Bethany Winter

Bethany Winter

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Easter Sunday--He is Risen Indeed!

Easter is what the Church is all about.  Easter is the day when we get to join together to proclaim that Jesus Christ rose from the grave and that because of that, all of us will rise from our graves, too.  Throughout the entire year, but most especially on Easter Sunday, we Christians celebrate the fact that "death has lost its sting" (to quote "Thine is the Glory," which itself is paraphrasing St. Paul in 1 Cor 15:55).  It's not surprising then that we'll have a lot of festivities at Bethany Sunday morning to celebrate this moment so critical to our faith.

Easter Sunrise: We will gather at first for Easter Sunrise at 7:30am.  (I know it seems early, but it's Easter!)  The youth will be leading us in a service that will take us through the Seven Last Words of Christ.  Through this, we will see that the cross and the empty tomb are linked completely together and that Christ's victory over both the cross and the grave gives us our hope.  As we make our way through, the paraments that were first stripped on Maundy Thursday will be added back to the altar and the cross will be flowered, signaling new life from death.  The youth will sing a couple songs that they have prepared, and we as a congregation will sing "Christ the Lord is Risen Today!  Alleluia!" and "The Strife is O'er; the Battle Done."

Easter Egg Hunt: I always loved this event when I was little.  I am told now that the egg is supposed to symbolize the empty tomb.  I have always thought of it also as a sign of spring and new life.  This event will primarily be for children.  I am not sure if the vicar will be allowed to participate or not.  

Easter Breakfast: Need I say more?

Easter Service with Holy Communion: This is the big one, and it starts at 10am.  One of my favorite things about Easter Sunday service is the vibe of excitement that is in the air.  From the very beginning, we will shout together, "Christ is risen!" "He is risen indeed! Alleluia!"  We will hear the Gospel of the empty tomb, and we will sing those great Easter hymns together--namely anything with Jesus Christ being risen, such as "Christ is Risen! Alleluia!," "Jesus Christ is Risen Today!," "Now All the Vault of Heaven Resounds."  And we will even sing a personal favorite "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing" as we gather at the table to celebrate the promised feast of our Lord.  

So please come to which services you can.  This is the biggest weekend of the Church year.  Think of it as our "Final Four" (Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil, and Easter Sunday).  I hope you and your families all have a blessed Holy Week and a joyful Easter!  

Easter Vigil--Lights, Bells, and Songs!

This year we are participating in an Easter Vigil service with Grace Lutheran on Holy Saturday, April 19, at 7pm.  Grace has not only invited all of us, but has even invited us to help participate with the readings.  Easter Vigil is an absolutely beautiful service, my personal favorite in the Church year.  So what is it that makes Easter Vigil so beautiful?    

1. Light!  If Good Friday's Tenebrae is about the extinguishing of light, you can think of Easter Vigil as exactly the opposite.  We start in near darkness.  In fact, we begin outside around dusk with only a bonfire to give us light.  (Keep this in mind when you dress before you come!)  We then process into the dark sanctuary.  As the service goes on, we add more and more light until finally we celebrate the Resurrection and see light streaming in from all angles.

2. Scripture: If you have a favorite Old Testament story, chances are we'll read it during Easter Vigil.  Want to compare Noah with the real "Noah and the Ark" from Genesis?  We've got it.  Want to hear about Jonah being swallowed and spat out by a whale?  Check.  Want to hear about creation?  Your vicar is reading that one!  Or how about one of my favorite Old Testament stories--the crossing of the Red Sea?  Come to Easter Vigil; in fact, Easter Vigil is the only time in any worship service that we ever read the crossing of the Red Sea.  Then after all the Old Testament stories (not to mention all of Lent!), Pr. Laura will finally read for us the story of the Resurrection.

3. Ringing bells...during worship!  One of my favorite things is once we transition to the Easter part of the service, as more and more lights comes in, we get a chance to make a lot of noise to celebrate the Resurrection.  This includes the singing of "Alleluia"s as well as a chance to ring bells and noisemakers.  For me, all the bells and "Alleluia"s really bring home the joy and celebration of Easter.

