Pastor Jonathan Linman

Rev. Pastor Jonathan Linman, PhD.Pastor Jonathan Linman begins his fourth decade of pastoral work with his call to lead and to serve as pastor of Resurrection Evangelical Lutheran Church. Ordained in 1989, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Lutheran Church in the inner-city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 2001, he became Director of the Center for Christian Spirituality and a Professor of Ascetical Theology at The General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church in New York City. In 2009, Pastor Linman began his work as Assistant to the Bishop for Faith and Leadership Formation in the Metropolitan New York Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

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Spiritual Reflections (106)

Since we cannot assemble weekly in person for a full range of experiences of Christian community, I am endeavoring in the first weeks of my pastorate at Resurrection Church to offer weekly spiritual reflections in addition to my Sunday sermon videos. I see these mid-week written reflections as an exercise of my teaching ministry as a pastor, especially during this time of global pandemic and necessary sheltering at home and social distancing. Resurrection Church has a rich tradition of substantive adult Christian Education. These weekly reflections seek to fill, in some measure, the void created by the absence of our Sunday morning adult educational experiences. I long for the return of those Sunday morning offerings in person which feature the substantial gifts of our own members, but for now, I give you what I can in these weekly reflections. These messages also serve to nurture a sense of our Christian community during this time when we are apart.

May God in Christ bless your engagement with these pastoral offerings in the power of the Holy Spirit for your ongoing Christian formation for your journey of faith for such a time as this.

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Sermons (114)

Sermons from Pastor Jonathan Linman

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Fifth Sunday of Easter, John 13:31-35

Let’s do a little thought experiment, a little free association. If I say the word “glory” or the word “glorious,” what images immediately pop into your heads? Take a moment to review what comes to mind.

Maybe some of these images appeared on your mental horizons: Spectacular sunsets. Mountain vistas. Maybe opulent houses, mansions, palaces. Skyscrapers. Other great architecture. Great movies or theatrical productions and concerts. Huge crowds. People with big personalities. Celebrities. And more.

Or let’s try this: what words come to mind that are synonymous with “glory” and “glorious?” Again, take a moment to let those words emerge.

Maybe these words appeared in your mind: Renown, fame, prestige, honor, distinction, kudos, magnificence, splendor, resplendence, grandeur, spectacular. More.

Here’s the thing when it comes to our sinful, human condition: It may well be that some of the images of and words related to glory, and the things and people we associate with these qualities, can turn out to be inglorious, burdensome, death-dealing, the fruit of sin, of pride, greed, of hubris, arrogance, unbridled power and domination…

I can’t help but think of supertall buildings being built in many places in the world today – in New York City, Dubai, Shanghai – symbols and incarnations of extreme wealth inequality and sometimes corruption, of human achievement, but also arrogance and pride and raw power. And then I can’t help but think of the Tower of Babel in the Bible. Towers have a tendency to exacerbate confusion, and they are prone to come tumbling down….

Then there’s Jesus’ way of glory and being glorious. Today’s reading from John’s Gospel is part of Jesus’ so-called farewell discourse with his disciples in which he teaches and prays in their presence in the last hours of his earthly life before his death and resurrection. This discourse recorded by John tries to make sense of Jesus’ ways of being and doing that confound worldly logic.

For the sake of beginning to understand Jesus’ way of glory, listen again to this day’s reading from John: “When Judas had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in God’s own self and will glorify him at once.”
John connects Judas’ departure with Jesus being glorified. What did Judas go out to do? Judas went out to betray his teacher, his Lord, his friend, the action of which would put into motion all of the horrible things that would lead to a horrible death, but also to a mysterious resurrection to new life beyond death. At first glance, how can any of this in any way be connected with common views of glory?

What Judas intends for death, God intends for and uses to give new life. The bad news becomes good news. And it is, in fact, glorious in the logic of God’s intent.

Jesus on the cross: this is what it is for Jesus to be glorified according to John’s gospel. It’s all very inglorious by human standards when you recall some of the words and images that came to mind in the first moments of this sermon.

But I see this kind of cruciform glory that confounds human logic and sensibilities in each of the readings for today. Let’s take another look for the sake of deepening our understandings of our glorious crucified and risen Lord and Savior.

In the reading from Revelation, we hear about a new heaven and new earth, and a holy city, a new Jerusalem. Quite glorious sounding on the face of it.

But this new holy city comes down to us, to our human level, where God will make a home among us mortals that we may dwell with God, and mere mortals will be God’s people. Tears will be wiped from our eyes. Death and mourning and crying and pain will be no more. And there will be water aplenty to quench our thirst.

In popular imagination, glory tends to be up there in the clouds, not down in the lowly and humble places where we have known death and mourning and crying and pain. That God makes a home with us down here is glorious, but in its own cruciform ways.

Then there’s the vision of reconciling inclusion in the reading from Acts in the reported emerging reproachment between Jewish and Gentile believers in Christ. The vision had Peter eating that which was traditionally, religiously unclean. But the voice from heaven proclaimed: “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”

This led to the Spirit’s intervention with this instruction which Peter reports: “The Spirit told me… [to] not make a distinction between [the Gentile believers] and the [Jewish believers]. So it was that Gentiles came to be included in what was emerging as the Christian fold. The new way in Christ finds glory in that which had been considered profane, unclean, outcast. Thus, another example of cruciform glory.

Then there’s also Jesus’ new commandment given to his disciples before Jesus’ departure recorded in today’s gospel: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Remember the context for giving this new commandment to love. It was when Jesus stripped himself of his outer garments, and got down on his knees to wash his disciples’ feet – not at all an image of glory from a human point of view. But glorious nonetheless, again, in cruciform ways.

Each example from today’s readings reveals aspects of Jesus’ cross-shaped glory that turns our logic on its head. When we look up for glory, Christ bids us to look down to the lowly places to find that which is truly glorious from God’s point of view.

And the lowly becomes glorious because in Christ God turned the whole world upside by transforming death into resurrected life, by converting bad news into good news, when the law leads to gospel, and by working with sin to make for forgiveness and salvation.

