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April 15-22, 2009 – Sad news surrounds joyful Easter celebration

Contributed by Pastor Jay Gamelin
Columbus, OH

Warm-up Question: Think of a time when you got hurt (physically, emotionally, spiritually, or otherwise). What’s the most important thing you learned from that experience

In the weeks leading up to Easter this year, sad news filled nearly every newspaper and broadcast. In just over a week, there were five mass murders in the U.S. alone, from Oakland, CA, to Binghamton, NY, killing nearly 40 people. In Italy, just as that predominantly Roman Catholic country was beginning to celebrate Holy Week, a massive earthquake killed at least 260 people. Violence continues in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as in other war-torn corners of the globe. And all over the world, people continue to struggle with a devastated economy.

All this news has surrounded what for Christians ought to be the most joyful time of the year. Figuring out how to celebrate on a tighter budget in the midst of difficult times is an ancient challenge, and one that the faithful will face again as they gather to celebrate the festival of the resurrection and the bright, seven-week season of Easter that follows.

Discussion Questions

  • Have you ever tried to celebrate something (Christmas, Easter, your birthday, family weddings, etc.) while also having to deal with sad news? How did that go?
  • What did your family do for Easter this year? Was anything different than years past?
  • How do you think the families of people who died in the shootings in the U.S. felt during the Easter celebration this year, especially if they were Christians?
  • What do you think Jesus would say to folks who were trying to celebrate Easter while also finding themselves homeless after the earthquake in Italy?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, April 19, 2009.

(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 B at Lectionary Readings

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comicAgnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

The week after Easter is a peculiar Sunday in the church. On most Sundays, the appointed readings are different each year, following a three-year cycle. But every year, on the week after Easter, we hear this story about Thomas, the disciple who asked for proof. That makes me wonder: What’s so important about this story that the church asks us to read it every year during this time?

It seems to me we could answer that question with two words: doubt and scars.

Isn’t it a bit jarring that just one week after the lilies and the brass, the egg hunts and family gatherings, the joyful shouts and songs filled with “Alleluia!,” all of a sudden we run into doubt and scars? What happened to butterflies and bunnies?

The church is trying to tell us something. From the beginning, the joyful news of the resurrection had to be spoken, heard, sung, and lived by people whose lives were not very joyful. “He is Risen!” did not put an end to the suffering and persecution, death and danger that those first Christians lived with. In fact, their claim that Jesus, whom the Empire had tried to destroy, was in fact living and reigning as the true King of Creation, made things even worse for the faithful.

In the midst of danger and suffering, it’s normal for a little doubt to creep in. Thomas asked, and for good reason, to see the same proof that Jesus handed — literally — to the other disciples. For Thomas, as for most of the citizens of Jerusalem, the resurrection had not changed anything. Well, not anything they could see anyway. Life was still hard, and death was still at hand. So before Thomas took the message of “He is risen!” very far, he needed to be sure he wouldn’t just be telling a cruel joke to people who needed some real, meaningful hope.

Legend has it, Thomas ended up taking that message very far indeed — all the way to India! So whatever Jesus showed him was good enough.

What Jesus showed him were scars. Jesus was alive, but his body still had the marks of what he had suffered. His own flesh would not let him, or us, forget about the real tragedy and death he endured. Knowing that Jesus was still a marked man helped Thomas know that God still understood the danger and the risk of living faithfully in a broken world. Those scars gave Thomas’s own scars holy meaning: doubt and danger are still abundant, but God’s love and life are more abundant still.

We, too, live this Easter faith in a dead and dying world. Thanks be to God, Jesus lives and breathes in the midst of our doubts, bearing the scars, and yet overflowing with life. Alleluia! Amen.

Discussion Questions

  • If you were Thomas, what proof would you ask for to know that the resurrection — rising death — was real?
  • What does it mean to you that Jesus still has the scars on his resurrected body? If God could raise him from the dead, why didn’t God take the scars away, too?
  • Do you have any scars (physical or otherwise)? Where does God fit into the stories about how you got your scars?
  • What difference does “He is risen!” make in your own life? If “He is risen!” actually made your life more challenging and dangerous, would you still tell it to your friends and neighbors? Would it make a difference to them?

Activity Suggestions

  • Get a laminated map of the globe and some Vis-à-vis overhead pens. Invite folks to draw or write on places on the map where the world is scarred or marked. Play some music during this time (anything from Taizé songs to an iPod mix of thoughtful or thought-provoking music like The Fray’s “You Found Me”). After they’ve had some time to write, draw, or circle places, ask them to share why they drew or wrote what they did. Then ask where they think God is in all the world’s scars.
  • Have youth draw temporary tattoos (any non-permanent marker pen will do fine) on their arm, wrist, or ankles. (Draw it on paper first. Some may choose not to draw on themselves — a valid choice that should be respected.) What mark would you draw that would describe your faith and your doubts in your life? What invisible scars do you have that you could make “visible”? Where does Jesus fit into this picture? Have them share as they are comfortable.

