday,

Grace and peace,
Joanne Whitt
Interim Pastor

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Sunday, March 21, 2021

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Dear St. Luke family,

We’re just a bit over a week away from Holy Week, the week before Easter.  Churches around the world observe Holy Week with many different traditions and forms of worship.  The week includes five days of special significance:

  • Palm Sunday, celebrating Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem, a story told in all four Gospels;
  • Maundy Thursday, remembering the night Jesus shared a Passover meal with his disciples on the night he was betrayed, and that set our pattern for the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper;
  • Good Friday, the day Jesus was tried, convicted, and crucified;
  • Holy Saturday, sometimes observed with an Easter Vigil;
  • Easter Sunday, or Resurrection of the Lord Sunday, the day we celebrate Christ’s resurrection and victory over death.

The passage we’ll be exploring this Sunday points us toward Holy Week.  Unlike the other three Gospels, in John’s Gospel, Jesus always knows the future and walks willingly into it.  When two strangers tell one of his disciples they’d like to see Jesus, Jesus responds by telling them, essentially (but using John’s typically obscure and poetic language), “If you want to see me, this is what you will see: You will see that If you want to live, really live, you have to learn to give your life away; you have to learn how to die, like me.” 

Learn to die?  Yikes!  But remember, this is the same Jesus that says, in this very Gospel, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10).  Too often the Church has assumed Jesus means life after death but that was not Jesus’ concern.  So, what does it mean, for us, as followers of Jesus, to die in order to live – and not just survive, but live abundantly?  Will strangers who wish to see Jesus see him in us? 

And what can Holy Week teach us about all this?  We’ll observe Holy Week at St. Luke with Palm Sunday Zoom worship, a contemplative Maundy Thursday Zoom service of prayer and communion including music from the Taizé tradition, a Good Friday Zoom service of the Seven Last Words of Jesus, an in-person outdoor sunrise service at 6:30 a.m. on Easter morning (masks and social distance required), and festive Easter Sunday Zoom worship with communion at 10:00 a.m.

See you Sunday ~

Grace and peace,
Joanne Whitt
Interim Pastor

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Sunday, March 14, 2021

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Dear St. Luke Family:

Did you know that In-n-Out Burgers tucks Bible verses into obscure spots on its cups and food wrappers?  Not the verses themselves – just the citations – so, for example, “John 3:16,” is inscribed on the inside rim of the bottom of beverage cups.  Why?  I haven’t found any explanation at the In-n-Out website or in the restaurants themselves.  Are people supposed to be curious enough to look up John 3:16 in the Bible to see what it says, and, convinced by the power of that one verse, convert to Christianity?  I wonder if that ever happens.  I’m guessing that what actually happens is that the people who know John 3:16 feel like insiders, and the people who don’t know it feel like outsiders, which is exactly what I’d long understood as the intention of this verse.  While John 3:16 is a great source of comfort to many people, when I was in college, I really struggled with it. 

Or, rather, I struggled with John 3:16 as I had understood it.  I’d only heard the verse used to say that certain people are “in” with God and certain people are “out” with God and even if you never had a chance because of culture or background or whatever else, if you don’t “believe” then you are among the “outs.”  It challenged my sense of God’s goodness that God would be so arbitrary. 

What is your reaction to this verse?  Many of us memorized it as children, and it still shows up on placards at sporting events.  How might we read this important verse in a way that is consistent with, “God so loved the world” – with God’s love for the whole world?  Join us Sunday as we explore the Pharisee Nicodemus’ conversation with Jesus, and John 3:16.

Grace and peace,
Joanne Whitt
Interim Pastor

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