In Christ, by his death and resurrection, the deal is sealed. It’s done. It is finished. Complete. Perfect. Then the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, gives “water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.” This water washes over us in baptism at this very font, a humble point of origin for our participation in the glory of God.

Then also, in Christ coming down from heaven, we are invited to the marriage feast as “a bride adorned for her husband.” This glorious reality we know at the eucharistic table, in a humble meal of bread and wine, where metaphorically we recline in lowliness to eat with Christ, he who also ate with those inglorious by worldly standards, namely, outcasts and sinners, widows and orphans.

Through our sacramental participation in Christ, through baptism and eucharist, and the power of the en-Spirited word, we, too, become glorious in cruciform ways.

And leaving this place, having basked in God’s humble, cruciform glory in Christ, we show forth this same glory in our works of loving mercy for and with those deemed most inglorious by worldly standards, loving these our neighbors with the love that Christ loved us, and we offer the gift of inclusion, of welcome, making no distinction between us and them as is so common in the pretenses of our inglorious world.

In this, we share in God’s work of making old things new. And it’s all glorious indeed in the way of the cross.

Our sorry world needs a sense of God’s humble, cross-shaped glory apart from the false and seductive ways of worldly glory that in the end are idolatrous and ruinous of the lives of people and indeed all of creation.

May the way of Christ’s glory shine forth in all that we say and do, for Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed, alleluia. Amen.

Week of Easter Four

Join Us for the Bible in Christian Worship this Wednesday:

Our explorations of the biblical foundations for Christian worship continue this Wednesday, May 11. A Zoom link for this discussion will be distributed via Constant Contact. If you are not receiving our Constant Contact messages and wish to do so, please This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

“Reflections on Worship Livestreamed”

Dear Friends in Christ:

There have been some curious silver linings to the clouds of my Covid convalescence, one of which was having occasion to experience first-hand our Sunday worship livestreamed. While I’ve shared with others in the responsibilities for livestreaming our Sunday worship, I’ve obviously not had occasion to participate live online because of my calling otherwise to lead our worship in person. So, on the Third Sunday of Easter, when seminary President Guy Erwin preached and presided on my behalf, I shared in our worship life from a distance – not far at all geographically speaking, namely, next door in the parsonage.

For those in need, I am glad that we make this option available. Some, out of ongoing concern for coronavirus vulnerabilities, still cannot be present with us indoors and in person for worship. Others have temporary circumstances of one sort or another that keep them home or away on Sundays – recovery from illness or surgery, travel for business, generally being homebound, and other sundry reasons that may keep us from church. Worship livestreamed is a point of contact with our life together. It is a connection among our small diaspora of those who for whatever reasons cannot join us in person for worship. It’s not nothing.

Thus, especially as a ministry for our most vulnerable members, I am glad that we livestream our worship. And I am especially thankful for the team of members who expend a great deal of time and energy to make this happen. And given our limited resources and our desires to protect the privacy of those who worship in person in not having their identities revealed to the wider public of cyberspace, the production quality, in my experience, is quite reasonable, especially the quality and clarity of the audio aspects of the livestreaming. Thousand thanks to Steve Black, Paul Bastuscheck, Chris Smith, and their team for their work in providing this current outreach ministry in our pandemic life together.

All of this said, livestreamed worship is no substitute for our worship together in person, in the flesh, together in our nave. I would not want a steady diet of only the tangential participation that livestreaming affords. Especially at the time of Communion, when the video feed was turned off to protect the privacy of communicants going forward to share first-hand in Christ’s presence, I was reminded of those occasions when, as a young child before I was of age to receive the sacrament, I would sit alone in the pew as my mother and father and older brother went to the chancel to receive Christ’s body and blood. I recalled my longing to go up there myself (this was before the now common practice of giving blessings to the little children), but was instead left behind. That’s the memory of experience that came flooding back a week ago Sunday when I could not be present with you, the body of Christ next door, as the church, to receive and to abide with and share sacramentally in Christ! I was filled with desire for incarnate presence of the full sacred body of our Lord made known in the breaking of bread in the in-person community. My consolation prize at that moment was Steve’s beautifully rendered slide images of our building’s compelling stained-glass windows. Engaging those images meditatively helped redeem that moment from the pangs of longing to be present with you – and with Christ – in the flesh.

Worship livestreamed made for me at best a sense of tangential participation, largely as an onlooker from the back of the room – which is literally where our cameras are located up in the balcony. Even if our cameras were located more centrally in the nave and even if I could see all of your faces on the screen, it still would have been the experience of looking on from afar.

Moreover, sitting at home on my sofa with my laptop before me on a coffee table, I found it challenging to participate in worship, singing and speaking the words in the bulletin by myself in the parsonage living room. Maybe that’s just me, but it took some effort to do more than just view the screen. It didn’t seem natural to sing and speak all by myself. It might have helped if others were there with me. And I also found myself easily distracted by other things in the house – for example, what my two cats were up to in their usual playfulness with each other before their lunch. It was better than nothing, and I’m glad I viewed the livestream, but it was still not the fullness of the divine happening that was going on next door.

Still further, livestreamed worship, even at its best, is but another experience online in front of a screen when so much of the rest of our lives is undertaken online in front of screens. Which is to say, think about how comparatively countercultural is our habit of being assembled in person together each and every Sunday morning in a place apart from our homes. Fewer and fewer people do such things together these days on a regular basis, week after week. Yes, many folk attend sporting events in person, or go to the theater, or to concerts, but usually only on occasion and not as a regular, weekly habit. And worship of almighty God at its best and as intended is so much more than a concert or sporting event, which themselves are experiences of being spectators together but not active participants in the drama of what is going on in the room.