4. Baptisms: Easter Vigil is the traditional date in the ancient Church on which baptisms would take place.  One of the exciting things that will happen at our service this year at Grace is that we will get to welcome two new members into our Christian family through their baptisms.  What an exciting chance for us to be a part of what God is doing in these young people's lives!

5. All Your Favorite Easter Hymns: One of the things you will notice about Lent is that (while I certainly like the hymns!), the hymns are not always the most joyful; they reflect the penitential nature of the season of Lent.  At Easter Vigil, you'll get an early chance to sing some of the more joyful hymns about Jesus's Resurrection.  It's almost like when you get to take a bite from your chocolate Easter bunny a day early.

I know that this service will be new for a lot of you (I never got to experience one until two years ago), but I really hope you'll join us and our brothers and sisters at Grace as we give it a try.  It's truly an emotionally uplifting event and a great way to celebrate the risen Christ!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Good Friday--Tenebrae at Bethany

Good Friday is the most solemn day of the Church year.  I also happen to think it is one of the most emotionally powerful services in the Church year.  It is the day when, more than any other, we are given a chance to reflect on the idea that God would become human and die for us to save us from our sins. This fact is such a basic part of our faith that sometimes it's easy to lose track of how much meaning is there.  On Good Friday, the worship service gives us a chance in a special way to unpack it all: to mourn for our Savior's death and for the sin in the world for which he died, but also to celebrate the fact that on the cross, Jesus accomplished his mission of saving us all.  We will be following a worship service known as Tenebrae (from the Latin for "shadows").  Here are some things you will notice that are different from usual.

1. Gradual Extinguishing of Candles: The service plays up the difference between the Light of the World (Jesus Christ) and the coming darkness of his death.  As we work our way through our readings, which include selections from the Psalter, Lamentations, and Hebrews, as well as most centrally, the Passion narrative from the Gospel of John, we will gradually extinguish candles and turn down the lights.  This practice always helps me to follow the story by engaging my sense of sight and not just hearing.  

2. No Celebration of Holy Communion: This seems an odd practice (after-all, Good Friday is the day on which Jesus gave his body and blood), but it relates to the ancient understanding of the Triduum (English: "3 days"), which sees Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil as being part of the same liturgy in which we commemorate Jesus's death and resurrection.  Good Friday, then, is a continuation of the Holy Communion liturgy started on Maundy Thursday.

3. No Paraments/Vestments: On Maundy Thursday, we stripped the altar.  It will stay stripped Good Friday and until we work our way through the Easter Sunrise service.  In addition, you will notice that Pr. Laura will not wear a stole or chasuble.  This is the only time in the Church year when you will see no paraments or vestments.  Without the colors or decorations, it keeps Good Friday simple and as a time of reflection on Jesus's saving death on the cross.  

4. Music: One thing you will notice is the lack of congregational singing.  At the end, we will hear the anthem "Were You There When they Crucified My Lord?" to meditate for one final time in the evening on the death of Jesus.  For the most part, however, hymns have been replaced with the reading of Psalms and congregational responses to express the penitential character of the worship service.

5. Strepitus: The first time I attended a Tenebrae service, I was terrified when I heard the Strepitus at the end--because I had absolutely no idea it was coming.  Well, here is your fair warning!  The strepitus (Latin: "loud noise;" see, these Latin words are always simpler than they sound!) is the signal for the end of the service.  A worship leader will close a book together loudly to simulate the sounds of the earthquake at the death of Jesus Christ.  Afterward, we will depart in silence.

I hope you will join us at Bethany for Good Friday as we take a little while to remember together the cost of Jesus's love for us.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Maundy Thursday--A New Commandment

Maundy Thursday Service: April 17, 7pm at Bethany

"[Jesus said], I give you a new commandment that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another."--John 11:34

If there's any service that seems to get overshadowed during Holy Week, in my mind, it's Maundy Thursday.  It doesn't have the festivity of Palm Sunday, the solemnity of Good Friday, or the joy of Easter Vigil/Easter Sunday.  But here are 3 reasons why it's important.

