Each week Pastor Sarah offers a devotional reflection to connect with the South Shore UMC Family. Use this entry as a way to prepare your heart and mind for worship. See you Sunday!
Sunday’s Scripture ~ John 20:1-18.
Devotional Scripture ~ Psalm 116:2.
My dear childhood friend, Lauren, lost her battle with osteosarcoma on Maundy Thursday 2011, just 13 days after her wedding. Her death occurred during the middle of my Clinical Pastoral Education experience while I was also serving full-time in the local church. As I shared with my CPE cohort about Lauren and her death, one of the other students, who was of a different denominational and theological tradition, asked me what sin Lauren had in her life that would make God punish her with cancer…
I was sickened and heartbroken by his question. Stunned, I remember asking him if this was his personal or denominational belief that God punishes individuals for their sin with debilitating sicknesses that lead to untimely deaths? He remained silent. Infuriated, I asked him where God’s grace was present in his question and his understanding of Lauren’s death? He said God’s grace was not present in his question…at which point I shared with him that we approached our understandings of the world and interpretations of God’s presence and movement in it from two very different places – one grounded in God’s grace and the other in desperate need of it.
Lauren’s passing was especially hard for me because she was my first close friend to die. Lauren was a wife, a daughter, a granddaughter, a sister, and a fierce fierce friend; I missed her terribly. 2011’s Holy Week was a dark valley in my life as I wept, ached, and longed for Lauren. The miracle of Easter had never been more difficult for me to celebrate than it was that year. I was challenged in preparing my sermon and accompanying my congregation to the empty tomb because I felt like a hostage at Golgotha. How could I preach hope, resurrection, and life in the face of immediate death?
The suffering I experienced following Lauren’s death broke me apart from my dear friend and, if just for a brief period, from my promise of eternal life in Christ Jesus. God allowed me to question, wonder, and doubt, and as I doubted, God comforted me. I prayed and searched the Scripture and found Gilead’s balm in two passages. First, in the words Peter shared in the closing of his first epistle, “…know that your brothers and sisters throughout the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you” (I Pet 5:9b-10). Second, in the word Jesus greeted the disciples with as they hid after his crucifixion, “Peace” (Jn 20:19b).
God drew near to me in my suffering, as God draws near to all who suffer. In time, God transformed my grief, healed it, and made me new. I am convinced, as is theologian Tyron Inbody, that God “accepts, endures, and transforms our anguish…God keeps company with those who suffer, rubs God’s nose in it, feels what it is like to have a daughter or son who suffers, and transforms that suffering within the divine life.”*
I was not capable of transforming my suffering, but God did. And God does.
In the wake of Lauren’s death, God picked me up, wiped the tears from my eyes, and whispered in my heart that death does not have the final word. That was the good word I shared with my congregation on Easter morning. God has the final word in the midst of tragedy. Even when our voices shake and our hearts tremble, God yearns for us to say the word – life – life because of and through the grace of Jesus Christ.
We often pray because something in life has brought us low. Trust, dear friends, especially this Holy Week, that God meets us in the lowest and humblest of circumstances. God is rubbing God’s nose in our hurt and in our suffering because nothing – NOTHING – can separate us from God’s love and because there is nothing – NOTHING – that our God has not done nor will not do to heal and save us.
So if you find yourself feeling like a hostage of Golgotha, know that you are not alone. And know that God does not intend you to be there forever. Safely feel what you feel, name your experience as best and faithfully as you can, and then lift a prayer to God for help. God is near you. God is saving you.
Our God is giving you new life.
JOIN SOUTH SHORE UMC FOR OUR HOLY WEEK SERVICES
AND SPECIAL OFFERING CHALLENGE
Thursday, April 1 @ 7pm ~ Maundy Thursday Service
Friday, April 2 @ 7pm ~ Good Friday Tenebrae Service
Easter Sunday, April 4 ~ 8:30am Traditional and 11am Contemporary
All services will gather safely in-person [11525 Big Bend Road – Riverview] and broadcast to youtube.com/c/southshoreumc
Nursery is available Birth through Pre-K4 for our 7pm and 11am Holy Week Services by reservation.
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org
by Tuesday, March 30 at 3pm to confirm for Maundy Thursday and/or Good Friday
by Friday, April 2 at 3pm to confirm for Easter Sunday
EASTER WORSHIP IS ‘OUT OF THE BOX’ ON THE FRONT LAWN
8:30am Traditional and 11am Contemporary
We invite you to bring with you:
Masks to wear so we can gather as safely as possible.
Chairs for seating labeled with your name; if you have an extra, please bring it for a guest!
Non-perishable food donations for our ‘Fill The Box’ Easter Restore Challenge!
Fresh cut flowers to add to our Resurrection Flower Cross.
‘FILL THE BOX’ EASTER RESTORE CHALLENGE
Our congregation accepts the challenge for to fill Troop 606’s trailer full of non-perishable food donations for our April ‘Replenish Restore.’ This is an incredible outreach and witness opportunity for our congregation. Spread the word with your friends, neighbors, coworkers, book club, workout group, on your social media, and more! We want to ‘fill the box’ with food and help alleviate the food insecurities experienced by vulnerable members in our local community.
We are accepting your non-perishable food donations at the church now through April 4. Participate with us – and strengthen our congregation’s witness and outreach! – as we ‘Fill the Box’ with Food for Easter! For a shopping ideas, please visit www.southshoreumc.com/local-missions.
Reflection: How does Psalm 116:2 change your perspective on God meeting you in the lowest and humblest of circumstances? Share with God what is on your mind this week, and ask God to work in each situation.
Prayer: “Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia! Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia! Once he died our souls to save, Alleluia! Where’s thy victory, boasting grave? Alleluia!”* Amen.
*Tyron Inbody, The Transforming God: An Interpretation of Suffering and Evil (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997), 177.
**”Christ the Lord is Risen Today,” The United Methodist Hymnal 302.
***Devotional Resource: The Weekly Prayer Project by Scarlet Hiltibidal