The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Sent by Spirit to neighbors

Raised up, Jesus opens way of life and takes us along

Often I am asked what my favorite Bible story is. It is not easy to answer because how the Spirit speaks through Scripture often depends upon what is happening and our context.

Yet frequently I return to the story of the risen Christ appearing to the disciples who were gathered behind locked doors on that first Easter evening (John 20:19-23). I have thought about how the disciples were terrified that they, like Jesus, would be arrested and killed if someone identified them as followers of Jesus.

However, more than wondering about what kept the disciples locked in fear, it may be more important to confront our own fears. How many of us lie awake at night worried that someone might identify us as disciples of Jesus? What evidence would be presented in court to determine our guilt or innocence?

bishopThankfully, how we answer that question is not the final verdict on our lives. Rather, we stand before God only on account of Christ.

When the risen Christ appeared to the disciples, he came to open their lives. Twice he said, "Peace be with you." It was a liberating word of forgiveness. One can almost imagine Jesus saying, "I could have appeared to a new group of disciples who will not forsake me as you did. But I am here. I forgive you. I send you into the world that crucified me. But you do not go on your own. I breathe in to you the gift of my Spirit. I give you the good news that God forgives sinners."

In the same way, Christ opens our lives to God's baptismal promise: "You are my beloved child. Nothing in all creation will separate you from my love in Christ Jesus."

Recently I met with ELCA pastors and lay leaders who are involved in ministries with people who are homeless. One pastor shared that in her community the medical examiner calls her when the body of a homeless person without identification is brought to the morgue if that person is wearing a small wooden cross. The medical examiner knows the pastor gives these crosses to people who are homeless. It is a reminder that when everything that gives you an identity is stripped away, you are held in the promise that you are always a beloved child of God.

With this promise Christ opens God's word, opens the future, opens the world and opens us.

The fullness of God's word opens up in Christ. Apart from Jesus' crucifixion we would never have imagined the full depth of God's faithfulness in the promise first made to Abraham and Sarah. Apart from Christ's resurrection we would never have known the staying power of God's faithfulness in the promise to be with us to the close of the age.

With this promise Christ opens the future. We live into God's promised future in the community of faith, the body of Christ. At the Lord's table we are reconciled with all who are "guests of the crucified," as Lutheran theologian Ernst Käsemann has written, in anticipation of the day when all will live freely in God's love.

With this hope for the future, Christ also opens daily life with others. The unexpected relationships described in this issue's cover story illustrate how the Spirit sends us out to the neighbor locked behind closed doors, fearing death, disease or bankruptcy, to the neighbor worried that the lingering sorrow of grief may never heal or that severed relationships will never be restored.

The Spirit frees you to be Christ to that neighbor, just as the Spirit opens you to see Jesus in those who share your sorrows and accompany you through valleys of suffering. Christ sends you with a reconciling promise, "If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven."

By joining us to his death and resurrection in baptism, Christ opens the grave that would keep us, our imaginations and passions, captive to powers of sin and death. Christ takes us with him into the new creation, moving us forward in love, sending us as ambassadors in service of the ministry of reconciliation. Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, is opening the way of life and taking us with him.


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February issue


Embracing diversity