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April 20-26, 2011–Aftershocks

Contributed by Scott Mims, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Virginia Beach, VA


Warm-up Questions

  • What is the most exciting, captivating, or important thing about Easter to you?  Why?
  • Does your family have any special Easter rituals or traditions?  If so, how have these rituals or traditions helped to shape your experience/understanding of Easter and your faith?


On March 11, 2001 a massive earthquake struck off the coast of Japan triggering a devastating tsunami that swept over cities and farmland in the northern part of the country.  The earthquake, whose magnitude was measured at 9.0 on the Richter scale, is one of the most powerful ever recorded.  Adding to the catastrophe, critical cooling systems at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station were severely damaged, triggering explosions, partial core meltdowns, and releases of radioactive material directly into the atmosphere and ocean. In all, over 27,000 people were either killed or are still missing.

A month later, the aftershocks continue.  On April 11, a magnitude 7.1 earthquake—just one of hundreds of smaller, related quakes—rattled the northeastern coast of Japan triggering tsunami warnings and renewed fears.  Not all of the “aftershocks” have been physical, however.  From the sheer effects of this event in human terms, to falling stock markets, the loss of production from the world’s third largest economy, and the renewed concerns about the safety of nuclear power, the impact of this disaster is being felt the world over…and will be for a long time to come.

Discussion Questions

  • Do you know anyone who has either personally been affected by this event, or who knows someone who has been affected?  If so, what has this experience been like for them?
  • What fears, issues, questions, or concerns – if any – does this event, or similar disasters, raise for you?
  • How connected do you feel to events that are happening in other parts of the country or in the world?  Do you think what happens to other people, perhaps even people who live thousands of miles away, impacts your life?
  • Does the way that you live your life impact the lives of others?  How so?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, April 24, 2011 (Resurrection of Our Lord)

Acts 10:34-43
Colossians 3:1-4
Matthew 28:1-10

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings.)

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

We come today to the very epicenter of our Christian faith.  Everything that we do as Christians, from our worship life, to our evangelism and service, to the promise of God’s love and grace which sustains us, is rooted in Jesus’ resurrection.  This is ground zero.  Without the resurrection, Jesus’ death on a Roman cross would have been a tragedy at best. Yet in the resurrection, we see God’s affirmation of who Jesus is as Lord and Savior; in the resurrection we see God’s ultimate victory.

Yet, it is important to remember that, even though Jesus had tried to prepare his disciples and friends, the resurrection was initially a tremendous surprise!  Matthew, like all of our gospel writers, tells of certain women coming to the tomb of Jesus early, “as the first day of the week was dawning.”  Having seen Jesus laid to rest on Friday, they are coming expecting that the tomb would be occupied.  It was a Jewish custom in that day to watch the tomb until after the third day in order to make sure premature burial had not taken place.  Perhaps they were approaching Jesus’ well-guarded burial place as early after the Sabbath as they dared in order to offer this last act of devotion.  What they encountered shook them to the core, turning their world upside down.

“And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.”  Matthew’s account leaves no doubt as to who is ultimately behind the empty tomb.  While the other gospels have the women wondering who has already rolled away the stone, there is nothing ambiguous in this week’s gospel.  From the shaking ground, to the blazing angelic messenger, to the guards fainting away from fright, we know that it is none other than God who is at work here.  And though the angel’s message fills them both with fear and great joy, it is their encounter with the Risen Christ that convinces them that things would never be the same!

And of course, things haven’t been the same.  The earthquake in today’s gospel underscores Jesus’ resurrection as an apocalyptic, world-changing event.  It is an event whose aftershocks continue even today as hundreds of millions of people worldwide proclaim with great joy, “Alleluia! Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed, alleluia!”

Discussion Questions

  • How do you think you might have reacted had you been with the women on that first Easter Sunday?  What might it have felt like to encounter Jesus as they did?
  • What difference does it make that God raised Jesus from the dead?
  • What difference does Jesus’ resurrection make to you personally?
  • The earthquake that struck Japan and its aftershocks are forces of devastation.  In what ways are the “aftershocks” of the resurrection forces for healing and life?  Or put another way, in what ways does our faith lead us to impact our world for God’s glory and for good?

Activity Suggestions

Bible Study: As a group, consider the question:  “Does the fact that the tomb was empty necessarily mean that Jesus was resurrected?”