My absence a week ago Sunday underscored for me in renewed ways the central importance of the Sunday assembly in person, in the flesh. Worship on the Lord’s Day, the day of resurrection, is the centerpiece and organizing principle of all of Christian life. It is the focal point of our whole week as people of faith, people of Christ. Sunday serves as I imagine how a gyroscope functions – as that which stabilizes our life and helps to maintain equilibrium in forward missionary movement in and for the sake of the world. As such, as THE organizing principle of Christian life, the Sunday assembly best happens in person and together. Livestreamed worship is at most a thin approximation of the fullness of the incarnate reality of what we habitually do on Sundays.

Think of the multiplicity of gifts available to us when we are gathered in person by the Holy Spirit at our beloved Resurrection Church. We’re together in a three-dimensional space and not the comparative two-dimensionality of the experience of the screen. Our building becomes an extension of our embodiment and focuses our attention on the central things and places – the place of the baptismal bath, the place where the word is proclaimed, and the table at which we gather for the meal. Together as the body of Christ, even if our faces are covered with and obscured by masks, we nonetheless give to each other the gift of body language where so much communication takes place, communication that is largely impossible or confusing online. We sing together, we speak together, voices blending in unity in an increasingly divided, compartmentalized, isolated world. We may get wet by dipping our hands into the waters in the font in thankful remembrance of our baptism into Christ. We share the peace, even if it’s in truncated form still because of pandemic safety precautions. We get up out of our seats, making our offering in the plates provided as still more profoundly we move to the place of the table to eat and drink of Christ’s real presence in, with, and under the gifts of bread and wine. We benefit from the discipline of each other’s presence which helps us to stay focused on the central activities of the liturgy. We get to hear and enjoy the live music of our choir and the sounds of the pipes of the organ and sounds of the piano in a space with fine acoustics – in contrast to recorded music which is our more usual norm in life these days. Before and after worship, we enjoy the privilege of one-on-one conversations or holy conversation in small groups which contribute greatly to our well-being in Christ with each other, drawing us palpably together in community. Again, this is all so very counter cultural. It’s a dedicated hour and more away from the screens which otherwise dominate us in our contemporary daily lives. In short, our Sunday routine in person is an astonishing gift.

I know that I am preaching to the choir, as it were, as the vast majority of you reading this prefers what we do on Sundays to occur in person over against the lesser, but not insignificant-in-its-own-ways-option of worship livestreamed. Given the immense benefits of being together in person, I don’t understand the churches which expend undue energies, in my opinion, on attempts at doing church more and more online. What we do by way of livestreaming or other online video recordings should serve to point to and ultimately draw people to the in-person assembly. The tail of a complementary ministry initiative in livestreaming should not wag the dog of the centrality of Christian assembly in person. Anything short of this incarnate gathering is not ultimately faithful to the core principles of the Christian tradition. May livestreaming serve those in occasional, circumstantial need, but more importantly, may these efforts increase in us the desire, as it did for me, to gather in the flesh in Jesus’ name each Sunday.

In thanksgiving to God in Christ for the grace given us week after week on the Lord’s Day,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Fourth Sunday of Easter, John 10:22-30

I don’t need to remind you that we are in the midst of and enduring an age of extreme divisiveness in our nation and in our world. As has been the case for so much of human history, these divisions occur in relation to all manner of issues and they have many causes and sources. In the past several days, abortion has again risen to the forefront of our divisions, a painful coincidence on Mother’s Day. But notable and related is also the division among people because of religion.

Take the case of religiously motivated hatred of Judaism and Jewish people. Reported cases of antisemitism have increased dramatically in recent months according to reporting in the New York Times.

So it is that John’s reporting of what Jesus said in the gospel of John about the Jewish people, some of which we heard in today’s reading, lands with an unnerving thud in our midst today. In today’s gospel reading, John reports the Jewish religious leaders enquired of Jesus about whether or not he was the expected Messiah. Jesus answered, according to John, “I have told you, and you do not believe.”

Then John reports that Jesus elaborated in this way – and these are the words that sting: “You do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep.”

You don’t belong are some of the worst words a human being can hear. Despite our individualistic bents, particularly in Western societies, human beings are social animals and we long to belong.

To be told that you don’t belong is horrible. Moreover, excluding others has historically been the excuse to vilify, dehumanize, enslave and kill others. Exclusion is a source of genocide.

In the first century, there was significant religious controversy when John’s gospel was compiled, a controversy between leaders of Judaism and what was emerging as Christianity. Alas, John’s gospel is filled with polemical references to this controversy. Today’s gospel passage gives expression to that controversy.

And given the divisiveness of our age and the re-emergence of both anti-Judaism and racial antisemitism in our day, I simply cannot pass over the difficulties with today’s texts. Nor do I wish to get hung up on them.

We, in our day, are called to fight against texts like those from John from being misused and abused in the service of antisemitism. Indeed, our Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has worked hard at limiting such negative effects in the Christian scriptures even as we have repudiated Martin Luther’s own anti-Jewish writings.

So, in service of seeking greater harmony among religions and among peoples, but also in the service of actually preaching the gospel, let me explore with you what it might mean to belong to Jesus’ sheep, especially on this Fourth Sunday after Easter which is traditionally known as Good Shepherd Sunday.

What Jesus promises to those who belong is lovely and compelling. Listen again to how John gives voice to Jesus’ words: “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand….” How beautiful.

And we as tolerant, loving people want this blessing for everyone, don’t we? Perhaps especially those of Jesus’ own religious heritage. We don’t want the Jewish people excluded from the benefits and blessings which come with belonging to Christ.

But a sense of belonging to Christ that focuses only on privileged blessing to the exclusion of those who don’t belong is driven by what I believe are some problematic theological preoccupations common among popular appropriations of the Christian tradition.

It’s common, for example, to view passages such as today’s through the lenses of the saved vs. the damned, those going to heaven and those going to hell. While there is biblical material to promote this kind of dichotomizing thinking, preoccupations with heaven and hell, those saved and those damned, are arguably more the ruminations of medieval theology and Dante’s Inferno than they are of rigorous and faithful biblical and theological scholarship.

While we cannot get too deeply into all of this today in a sermon, we can take a look at the other readings appointed for today for what they might suggest about what it means to belong to Jesus’ sheep.

