[#pictureLent] Easter Sunday, April 16: GO

By Laura Merrill
Executive Director, Mission Vitality Center, Rio Texas Conference
San Antonio, Texas

First, read Matthew 28:1-10

Something big is happening this morning! We’ve read psalms of lament this Holy Week, begging for rescue and refuge in the midst of deep trouble. Yet where the week looked like it was going is not where it ended up—hallelujah! We can read this scripture as a sort of mini-play in two acts, and each act is a sign of the big thing.

First is the encounter of the women with the angel of the Lord.  Words like “suddenly,” “great earthquake,” and “white as snow” say this is no ordinary meeting. Then there’s the nearly humorous twist of guards “shaking like dead men” in the middle of a graveyard!  The angel delivers his straightforward yet incomprehensible message—Jesus, whom you saw crucified, is not here; he has been raised from the dead.  Go and tell the others that he has gone ahead of you to Galilee; you’ll find him there. 

The angel’s instructions to “go” form a bridge to the second act.  Here we find a flurry of activity in response to this enormous news.  The women run to tell the other disciples and run smack into Jesus.  He repeats the instructions:  Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, where they will see me.  The empty tomb, site of this miraculous event, is not where the next act will take place.  And Jesus calls the ones who love him, who care about what has happened here, to get up and move. 

Each of us has a story to tell of our encounter with Jesus.  We may not have told it lately; maybe we don’t remember all the details.  But the fact is that Christ never stays at the site of the empty tomb, whatever that may look like for us.  If he’s brought you from death into life, the next step is to get up and go.  The next act of your life with him will happen in a new place, and if you’re going to share it, there will be new people to encounter.

Christ calls his Easter people to step into the resurrection; the next act is happening someplace else, and he’s already gone ahead!  So whatever the trouble, however new or frightening the possibility Christ offers you, do not be afraid.  He’s waiting to meet you and me and any who want to leave the graveyard—so go! 

Discussion/Reflection Questions: 

1. What signs around you or in your life might indicate that God is up to something big? 
2. Is Christ’s good news of new life ever frightening for you or for your church?  Why? 
3. What might have kept the disciples from going to meet Jesus in Galilee?  What do you think motivated them to go anyway? 
4. Where do we need to go to meet up with Jesus?  Where is he waiting for us? 

[#pictureLent] April 15: PREPARATION

By Daryl Allen
Co-Pastor, Community United Methodist Church
Fruitland Park, FL

First, read Matthew 27:57-66

What is the one thing that all of us do before we take a long or extended trip? There are variations in everyone’s routine, but the one thing we all do is pack. We pack the clothes we need, the incidentals we will use, and any other item we deem necessary. That packing helps us be prepared to participate in anything and everything we may want to do while we are away.

This passage shows Joseph of Arimathea preparing in how he cares for the body of Jesus after his death. This passage shows the chief priests trying to prepare for Jesus’ eventual resurrection as they tried to make sure it could not happen. 

Think about your daily routine. How often do you look over your daily calendar? Prepare a shopping list? Plan a conversation you are going to have with another? How, where, and when you are going to celebrate certain holidays? Preparation is part of the very fabric of most everything we do in our lives.

This season of Lent is no different. Throughout this season we have read the stories and we have participated in the special services. I pray those moments have helped you open yourself to new understandings and a deeper relationship with God. All of this was done with a look towards preparation for Easter Sunday. And not only for that one special morning, but to be Easter people all year long!

One of the things I often do when I pack and prepare for a trip, is to do it several times. I think I am done packing and realize I forgot something. I think I am done packing and change my mind about what I have initially decided to bring with me. So I unpack a bit, take out a few things, and I add a few more. 

As you finish your journey through this season of Lent, I want to invite you to always be open to “re-packing." Make yourself available to the power of the Holy Spirit to change your mind, alter your perspective, leave some things behind, and make space for a few new ideas and understandings. God is always speaking to us, giving us the chance to grow and change, so that we can be all that God calls and creates us to be as God’s Kingdom builders. 

Discussion/Reflection Questions: 

1. What things/thoughts/beliefs are you carrying that God may be calling you to “re-pack”? 
2. What are some new ways you can open yourself up to time with God? 
3. How can you alter your daily routine to help make preparations for God to use you in new and different ways this Lenten season? And beyond? 

[#pictureLent] Good Friday, April 14: FORSAKEN

By Miguel Padilla
Intern Pastor at St. Paul UMC
San Antonio, TX

First, read Psalm 22 

When I was younger, I remember how much I rejected people saying “I remember when I was younger….” I rejected it because normally they used to point out how bad our generation was in comparison with their generation. A few months ago, I caught myself using the same phrase. I couldn’t avoid shaking my head and smiling.  

The past is important, because it shapes us for good or for bad. Some people dwell in it, and some dismiss it or ignore it. I ask myself a question: what is the right way to look into the past? Then I read psalm 22. And the Psalmist gave me an idea. The past is an important source of awareness.  