1. Love one another.  Have you ever heard it said that all religions are basically the same and boil down to being nice to each other?  On Maundy Thursday, we get to hear how Christianity is actually a bit different.  "Maundy" comes from the Latin word for "command," and it refers to Jesus's command to love one another as he has loved us.  During Holy Week, we find out what, "as he loved us," means.  Turns out, it's a lot more than being nice to people.  Jesus died for us.  As Jesus says (Jn 15:13), "No one has greater love than this, to lay one's life down for one's friends."  When we gather for Maundy Thursday, we get to hear about that love and share it with one another.

2. The Lord's Supper.  Maundy Thursday is recognized as the night when Jesus instituted the Lord's Supper.  The Lord's Supper is an amazing gift.  Every time we gather, we not only remember Jesus's death and resurrection, but we eat his flesh and blood, allowing us in a mystical way to participate in his death and resurrection along with Christians of all generations and places.  On Maundy Thursday, we get to hear Christ's words: "This is my body, which is for you."  Every time I hear those words at communion, "This is the body of Christ, given for you," I am reminded that even though I seem small and insignificant, Christ thought I was worth dying for, and he thought the same about all of you, as well.

3. The Washing of the Feet. This is a long tradition in the Church--and for good reason!  Jesus said, "So, if I, your Lord and Teacher have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet (Jn 13:14)," and, "If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them (Jn 13:17)."  Washing each other's feet is something that immediately sounds icky--and if you're like me, ticklish!  There are a few reasons why I think this is one of the most special celebrations that the Church does, though.  For one, it's a way to love one another--as Jesus told us.  When I allow someone to wash my feet--or when I wash someone else's feet, it shows a lot of closeness and trust with my fellow brothers and sisters in my local church.  I don't let just anyone touch your feet.  Second, it reminds us of our baptism.  Jesus tells Peter specifically that those who are bathed don't need to be washed other than the feet (Jn 13:10).  It's pretty clear he's talking about a little more than a warm shower in the morning.  When we wash each other's feet we remember that we are all baptized into one Church--and into one Christ who loved us enough even to wash our feet as a servant.

These are the 3 biggest reasons I am excited for Maundy Thursday.  What are some of your own?  I hope you'll join us!

May the Peace of Christ be with you always,
Vicar James

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Hearing Grace in the Sermon on the Mount

Starting last week, and continuing through this week (February 16) and the next week (February 23), we are working through some of Jesus's most famous teachings in the Gospel of Matthew in what is called the Sermon on the Mount.  While the Sermon on the Mount is perhaps most famous for the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12), Jesus's sermon actually continues throughout all the fifth, sixth, and seventh chapters.

Some of them are uncomfortable and are among the most controversial teachings in the Bible.  They include Jesus saying our righteousness must exceed the Pharisees' to enter the kingdom of heaven (Mt 5:20); his teaching on anger (Mt 5:22), lust (Mt 5:28), and divorce (Mt 5:32); saying we should pray for our enemies (Mt 5:44); and telling us to be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect (Mt 5:48).

Some of these sins Jesus names seem to really hit home, and sometimes the standard (perfection?) seems impossible to reach.  Perhaps it's no coincidence that Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer named his book on this section of the Bible The Cost of Discipleship.  And yet, whatever the cost, Jesus does call us to be his disciples: he calls us to try to meet these high standards.

I think that among all this harsh, law-giving Jesus, though, there is still a Jesus of grace and love to be found.  After-all, what a joy it is that the God of the universe would call us to follow in his footsteps.  What a privilege it is that the Savior of the nations gives us a part to play in bringing the news of his salvation to our communities and to the world not just by our words, but by our lives, as well.  

