The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Hope at Easter

"In the night in which he was betrayed our Lord Jesus took bread and gave thanks."

I've spoken these words with complete attention so many times in 16 years as a pastor. This time my mind wandered.

My family had come. I was nervous, joyful and hopeful all at once. They hadn't been in church for many years, so I wasn't sure about their beliefs at this point. But never mind that now. It was Easter Sunday, and there they were in the front pew.

Before the service, my granddaughter saw me alone at the altar and must have thought I looked lonely. She had never seen me in this setting. She came and put a few dolls beside me on the bench to keep me company. I glanced over at the dolls and smiled as I lifted the bread.

"He broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take and eat; this is my body given for you.' "

My family's reason for coming to church didn't seem important now. Where better to show off a little girl in her Easter finery? I hoped and prayed God would use this holy moment of the breaking of bread to touch their hearts. "Oh, Lord, let just one word reach their ears. Let just one word plant a seed in their hearts," I prayed.

My heart was bursting with joy. I felt like Peter, James and John at the Transfiguration — dazzled by light, flooded with hope and bathed in gratitude ... wanting to stay in the moment forever (Matthew 17: 1-9). The fragrance of 35 Easter lilies, the worshipers' eager faces, the aroma of spring air sailing in through the open windows, the loveliness of the congregation singing, "Open our eyes, Lord, we want to see Jesus" all conspired to create hope.

"Again, after supper, he took the cup, gave thanks, and gave it for all to drink, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sin.' "

I communed the assistants, ushers and organist first. I communed the full congregation and then, there she was — my beautiful daughter, standing before me with her eyes closed and her mouth open to receive the host. She had come. As our Jewish friends say at every Passover seder, "If God had done just that, it would have been enough." If this was to be all I had to base my hope on, it was enough.

Then she guided my granddaughter toward me saying, "Let Grammy give you a blessing, honey." My 4-year-old granddaughter stood before me with her eyes wide open and said, "OK, Grammy."

"May God bless and keep you in his care all your life, honey," I said.

"Can you pick me up, Grammy?" she asked.

They were last in line and it was my last day as interim pastor. "Why not?" I thought. "The people wouldn't mind." And they didn't.

After the benediction, we walked down the aisle together, hand in hand, into the bright sunshine where I greeted people with her at my side — surely a moment of grace.

That Easter morning everything I was had come together — pastor, mother, grandmother — like a cloth I had been weaving for years. Maybe now they would come to church again.

Sitting at the dinner table the next day my daughter said, "Mom, with all due respect to you — and you know I marvel at your faith — Easter is definitely not the time for marginal Christians like me to attend church. All that talk about rising from the dead and all."

But inwardly I was ecstatic. She hadn't referred to herself as a Christian for years. The "marginal" didn't matter. She was there. Her questions were being voiced. Perhaps something even was answered. At last we were talking about it. The light of Christ had indeed made its way in. It was Easter.

Thank you, my beloved and beautiful Savior.

Check out this week's articles:

cover4Aging well in the ELCA: (right) Churchwide efforts spawn developments for seniors.

Résumé rewrite: In tough economic times, congregational ministries expand.

Now what? Requiring church attendance for overnight guests.

More loyalty to toothpaste: Protestants have less "brand loyalty" to their denominations.

Also: Go with what you have.

Also: A cross to bare.

Also: 'Peace Not Walls.'

Read these articles at our front page ...

This week on our blog:

SoniaSonia Solomonson (right) blogs about prayer.

Amber Leberman writes about big thanks from a little magazine.

Check out our staff blog ...

Tell us! Pastor goofs

For some of you it was just last Sunday, for others it was years ago. Pastors, please share with us your funniest — yes, likely embarrassing — ministry stories.

Send your 100-word stories to Julie Sevig at julie.sevig@thelutheran.org or respond online.

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February issue


Embracing diversity