Closing Prayer

Jesus, you lived and died and live again, feeling in your own body how hard life can be. Help me see your love and grace in the midst of the entire world’s, and my own scars. Be patient with me, and accept my doubts even as you give me faith. Amen.

March 25-April 1, 2009 – Americans less willing to sacrifice, Supreme Court Justice Thomas Says

Contributed by Jennifer Krausz
Bethlehem, PA

Warm-up Question: Who has ever sacrificed something for you? What was it? How did you feel about it?

When Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas was growing up, he says he constantly heard messages like “Learn to do without,” “Prepare for a rainy day,” and “No one owes you a living.” In a speech given at Washington and Lee University, Thomas told an audience of nearly 400 that “those truths permeated our lives.” When John F. Kennedy urged Americans to serve their country rather than look to be served, he said, “It all made sense.”

Justice Thomas contrasted the messages of his boyhood with the attitudes of today. “These days, there seems to be little emphasis on responsibility, sacrifice and self-denial,” Thomas said. “Rarely do we hear a message of sacrifice, unless it is used as a justification of taxation of others or a transfer of wealth to others.”

In his speech, Thomas blamed the “me” generation of the 1960s for the shift from service and sacrifice to selfishness and self-indulgence. “Today the message seems to be, ‘Ask not what you can do for yourselves and your country, but what your country can do for you,’” Thomas said.

Thomas made the rare public appearance at the request of student Robin Wright, a senior from Little Rock, Arkansas, whose mother is a federal judge. Although he did not mention any political party or specific politician by name, he did make it clear that he thinks people are too quick to look to the government for help when hard times come. “Our country and our principles are more important than our individual wants,” he said.

Discussion Questions

  • Do you identify more with the messages Clarence Thomas grew up with or the messages he says exist today?
  • What do you think is the most common attitude of society today? Do you think most people expect the government to help them? Do you see differences between the attitudes of youth and adults? How would you describe them?
  • If you think Justice Thomas is right, why do you think people might be more reluctant to sacrifice or deny themselves things today than in past generations?
  • What do you think is a good reason to sacrifice something? Are there any bad reasons? If so, what are they?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, March 29, 2009.

(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 B at Lectionary Readings.)

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

Gospel Reflection

 Jesus’ sacrifice involved agony that not many human beings have ever experienced. The biblical accounts of the crucifixion are sometimes so matter-of-fact that we can pass right over the ripped flesh that resulted from beatings and whippings, the nails hammered through his hands and feet, the sharp thorns cutting his head, and the many other humiliations he suffered. We can’t think that Jesus, being God, was above it all and just doing it for shown and theatrics. The Bible makes it clear that Jesus felt all the pain any of us would feel if we were tortured and humiliated. He was completely human just as he was completely divine — the Son of God.

Jesus knew ahead of time what it would be like, and his soul was troubled (v. 27). Still, he chose to sacrifice his life for the sins of each one of us. Hopefully, we never get to the point where we’re so familiar the stories of Jesus’ sacrifice that they don’t seem like such a big deal. His death on the cross made possible our being welcomed into eternal life with God. The alternative was for all humanity to suffer for eternity the consequences of sin, failures, and weaknesses. (v. 25)

In these verses, Jesus calls his followers to follow him, even in sacrifice. He asks us not to love our lives so much that we can’t bear to lose them, and to serve him and our neighbors. If we follow Jesus and seek guidance from him, he will lead us through the sacrifices that we will face throughout life. And when he does, we will be blessed.

Discussion Questions

  • Have you ever made a sacrifice for someone else, a cause, or special reason? How did you feel about doing so? Would you do it again if you were faced with the same situation?
  • You must have heard a story at some point about a person (other than Jesus) who sacrificed much, maybe even their life, for someone else. Share one of those stories with the group. What did you think of the person who sacrificed? What motivated their sacrifice? What did it accomplish or influence?
  • In what ways do you think a lifestyle of sacrifice might make the world a better place? How would you describe the life and actions Jesus modeled for us and asks us to follow?
  • Can you think of any drawbacks to sacrificing? How does God gives us the courage, wisdom, ability to take risks, resources, and comfort to live lives or service and sacrifice? What other things might we ask of God to help us make sacrifices for others?

Activity Suggestions

Identify people or groups who have sacrificed something for you personally. (Some obvious ones might include parents or grandparents, people serving in the military, emergency first-responders, a trusted friend, a brother or sister, etc.)

Write a short and sincere note of gratitude to one person who has sacrificed for your benefit. (Leaders, if your budgets permit, provide blank notecards or stationery, envelopes, and stamps for students. Make sure the notes get sent.)


Gather the following supplies: Posterboard or newsprint, magazines for cutting, colorful markers. On a large posterboard or piece of newsprint, make a collage of pictures or have students write and draw pictures of people who have sacrificed for them over the course of their lives.

Closing Prayer 

Jesus, we thank you for your sacrifice for us on the cross. Help us to be willing to follow you in making sacrifices for those in need around us; guide us in those efforts. We also thank you for your example and the presence of the Spirit that has led people to sacrifice for us as well. Thank you for the blessings of your presence and for the eternal life with God that we have because of your undeserved love and sacrifice. Amen.