  • See if your group can come up with other possibilities.  Several that have been suggested include: the women went to the wrong place, Jesus wasn’t really dead and somehow revived and escaped, the disciples stole the body, someone else (the Jewish or Roman authorities) stole the body.
  • Dig deeper into the gospel.  Beginning with the Crucifixion in Matthew 27: 32 and going through Matthew 28:15, what are the aspects of the story that would make these other possibilities highly unlikely?
  • What other “evidence” do we have that Jesus is alive and the Resurrection is true?

Service Project:  Consider how your group might be an “aftershock” of God’s victory and life during the 50 days that make up the Easter Season.  Could you organize an event or service project to raise money for victims of earthquakes, floods, or other natural and man-made disasters?  Is there an opportunity or need in your local community that your group can help address as a way of witnessing to the gospel?

Closing Prayer

Gracious and loving God, we are mindful today of all who suffer, and especially of those who are most vulnerable and in need.  Through your Spirit, let the power and promise of the Resurrection take root in our lives, that we may live as vibrant and faithful witnesses to your love; through Jesus Christ, our Risen Lord.  Amen!

April 21-27, 2010–Protector and Defender

Contributed by Angie Larson, Clive, Iowa

Warm-up Question

What does it feel like to be protected?

Protector and Defender

On January 12, 2010 a 7.0 magnitude earthquake shook the small country of Haiti. Among the stories of devastation are stories of hope. 

Frank and June Williams and their three daughters, Angie, Dawn and Pria; and two sons, Trevor and Mike, are Haitian residents.  Frank is one of the directors of World Vision in Haiti.  The apartment in which his family lived in Port-au-Prince collapsed, leaving June, Dawn and Pria trapped inside. Frank, who was outside, used a flashlight to frantically search for his family within the rubble. 

June recounts the earthquake this way in an e-mail to a friend, “There was a loud, deep rumble and the earth shook and shifted.  I couldn’t move my feet, I could only throw the girls down under me and under the archway.  Five stories of concrete and tile came down on us.  I looked at my hands that were covering the girl’s heads. My hands couldn’t protect them from anything. Yet, we were not crushed.  Five foot ceiling slabs came down.  Our heads were embedded with concrete. It was an absolute miracle.  I’ve determined that there must have been a great big, strong angel standing over us, and smaller pieces of rubble were being sifted through his wings and landed on us.”

June, Dawn, and Pria survived.  When the quake stopped they quickly ran from the apartment building through an opening in the outer wall.  A second tremor brought down the rest of the building as they were running for a mountainside. They took refuge under a tree.  A Canadian man helped them down and took them to his house, where he cared for them with a first-aid kit.  The three settled their thoughts on hope until they were reunited with their father, older brothers and sister.

Discussion Questions

  • Would you lean towards hope or despair in this situation?
  • Do you consider June a heroine?  Why or why not?
  • How were June and her daughters protected?
  • What would you say to the families of those who did not survive the earthquake?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, April 25, 2010 (Fourth Sunday of Easter)

Acts 9:36-43

Revelation 7:9-17

John 10:22-30

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings.)

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

In the gospel lesson for this week Jesus is defending his identity.  The Pharisees gather around Jesus like journalists trying to entrap a corrupt senator.  They question who he is, hoping that he will claim his identity as the Messiah. If Jesus claims this identity, they will likely stone him for blasphemy.  They desire to accuse and discredit him and also incriminate his disciples.  They have seen his miraculous actions but still refuse to believe who he is.

Jesus says his disciples are different.  In contrast to the Pharisees, who are trying to avoid the evidence in front of their eyes, Jesus’ followers enjoy a special and blessed relationship to God. He gives them a sense of belonging and identity.  They are his and he knows them intimately.  Not only does he know them, but he gives them protection and eternal life.  In me, says Jesus, my disciples know the love and care of the Father.

This gift is for us too.  Tragedy will come and shake our lives. We will lose people we love.  We will be tempted to despair.  Some days the challenges will seem overwhelming. Jesus tells us that no one will snatch us out of his hand.  He gives us his protection and defense.  His actions are even louder than his words.  June Williams placed her body over her daughters during the Haitian earthquake.  With her parental love, she protected her daughters.  So too did Jesus offer his body as a sign of his love for us.  Jesus assures us that he will hold us in his hands.  Following Jesus doesn’t mean difficulty won’t befall us, but it does mean God will hold us when it does.

Discussion Questions

  • How does Jesus’ protection give you hope?
  • What are some ways that Jesus’ actions spoke louder than his words?
  • Jesus keeps his followers from being snatched up.  What in our world can snatch up people?  How can Jesus protect us from those things?  What can we do to follow him?