In short, what is revealed, I believe, is that belonging to Jesus’ sheep is less about privilege and more about responsibility. It’s less about being part of a select, elite in-group and more about a group forgiven and redeemed and called to engage the wider world in the spirit of Jesus’ sacrificial, servanthood ministry.

Look at today’s reading from Revelation, which focuses on a vision of a “multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.” These throngs were crying out and singing praises to God. In the vision, the author wonders who these people are. The answer is this: “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal.”

And while they will no longer hunger and thirst and while their tears will be wiped from their faces, presumably in the great ordeal they knew such hunger and thirst along with scorching heat and many, many tears.

In short, having been washed in the blood of the Lamb, they took up their crosses and followed the Lamb who was also paradoxically their shepherd, and they followed the Shepherd Lamb in the way of suffering for the sake of the world.

Such suffering is not the stuff of belonging to a privileged, elite club which excludes everyone else and relishes their privileged status at the expense of the damned.

Then consider today’s reading from Acts, where Peter raises Tabitha who had fallen ill and then died. Tabitha was known for her devotion to good works and acts of charity in Jesus’ name.

The widows were there weeping – widows being the very ones who were on the receiving end of Tabitha’s goodness and kindness in giving them needed clothing which she had made.

Peter was called upon to kneel and pray and then to raise Tabitha up again. To what end? To be returned to the very widows that Tabitha had cared for and thus to continue her good works and acts of charity in Jesus’ name. In short, Tabitha was raised to continue her loving service of those in need.

Here again, the story is not about the privileges of salvation and restored life, about who belongs and who doesn’t, about who is damned and who is saved. No, not at all.

Belonging to Jesus’ sheep means enduring various versions of slaughter in loving service of our risen Lord. It means going through great ordeals for the sake of such loving service. Being saved for service involves shedding many, many tears. It means being raised by Christ again and again to return to the mission fields to care for the widows and those most vulnerable to being excluded by religious elites.

Given that such ordeals are in store for those who follow Jesus, we may not wish such privileged belonging on just anybody! We ourselves might think twice about belonging to such a sheepfold!

Yes, to be sure, there is great privilege in belonging to Christ, who is our Good Shepherd, who leads us beside still waters, baptizing us into himself through these same waters, and raising us up like Tabitha to share in the victory over death. Christ the shepherd, who is at the same time the sacrificial lamb, restores us, his rod and staff comforting us in the deathly places of the longest fearsome shadows. Christ bids us dine at a sumptuous feast at this sacramental table, where our cups overflow with his grace and mercy even in the presence of any our enemies.

Moreover, Christ is not only our shepherd, but our temple – he who walked in the temple in the portico of Solomon has himself become the temple, the holy of holies in whom we abide like branches to the vine, we who also become temples of the Holy Spirit. More still, Christ’s red blood washes us into brilliant, dazzling cleanliness. And in Christ, who is one with Father, we share in the dance of the Holy Trinity. All of these gifts and blessings generate and regenerate our faith and give us eternal life such that no one can snatch us from the loving, wounded hands of our Good Shepherd.

But all of this blessing is in the service of our offering sacrifices of thanksgiving in love for our neighbors, including perhaps especially those, like the Jewish people, who are persecuted for their own religious convictions, for example, in not claiming Jesus as their promised Messiah. We are called to protect them and their convictions of faith and certainly not to relegate them to the damned.

All of this brings us back to Lutheran ethical sensibilities, and Luther and his great paradox, expressed yet again in his treatise, “Freedom of a Christian.” Yes, by God’s grace in Christ, we are perfectly free, privileged, chosen, belonging sovereigns of all, subject to none – and at the same time in thanksgiving for graced privileges given, we are perfectly dutiful servants of all, subject to all. That’s what it means to belong to Jesus’ sheep. It’s being blessed to be a blessing, and shedding many tears in suffering for the sake of others not so privileged and blessed.

Belonging to Christ is not us vs. them, the saved vs. the damned, but a belonging that calls us to serve our neighbors with the same love and mercy that made us to belong to Christ in the first place.

Such belonging to the Good Shepherd is that which leads to our loving service in Jesus’ name, a loving service that will go a long, long way toward healing the sad and dangerous divisions of our day. God in Christ help us. Amen.

Week of Easter Three

Join Us for the Bible in Christian Worship this Wednesday:

Over twenty persons participated in the first session of this new series which explores how the patterns and content of our Sunday worship are grounded in the scriptural witness of both ancient Hebrew and Christian practices. A Zoom link will be distributed via Constant Contact. If you are not receiving our Constant Contact messages and wish to do so, please This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

“Personal Reflections from Quarantine”

Dear Friends in Christ:

For two full years, I had managed to dodge the Covid-19 bullet. No longer. As I write these words, I have shown improvements each and every day with the diminishment of what from the beginning were comparatively mild symptoms. General fatigue persists with energy levels waxing and waning through the day. And while I currently have tested negative for Covid, erring on the side of caution, I maintain for now the discipline of quarantine for the sake of the health and well-being of our wider community.

Even with a mild case of Covid, I have a sense that the coronavirus is not something to be trifled with, particularly when it comes to its general systemic effects on my whole body’s energy levels and capacities. In a renewed, first-hand way, I am thankful to God for the work of scientists who developed such effective vaccinees and boosters and antiviral medications which likely kept my case mild.

But how did Covid catch up with me? Throughout the pandemic, I have consistently persisted in my discipline of wearing masks in all indoor settings and circumstances, from church to grocery shopping, and have limited my participation in large group activities. What the reality of my infection reveals to me is that guarding or promoting public health is not reduced to a matter merely of individual, personal choice. I chose to err on the side of caution, and yet I still got sick. As individuals we are inevitably participants in a wider community culture, namely, one that has currently chosen to relax safety protocols such as mask-wearing – and this during a phase of the pandemic when a variant of the virus that is even more transmissible than omicron and its first subvariants is increasingly widespread throughout the nation, especially in the Northeast. I’m not engaging in a blame game here, but just observing that we are all in this together, whether we like to admit that or not. What we choose to do or not do together as a society has real life effects and consequences, all up and down the line, on individual lives and on the quality of our life together.