The past should help me to find new strength. It calls me to remember from how many situations God has given me the victory over many troubles and tribulations. It also reminds me that I am not alone in this struggle, because my brother and sister has passed through similar situations and God has delivered them as well.  

The past should give us a foundation in order to look into the future. The Psalmist recognized that the situation in which he or she is is not a walk in the park. It is a dark moment. He or she feels that God and everyone has abandoned him or her. But the remembrance of the many victories that God gave him or her and the victories of the community, these victories will strengthen his or her faith to trust in God and to worship in the middle of the storm.  

I read somewhere that “evil always tries to convince us that we are powerless, but we have a full access to God’s grace.” God’s grace is present in the past, present and it will be in the future. When we feel forsaken, let’s not forget to look toward the cross and know that God raised his son from death, and we will raise with him. 

During this Lent time, make time to look into your past and recall all the victories that God has given you. How will you share them with others? 

Discussion/Reflection Questions: 

1. Could you summarize them into 3 minute stories? 
2. Why is important to share your story? 
3. What other creative ways could be used to share your story?

[#pictureLent] Maundy Thursday, April 13: PASSOVER

By Kercida McClain 
Project Transformation, Rio Texas
San Antonio, Texas

First, read John 13:1-17, 31b-35 (Psalm 36,71,70

“Why does liturgy/ritual matter?” As someone who loves these, I am asked this question often. Liturgy matters because when we reach a point where we have no method, no words, liturgy emerges from within.

My dad collapsed Christmas Eve and died Christmas morning. As I sat at his bedside in the in-between time, the pattern of worship, liturgy, sustained me. I sang hymns, canted the doxology, prayed and allowed God to work in and through me using liturgy. When I had nothing, liturgy carried me in God’s arms as he carried my dad.

On the night Jesus was betrayed he went to painstaking efforts to gift his disciples, and likely himself too, with a very liturgical act, Seder, the Passover meal. Words that had been said in community for many years gave each disciple a place of solace as it does us today. When they didn’t know what was coming next from the world, they did know what would come next in worship.

Our tendency is to back off from the hard moments. God invites us to lean in and rely on millennia of faith where our own fails.

Discussion/Reflection Questions: 

1. “On the night in which he gave himself up for us, he took bread, gave thanks to you, broke the bread, gave it to his disciples, and said: "Take, eat; this is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me." I wonder if you naturally say what is next. 
2. What is your favorite sacred song? Why? 
3. How can you “lean in” to all these three days hold for us to truly experience the mystery of Easter? 

[#pictureLent] April 12: DELIVER

By Tanya Eustace Campen
Intergenerational Discipleship for the Rio Texas Conference  
San Antonio, Texas

First, read Psalm 70

As I read these words my mind drifts to the stories in the Old Testament and the book of Exodus. I think about God’s people living in Egypt so many years ago- those enslaved and working day and night under the Pharaoh. As my mind drifts and as I hear the psalmist say “deliver me!” I see God’s people working in horrendous conditions calling out to God for help. Deliver us! I hear them say.

As I reflect on these images and hear these words, my mind also plays the theme song from Disney’s movie Prince of Egypt, the animated movie that retells the story of the Book of Exodus, the Israelite people, and their chosen leader Moses- the one who led God’s people out of Egypt.

As my brain replays this song I hear the words again:

“Can you hear your people cry: Help us now this dark hour. Deliver us. Hear our call. Deliver us Lord of all Remember us- here in this burning sand. Deliver us. There's a land you promised us Deliver us to the promised land.” 

The Hebrew word used in Psalm 70:1, deliver, literally means “to take away.” This Lent I wonder- what are you asking God to take away from you, what are you needing to be delivered from?

As I hear these words and reflect on the stories I wonder how many people today are still crying out to God for deliverance. For deliverance from addiction, violence, poverty, abuse, illness, and the list goes on. The images of God’s children crying out haunt me as I read this psalm, and as I think about the many things that continue to enslave God’s children this day.

Thank goodness for Lent- a time where we can step away and turn our attention to God, to realign our focus on our Holy Creator, our deliver. During these last 42 days we have had many opportunities to reflect on God’s love and God’s call for us to repent, to turn back, and to find new ways of sharing God’s love with everyone we meet. Now we turn our hearts towards the cross. Tomorrow is Maundy Thursday- the day when we remember the last meal that Jesus shared with his disciples. As we move through Holy week let us not forget the deep desire for a savior, a deliverer. Let us turn to God as we pray the words of the psalmist:

“But let all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you, and let those who love your saving help say again and again: “God is great!” (Psalm 70:4)

May it be so. 

Discussion/Reflection Questions:

1. What are you asking God “to take away” this Lent? 
2. Where do you hope Jesus will deliver you to? 
3. What do you hear God saying to you as you wait?