Activity Suggestions

  • Do a fundraiser for Haitian relief. 
  • Look on the ELCA website for stories of Haitian relief effort.
  • Draw a bulls-eye for the students:  five concentric circles, each bigger than the previous one.  Ask them to label the center circle with someone whom they protect, (for example, children they care for or the homeless). Ask them to label the next circle with their name.  Ask them to think of someone who protects them to label in the third circle, (for example, parents or teachers).  In the final circle ask them to write in “Jesus.”  Have them process what it means to be a protector and to be protected.

Closing Prayer

Blessed Savior, thank you for knowing and choosing us.   It feels so good to be chosen, Lord.  Thank you for your protection.  Please help us to protect those people whom you have entrusted to our care that, through our actions, they may see you.  Open our eyes to see the ways we question your claim on our lives and help us to remember that you have chosen as your beloved children and disciples.  In your name we pray, Amen.

January 6-12, 2010–Awaiting the Big One

Contributed by Claudia Bergmann, Eisleben, Germany


Warm-up Question

What does being in an earthquake feel like?

Awaiting the Big One

“Did you feel it?” That is the question everyone asks whenever the news in California reports a small earthquake. Most California quakes do not do any visible damage, and only a small percentage are actually felt or heard by the people living in the region. But seismologists predict that there is a 63 percent chance of a strong and destructive earthquake within the next 30 years in the area of San Francisco. Taking all of California together, the chances for what’s called “the Big One” are 99.7 percent.


san francisco earthquakeCalifornia will probably experience a strong earthquake in the future because of movement in the earth’s crust. The Pacific and the North American Plates meet there and grind against each other for hundreds of miles. This is even visible to the naked eye and is called the San Andreas Fault. The movement of the earth’s crust slowly builds up pressure and energy, which is, at some point, released in an earthquake. On April 18, 1906, such a pressure release killed 3000 people in San Francisco and destroyed large areas of the city.  Seismologists from the University of California in Berkley have found that the earth, although solid on the surface, reacts to the movements of sun and moon, just as water does. These mini-tides can be recorded as tremors which make areas like the San Andreas Fault move. Scientists write in the current issue of the magazine Nature (December 2009) that such small tremors do not cause big earthquakes but increase the strength of the movements happening in the San Andreas fault.


Did you feel it? Californians hope that this question will always be answered with “no”. But chances are that one day soon an earthquake and its aftermath cannot be missed. Learning more about how earthquakes originate and what makes them stronger might help us take better precautions. Unlike other animals, which sometimes sense impending earthquakes better than humans, we have to rely on scientific data to have an idea when one might be imminent.


Discussion Questions

1. Do you live in an area where earthquakes are likely? If so, do you ever talk or think about measures which you and your family can take to protect yourself from the effects of an earthquake? If not, would you worry if your parents wanted to move the family to an area where earthquakes are likely?

2. Have you ever experienced an earthquake or another natural catastrophe? Could you sense it coming? What did it feel like?

3. Some people experience pain when the weather changes or say that they can “smell” coming rain. Are you able to predict such changes? If not, do you think that some people are actually able to do it?


Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, January 10, 2010 (Baptism of our Lord)

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings.)


For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Isaiah 43:1-7

Acts 8:14-17

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22


Bible Reflection

The story we hear today from the Gospel of Luke is one that describes an early part of Jesus’ life. Luke has portrayed the pregnancy of Mary and the birth of Jesus and has continued with the events in the temple when Jesus was just 12 years old. We now meet a new character. John the Baptist, whose mother visited Jesus’ mother when they were both pregnant, begins to baptize people in the wilderness. People flock to John and some even wonder whether he is the long-expected Messiah. But John shatters these hopes and points to the Messiah coming after him. John was not much liked by the government. He was put in prison and later killed. But, before his life came to an end, one of the people he baptizes is Jesus of Nazareth.


Something amazing happens at that particular baptism. Imagine what it must have been like for Jesus. As an adult, he decides to receive the baptism by John, which is supposed to free from sins. He steps down to the river or creek, feeling rocks and sand beneath his worn shoes. He feels both John’s strong hands as the Baptist dunks him into the water and a sense of trust that John will lift him back out. He feels the water—cold and refreshing—cleansing his body and also, in a way, his mind. Then, he sees the heaven open. He sees a dove, the Holy Spirit, coming down towards him.  Maybe he feels and hears the flapping of her wings. Jesus  hears God speaking, telling him that he is the  beloved son with whom God is well pleased. Feeling the water, touching it, being touched by John’s hands, seeing the heavens, hearing God’s voice – Jesus’ baptism addresses most of his senses and, because of it, envelopes him entirely. Unfortunately, Luke does not tell us what it is like for Jesus to hear God and to see the Holy Spirit at his baptism. But he records the effect that this sense-filling event has on Jesus:  right after the baptism, Jesus begins his work.