Of course, I cannot determine or isolate the particular set of circumstances that resulted in my exposure to the virus sufficient that I tested positive and became symptomatic. Which is to say, even as I acknowledge the power of our whole communal contextualization, it is still a matter of my individual particularity that resulted in my current illness. I marvel at the fact that during the pre-symptomatic time when I was likely most infectious, my son, Nathan, and my college friend, Chris, and I were together in the parsonage, un-masked and interacting in close quarters. Yet, neither one of them has gotten sick or even tested positive. The body, with its immunities and complicated, interacting systems, is full of wisdom and mystery.

Which is to say, stress and its effects have a lot to do with what we, our bodies, are able to withstand or succumb to. I find it fascinating that I began to experience symptoms the moment that Nathan got on the plane at Dulles Airport Sunday a week ago to return to Phoenix. It’s as if my body was waiting to get sick until my fatherly duties for his visit concluded. Nathan’s spring break time with me happened in the context of the busiest time of the year for pastors, namely, Holy Week and Easter – and this on top of what has already been a stressful two years with the pandemic. I’ve long been wondering when my body would eventually tell me, essentially, “you have no choice now but to take a break.”

It’s noteworthy that past periods of particular stress in my life have commonly resulted in my being on the receiving end of one form of illness or another, at this point, consistently on the milder end of things. Each occasion became its own kind of grace to allow a cessation of stressful circumstances in order to open up horizons for rest and healing and restoration. I am claiming my current case of Covid as one such expression of grace. Clearly not everyone who catches Covid would name it as an odd kind of grace. If my episode were more severe, I wouldn’t either. But in this particular case, I do see the grace – and the warning sign to listen to my body and its wisdom in always seeking a restoration of balance and well-being.

I often joke after Easter Sunday that Jesus vacated his tomb in resurrected new life at least in part so that pastors and other busy church people can enter that womb of the tomb for their own few days of rest toward new life…. So it is that I have claimed my bout with Covid as such an occasion for needed rest, hopefully also toward renewal in this Eastertide for the sake of the work entrusted to me as pastor here.

Enough about me. Thanks for your various expressions of concern. Thanks for your indulgence in reading these personal reflections. I pray that they may provoke you to reclaim a renewed passion to promote and nurture public health in our wider communities. And I pray that my reflections may also inspire you, without first getting sick, to claim your own needed occasions of rest and renewal for restoration in the midst of your busy lives and routines, and perhaps to see moments of God’s grace in unexpected places and circumstances. And I pray that you all may stay well.

I trust that I will be back in your midst soon. Another graced moment in all of this is that I also had the occasion to share in Resurrection’s livestreamed worship for the Third Sunday of Easter, obviously a new experience for me – more on that in next week’s Midweek Message. Meanwhile, my thanks to those who covered for me in my absence – especially Council President, Glen Mason, who took on some additional duties in my absence, Pastor Amy Feira who officiated at the funeral of Malcolm Stark, and Pastor and Seminary President, Guy Erwin, who preached and presided on Sunday.

With ongoing prayers in Jesus’ name for your health and well-being and that of our communities,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Week of Easter Two

Dear Friends in Christ:

Have you ever wondered how traditions and rituals of Christian worship came to be, and what are the biblical origins of our worship practices? And how about the lectionary with its three appointed readings for each Sunday along with psalm – why do we use the lectionary to ground our time together on Sundays in the scriptures? These and other questions concerning the Bible in Christian worship will be addressed over the course of six weeks in a new Bible Study via Zoom on Wednesday evenings, beginning this Wednesday, April 27 at 7:00 pm. This series will be led by our own members, Gail Ramshaw and Gordon Lathrop, two of our wider church’s foremost scholars concerning worship who have devoted their whole careers to the very questions I have posed here. Even in their retirement, Gordon and Gail continue active lives of scholarship, producing books and other publications and resources to promote the understanding and faithful practice of Christian worship. In fact, both have new books available to us and to the wider church. Gail recently published Much Fine Gold: The Revised Common Lectionary (Church Publishing, 2021), a work which explores the logic and importance of the lectionary for worship and Christian faith formation. And Gordon just put into my hands his new book, The Assembly: A Spirituality (Fortress Press 2022), which explores the Sunday assembly as the foundation for Christian spirituality along with heralding the central importance of gathering in person together in this age of virtual realities which keep us apart and tied to our various screens.

In my own engagement with the scriptures over the course of three decades of public ministry as both pastor and professor, I have marveled at how key biblical passages, in both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, reveal the patterns of worship which we continue to practice to this day. Gordon will devote three sessions to exploring some of these foundational texts, namely, Isaiah 25 (a passage of praise for deliverance from oppression with the promise of feasting), Nehemiah 8 (a passage that reveals how God’s people engaged the holy word and feasted together in response to God’s gracious generosity), and Luke 24 (which records resurrection appearances of Jesus, centering on the Road to Emmaus where the risen Christ is made known in the breaking of bread).

Likewise, I have a longstanding devotion to the church’s lectionaries, and I marvel at how the appointed passages never fail to offer a needed word for us in our day. Returning to the practice of preaching every Sunday after an eighteen-year hiatus from such regular preaching on Sundays, I am currently experiencing a renewed delight in the discipline of attending to each of the three main appointed readings for Sundays. Seeing and engaging the passages alongside each other consistently opens up horizons for interpretation and understanding the scriptures in new ways. Gail, in her sessions, will explore how our lectionary uses the Bible on Sunday morning, centering her presentations on some of the appointed readings for the Sundays closest to our Wednesday sessions.