If working through these passages together still seems hard, let us also remember Jesus's act of free grace toward us.  Let's remember that this is the same Jesus whose love and mercy led him to die on a cross for us--that his call to discipleship and his self-sacrificing love go together.  I hope that you'll stick with us at Bethany the next couple weeks as we continue to work our way through these sometimes difficult passages.  Together we'll be able both to hear the call to discipleship and to find the grace in Jesus's Sermon on the Mount.    

Links to the Readings
February 9, 2014 (5th Sunday after Epiphany)
Matthew 5:13-20
February 16, 2014 (6th Sunday after Epiphany)
Matthew 5:21-37
February 23, 2014 (7th Sunday after Epiphany)
Matthew 5:38-48

May the Peace of Christ be with you always,
Vicar James

Monday, January 20, 2014

Martin Luther King Day and the Biblical Call for Justice

I think sometimes it's easy to think of Martin Luther King Day as just another federal holiday.  Those in the government get the day off and the kids are off from school, but for many of us, this is another workday.  I'd like to take a moment, though, to think about Dr. King's place in the Biblical and Christian tradition and how that is important for us today.

One of the things I remember about Martin Luther King personally is that watching old clips of his speeches was one of the first memories I have of seeing truly great preaching.  I say preaching because many of his speeches and writings relate to the Biblical call for justice.  This is a link to his "I Have a Dream" speech along with commentary on some of the verses that he highlights.  I'd certainly encourage you to watch the entire thing, but what really sticks out in my memory is the part around the 8:20 mark in the video in which he quotes the Old Testament prophet Amos: "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream."

What is the call to justice?  I think we think of King as most clearly attached to the call for racial equality, but he also believed in lifting up people of all skin colors who were oppressed.  This ties well into the message of Amos at a time in Israel when the rich were greatly oppressing the poor.  

Throughout the Bible, God calls us to stand up for justice, to love the "least of these brothers and sisters of mine (Matthew 25:40)."  We as a church are called to do that, too.  Our belief in Jesus Christ, "in whom there is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female (Galatians 3:28)," calls us to take a stand when we see injustice or inequality in society.  It's not always easy.  I've talked to many people here who have told me about some of the turmoil of the time of the Civil Rights Movement.  Being born in the Detroit area, I'm sensitive to the effect of racial turmoil in the 1967 rioting there (link here), which tore apart the city and has had a lasting impact on it to this day.  I know well that the scars experienced on both sides of our long national struggle with justice and equality take time to heal, but I also know that Jesus Christ paid the ultimate price, so that we may love one another as he first loved us (John 13:34).  

So today, rather than focusing only on Martin Luther King, let's focus on our faith.  What is God calling us to do at this time?  How can we bring about justice and equality in our day?  

May the peace of Christ be with you always,
Vicar James

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

New Forward Together Bible Study

Happy New Year, Everyone!

The blog's finally back up, and it's just in time to announce a new ministry here at Bethany that I am very excited about!  This year, we'll be joining congregations around the North Carolina Synod in a ministry called "Forward Together in Christ in Community."  You can read more about the ministry on our synod's website here.  Forward Together is a new program in which we will explore together with the other Lutheran churches in our synod here in North Carolina what it means to be the Christ's Church and what God is calling us to do in the future.  

There are a number of ways that we'll see this unfold as 2014 goes along, but one of the main ways will be new Bible study here at Bethany.  The neat thing about this Bible study is that the rest of the churches in the synod will be reading, thinking, and praying about the same verses as we are.  Each month, either Pr. Laura or I will lead a discussion of a small selection from 1 Thessalonians 5 (link here).  Each discussion is quite short (about 10-15 minutes) and will replace the adult Sunday school opening on the fourth Sunday of every month.  The first week will be Sunday, January 26th at 10am, as I lead a Bible study on 1 Thessalonians 5:5a.  With your support and participation, we can make this a time that strengthens us all individually in our faith lives as well as together in our church as a whole.  

So come on out and join us, as we go forward together with our brothers and sisters in Christ in the North Carolina Synod!

May the peace of Christ be with you always,
Vicar James