When the early church began to baptize people into a Christian life, they modeled their practices after the story of Jesus being baptized by John. Of course, there were proclamations of what baptism means, that it is an act of repentance and causes the forgiveness of sins. But more than is often the case in modern churches, baptisms in the early church also addressed the senses of the baptismal candidates. Days of fasting prepared them for their baptism. Several times before and during the baptismal ceremony, the baptismal candidates were anointed with oil. In what was called the “ephphata ceremony”, a mixture of dirt and spittle was put upon their ears and nose to symbolize the opening of ears in Mark 7:33-34. And when the actual baptism happened, a lot of water was used so that the baptismal candidates could be fully immersed. Baptism back then could be truly felt, truly seen, truly heard. It could be experienced with most of the  senses.


In Luther’s day the church had already moved away from some of these more sensual experiences of baptism. The church performed many remaining actions in almost magical ways, as if baptism was not valid unless all of these rituals were performed. While Luther tried to rid the church of some of the more magical looking rituals, he strongly felt that the sensual aspects of baptism should remain. In his early writings about baptism, he even demanded that baptism should be by immersion to symbolize that our old sinful self is drowned and our new baptized self is resurrected. Luther asserted that baptism should be experienced with all our senses, just as God wants to be in our minds, spirits, and body – in all of what makes us human. 


Discussion Questions

1. Are there experiences in life where the senses of smelling, tasting, and feeling might enhance your perception or help you remember? Do you have an early childhood memory which is connected to one of these senses?

2. What senses (hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting, and feeling) do we use in worship and at what parts in the liturgy?

3. Which do you prefer, a worship service where the pastor speaks and the people listen or a worship service where all or most of our human senses are addressed? Why?

4. What are, in your opinion, the pros and cons of worship that addresses our senses?

5. Have you experienced worship in a congregation other than your own? If so, did that service address the human senses more or less than is done in your church?


Activity Suggestions

1. Jesus and the human senses.

Split your group in four small groups and assign each of them one Gospel. Ask your groups to find stories where Jesus not only speaks to the people but addresses their other senses. Share these stories in the large group and talk about what Jesus accomplishes when he helps people to understand his message by letting them smell, taste, feel, or see.


2. Making people understand.

Read the healing story in Mark 7:32-37. Talk about the way Jesus addresses the human senses there and what effect that has on the bystanders watching.


3. Heightening the senses in worship.

If using our senses helps us experience things on a deeper level and helps us remember, why don’t we use our senses more in worship? Think about the way that worship in your congregation could be more sense-oriented. Ask your pastor how he/she plans worship services with the use of our senses in mind.


4. Using our senses.

Here are some suggestions for activities where your youth can try their senses. If you have a small group, let everyone try a few samples. If you have a larger group, split them up so that everybody has a chance to experience this exercise. If you make it a competition, you might have a prize for the winner(s).


a) Smelling: Prepare samples of distinctive smelling things such as communion wine, herbs, flowers, incense and other in containers that are all the same size and are closed with a lid. Then, see who can identify of an object by using only the sense of smell (you need to cover participants’ eyes and have someone else present them with the opened container).


b) Tasting: You can also have a taste test using foods which people try with their eyes covered. In that case, make sure to choose foods which everybody likes and tolerates.


c) Feeling: Have people feel small objects – again, with their eyes covered – and name what they should represent. Cookie cutters or wooden toy animals work well.


d) Hearing: Play the beginnings of famous pop songs (or even hymns) until the first person can name the title. Ask your group to listen to half of them with their eyes open and to the other half with their eyes closed. Ask whether it was easier to guess when they only used their sense of hearing rather than their senses of hearing and seeing.


Closing Prayer

Almighty God, you want to be close to us and be with us in our minds, spirits and bodies. Help us to open our ears so that we can hear your word. Help us to open our eyes so that we can see your marvelous deeds. Help us to open our open our mouths and noses so that we can taste and smell your wonderful gifts of creation with renewed wonder. Help us to open our hands so that we can feel the hands of our brothers and sisters in ours. Amen.