Gail and Gordon’s classes will involve their making presentations, followed by discussion and questions among participants. Have a Bible available for each session. For Gail’s sessions (May 18, May 25, and June 1), you should also have available a copy of Evangelical Lutheran Worship. This might be a good time to buy one if you do not have your worship book at home. You could also borrow one from church, as long as you return it. ELW includes the lectionary for Sundays in its three-year cycle, along with daily lectionary resources. There is also a section on Scripture and Worship which provides some of the scriptural foundations for our orders of worship for Holy Communion and for Holy Baptism (ELW pew edition, pages 1154-1159).

In short, this new series is a great opportunity to renew and deepen our understanding of why we do what we do each and every Sunday morning, grounding such understanding in the scriptures themselves, the norming rule of our life together.

Please join us! Zoom links will be distributed via Constant Contact. If you are not on our Constant Contact mailing list, then please This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

In Jesus’ name,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Second Sunday of Easter, John 20:19-31

On Good Friday, when our choir was singing the Passion according to John by the late Lutheran composer, Richard Hillert, I was struck by how the drama of the music, at least in my experience, brought out and gave expression to the wrenching conflict that was integral to Jesus’ last hours – when he was betrayed, arrested, and brought before both religious and secular authorities and ultimately was executed at the hands of officials of the Roman empire.

The tension of the conflict was palpable to me, and evoked in me a range of emotions – anger and fear and sadness, all evident in a sense of physical agitation.

On this Second Sunday of Easter, on this side of the resurrection, we’re beyond all of that tension and conflict, right? Wrong. Alas. Today’s reading from Acts describes a time very much after Jesus’ resurrection, “when the temple police… brought the apostles…. [to] stand before the council… to be questioned by the high priest” because of their teaching about Christ’s resurrection (cf. Acts 5:27-30).

The temple police? Really? Was that necessary? Why should a holy place require a police force to maintain peace and security?

Such a reality is far from our common experience here and now, at least in this congregation. The closest thing we have to temple police here at Resurrection is our team of ushers who do tell people where to go – but as a gesture of hospitality!

On the other hand, tragically, temple police are not far from contemporary experience. When I visited the temple mount in Jerusalem years ago, with its mosque and Western Wall, a place sacred to both Jews and Muslims, the tension was palpable. Armed Israeli soldiers were everywhere to be seen.

After 9/11 in New York City, it was discovered that the CitiGroup tower under which sat Saint Peter Lutheran Church, where I was a member, was among terrorists’ identified targets. And the church was to have been the soft spot for an attack to bring down the skyscraper. As a result, in those many weeks following 9/11, officers with machine guns were a regular presence in my church on Sunday mornings.

And so it continues to go in our sad, sorry, bitterly divided, and dangerous world.

Think of and pray for the Orthodox Churches in Ukraine, celebrating their Easter today, where hundreds of those churches under the authority of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, who has been outspoken in his support of Russia’s invasion of and war on Ukraine – a holy war, he suggests, which is a cosmic battle against the perceived forces of evil in the West. Needless to say, this violent conflict is tearing apart the communion among Orthodox Christians and churches. Many churches are now severing ties with the Russian Orthodox Church. This has been and continues to be our sin-filled, captive human reality.

Today’s gospel reading from John finds Jesus’ followers behind locked doors for fear of the Judeans. Older translations say it more starkly and stridently – for fear of the Jews. Such references to the Jews throughout John’s gospel have contributed to centuries of Christian anti-Judaism and in recent centuries, racial antisemitism. John’s gospel has been used through the Christian era to justify attacks on Jewish people – as part of Good Friday observances, and in pogroms, and most tragically, in the Holocaust of the mid-20th Century.

In short, the resurrection of Christ has not miraculously cured the fever in our human hearts and minds. In fact, proclamation of the resurrection of Christ, as we saw in today’s first reading from Acts, has created further divisions among religious people.

This divisiveness weighs heavily on us, especially in the current climate in our nation and world. Don’t you feel torn by it all? I know I do, and on a daily basis.

And yet, it is into these very realities – when we are fearfully behind our versions of locked doors, and in our virtual bubbles and cocoons of the like-minded – where the risen Christ appears again and again, even as Christ appeared to the disciples in that locked room two millennia ago.

And the risen Christ appears again and again with this simple, but profound message: “Peace be with you.” Peace be with you. Peace. Just what we want and need to hear amidst all the fear and conflict and violence and warfare, cold and hot. Peace be with you.

This is a peace offered amidst fear, and resentment and conflict, a peace in fact born of violence and death. That is to say, it’s a peace that is conveyed via Jesus’ wounded hands and side and feet.

Indeed, Jesus revealing his wounds to the disciples is precisely that which authenticated Jesus’ embodied presence as that of the resurrected Christ. Jesus’ wounds made for genuine presence. In the wounds, they recognized their Lord.

So-called doubting Thomas only wanted the same thing that his compatriot disciples got – namely, a presence made genuine by the mark of the nails in his hands and his pierced, wounded side. That’s how Jesus showed himself to the eleven. Thomas simply wanted the same benefit – to see for himself the wounds, but also and at the same time, the embodied, living Christ.

The peace which Jesus offers is intimately connected with these wounds. This peace flows from his wounds. It’s real presence.

Thus, in the connection of Christ’s peace with Christ’s wounds, it’s no naïve, Pollyanna version of peace that Jesus gives. It’s not a peace that glosses over the terrible conflicts and warring violence of our world. Rather, it’s a message of peace that is offered right in the thick of the worst of our fearsome conflicts and divisions and warfare.

And again, to reiterate, this is not a peace that was given only once some two thousand years ago. No, the risen Christ appears again and again behind our varied formats of locked doors – each and every Sunday, here in this place, and other places of Christian assembly throughout the world. In Ukraine. And Sudan. And Syria. And every wounded, warring place that Christians gather on the Lord’s Day.

In fact, we re-enact the scenes with the eleven disciples and Thomas every Sunday. We, too, gather on the first day of the week. We are often locked in our fears, captive, paralyzed, speechless. But Jesus appears in the word, he who is the word of God made flesh, with the same eternal message: “Peace be with you.” These words were written down as signs recorded, according to John, so that we might believe in our messianic risen Christ and enjoy life in his name.

Moreover, when we share the Peace on Sunday mornings – even if now it’s only a bow, or wave, or eye contact, not a handshake or a hug – it is still the very Peace of Christ being made known among us, reverberating through the centuries when we convey the sacramental, sacred peace to each other in simple but profound gestures.

And then we come to the table to eat and drink of Jesus’ wounds, touching them in our very selves, our own bodies, taking them into ourselves that our own wounds may be embraced by Christ’s life-giving wounds. Jesus in the flesh via bread and wine being incorporated into our very flesh for life and healing and reconciliation – that is to say, for peace.

Then, like Thomas, our faith awakened and renewed, we exclaim, “My Lord and my God!”
Jesus then breathes on us through his word and sacraments imparting to us his Holy Spirit and giving us the same charge that he gave to the original disciples:
“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you…. Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:21-23)

And then we are sent on our way, full of faith, full of the Holy Spirit, to enter again into a world at war in oh so many ways with Jesus’ eternal message of Peace. We also go as church with Christ’s authority to forgive sins and make for reconciliation, for God’s shalom – not just the absence of war, but holistic, comprehensive well-being for all of creation.

In such sending, Christ, who loves us and frees us from our sins by his blood, and makes us to be a dominion, and makes us priests also to serve God (cf. Revelation 1:5b-6a) by proclaiming – albeit imperfectly – in word and deed that Christ is raised from the dead. We give expression to our priesthood in Christ by proclaiming in word and deed, to friend and foe alike, those near and those far away, those on both sides of our many divides, “The Peace of Christ be with you,” for Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia. Amen.

Easter Week

Dear Friends in Christ:

Holy Week and Easter 2022 were simply splendid in my estimation. And what a privilege and joy, even amidst the gravitas of the days, to have assembled in person and in doors for the fullness of the holy days, from Palm/Passion Sunday to the Three Days – Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, the Vigil of Easter – and then through to Resurrection of Our Lord, Easter Day. It is commonly acknowledged that the pandemic, with its upending of routines, has interfered with our sense of time. Thus, it is remarkable for me to realize and now to observe to you that this year’s Holy Week with Easter was in fact my third observance of these days with you as your Pastor. The first year we undertook the observances together but remotely when I was still in Phoenix before I even moved to Arlington. Last year, our observances and celebrations were a combination of worship videos and abbreviated and partial gatherings outdoors. At last, third year’s the charm, we could return to more normal liturgical routines even as our faces were still adorned with masks. I am sure you agree with me that it was wonderful at last to be able to do what we do during these holy days with far fewer impediments. Thanks be to God.

Now that I have experienced the worshipful traditions for Holy Week and Easter first-hand and in person at Resurrection Church, I marvel at the enthusiasm our faithful visibly express in worship, especially during the Three Days. First off, attendance at each of the liturgies was quite respectable for a church our size these days – 34 on Maundy Thursday, 54 on Good Friday, and 35 for the Vigil of Easter. In my experience of other Lutheran congregations, people tend to be a bit shy about sharing in the dramatic re-enactments of the Three Days. At Resurrection last week I experienced worshipers who put their all into gathering outdoors for the blessing of palms and the procession into the church on Palm and Passion Sunday, and who read Luke’s Passion with attentiveness to the word, and who were not shy about having their feet washed on Maundy Thursday, and who lined up for the full length of the center aisle to place lit votive candles before the roughhewn cross on Good Friday, and who with gusto gathered again outdoors for the new fire and blessing of the Paschal Candle and another procession into the church with individual candles lit for the Easter Proclamation, and who rose to the occasion with full assembly participation in the reading from Daniel, and who didn’t mind getting wet during the Affirmation of Baptism at the recitation of the Apostles’ Creed. That was quite the run-on sentence, but it is purposively so to reinforce the seamless unity of the Three Days, when one day flows into the other. Then Easter Sunday morning was a grand culmination in resurrection victory, made all the more meaningful in relation to each of the liturgies during the Three Days. It is clearly evident to me that you have been well-formed over the course of many years to be able to share so deeply in the drama of Holy Week and Easter, and for this I am thankful indeed as your Pastor.

When congregations offer the full complement of liturgies during Holy Week and Easter, it is a major undertaking for all hands on deck. Thus, I want to offer thousand thanks to the many who gave generously of their time and talents as a congregational team to plan and execute the liturgical and other events of the past week:

  • Our Worship and Music Committee under Cindy Reese’s leadership, along with others who helped plan the liturgies.
  • Heidi Dech, who did extra work in securing worship leaders for all the services.
  • Rosalie and Heidi Dech who tended to the production of the hard copy bulletins.
  • Our assisting ministers, readers, communion assistants, and other worship leaders who went the extra mile this past week during multiple liturgies.
  • Gordon Lathrop who preached for the Vigil of Easter.
  • Our team of ushers under the direction of Maggie Mount who had extra work to do to make the ceremonial enactments go smoothly.
  • Our altar guild under the leadership of Jeanette Barkley for her and their many extra efforts as well.
  • Patti Mugavero and her team of helpers who painstakingly assembled the floral cross, an annual tradition at Resurrection.
  • Our team who makes Sunday livestreaming possible, Steve Black, Paul Bastuscheck, Chris Smith, and our youth who help with the videography.
  • Tom Mugavero and the Fellowship Committee for arranging Easter Breakfast – how wonderfully normal it felt to eat together at tables indoors on Easter Day.
  • Angie Brooke who oversaw logistics for the Easter Egg Hunt.
  • Our Music Director, Barbara Verdile, our choir, cantors, and other musicians who offered splendid music to mark each of the week’s liturgies.
  • And anyone else whose roles or names I’ve inadvertently omitted!

Many hands make much lighter work, and I thank God for all of you, even as I offer at the same time my thanks to each of our leaders. Liturgy is colloquially understood as the “work of the people.” God’s people were indeed hard at work at Resurrection last week, a very holy week indeed.

As Eastertide continues, this coming Sunday, the Second Sunday of Easter, we will also mark Earth Day under the planning sponsorship of both our Creation Care Team and Education Committee. Our Sunday worship will conclude with a Litany of Praise for Creation. We’ll adjourn outdoors for the blessing of our community garden – our Plot Against Hunger – even as we pray for our volunteer gardeners. Coffee Hour will be mainly outdoors, and there will be creation care activities for all ages during that time. Please join in!

With thanks to God and to all of you for your faithfulness in worship and in our life together,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

 

Resurrection of Our Lord/Easter Day, Luke 24:1-12

Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia! This exclamation rolls off our tongues naturally and enthusiastically on this festival day. But the question of the resurrection from the dead is a stumbling block to many when it comes to believing the Christian faith. What exactly happened that made the tomb empty?

In order to begin to respond to such a question, we do well to look carefully at the resurrection stories recorded in the scriptures. Here’s a summary of the salient features and facts of the account included in the passage from Luke’s gospel appointed this year for Easter Day, the Resurrection of Our Lord:

  • The stone to the tomb had been rolled away from the entrance.
  • The body of Jesus was not in the tomb contrary to the expectations of the women who visited there to anoint Jesus’ body with spices.
  • Two mysterious men in dazzling clothes were there who reported that Jesus had been raised from the dead – but this was second-hand information, a report about the resurrection, but not a direct encounter with the risen Lord.
  • The women remembered Jesus’ words about his being resurrected after being put to death, but again that’s just the stuff of recollection of some of Jesus’ words.
  • These circumstances resulted in understandable reactions: perplexity, terror, bowing faces to the ground.
  • The women left the tomb, returned to the other disciples and dutifully reported their experience at the tomb which was dismissed as an idle tale and they did not believe the women’s testimony.
  • To his credit, Peter visited the tomb to see about these things and saw the linen cloths by themselves. He left amazed, but Luke does not indicate that Peter believed.

That’s it. That’s what we’re left with in the story for this our day of celebration.

What’s missing is the direct encounter with the risen Christ. What’s missing also is belief, the faith that leads to the confident confession that Christ is risen indeed, alleluia.

If this is all we had, only indirect, second-hand accounts about the resurrection, we wouldn’t be here to today. If this is all we had to go on, then Paul’s concern expressed in today’s second reading about debates concerning resurrection would ring true about us:

“If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15:19) This life as we know it holds for us only mortality, finitude, sin – in short, human business as usual.

But Paul remains confident in his proclamation: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.” (1 Corinthians 15:20)

What gave Paul the confidence of this confession, his belief and faith that Jesus had been raised from the dead? In short, Paul had an encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus.

Moreover, what gave Peter the confidence to proclaim as he did in today’s first reading from Acts: “We are witnesses to all that [Jesus] did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to al the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.” (Acts 10:39-41) As an eye witness, Peter had direct encounters with Christ that resulted in faith, the faith to proclaim with confidence that Christ is risen.

But let’s get back to Luke’s account. What was read today leaves us short. But the reports of direct, eye witness encounters with Christ are provided in Luke. In fact, what comes next in Luke is the story of the Road to Emmaus. Let me recount for you the basics of the story: two of Jesus’ disciples are walking along the road on their way to Emmaus, talking with each other, despondent over the events that led to Jesus’ death. Jesus appears on the road with them, but they did not recognize that it was their risen Lord until Jesus broke bread with them. Luke writes: “When he was at the table with them, [Jesus] took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized [Jesus]; and he vanished from their sight.” (Luke 24:30-31)

It was this eye-witness, direct encounter with Jesus at the table where Jesus broke the bread that made for recognition of and faith in the risen Lord. Recognizing the living Christ in the breaking of the bread is first true, direct, first-hand resurrection appearance that Luke records.

So, where does this leave us today with only a partial, second-hand reporting in Luke about Jesus’ resurrection from the dead? The story of the Road to Emmaus is not even featured this year among the lectionary readings for the Sundays in Easter.

The good news is that we don’t need to hear the story of the Road to Emmaus because we re-enact that story each and every Sunday when we break bread at this table. Every Sunday is our Road to Emmaus when we have a direct, first-hand, eye witness encounter with the risen Christ in the same manner as those first two disciples on the same day as the resurrection.

Let that sink in for a moment. Our resurrection encounters in recognizing Christ in the breaking of the bread are the same mode of appearance that convinced those first disciples that Jesus did in fact rise from the dead. Wow.

The pattern of encounter that Luke records about the Road to Emmaus is the pattern of what we do here on each and every Lord’s day: we journey together, often despondent about the bad news that’s happening throughout our sorry world; Christ appears in our midst in the reading and proclamation of the word, as Christ “interprets to us the things about himself in all the scripture” (cf. Luke 24:27) as he did with those first two disciples; then we go to the table together where our eyes are likewise opened and we recognize the risen Christ in, with, and under the broken bread and the wine poured among us in churchly community.

The story of the Road to Emmaus ends with the disciples rushing back to the others to let them know how Jesus was made known to them in the breaking of bread. So, too, we leave this place to share similar stories of good news and new life with those who are not here with us.

In other words, Luke’s resurrection account continues in what we do whenever we are assembled by the Spirit on the Lord’s Day. This leaves us with much, much more than this life only as Paul lamented if there is no resurrection. Indeed, because we also know the risen Christ in the breaking of bread, we, like Paul, can offer confident proclamation of Christ’s resurrection.

Amidst the ongoing social isolation of pandemic and political divisiveness, of war, poverty, injustice, and oppression, people hunger for the kind of life-giving encounter in community in person which we enjoy here every week where the ordinary becomes extraordinary in the power of the resurrected Christ, where intellectual stumbling blocks to faith are overcome in living encounters with Christ among us.

So, let’s run with haste to tell others despondent of this life only, inviting them to this place of encounter with the risen Christ. For Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia! Amen.

 

Holy Week

Dear Friends in Christ:

Over the years, commitment to attending services during Holy Week has waned. Yet, the Three Days that are the centerpiece of this week are the crown jewel of the church’s whole liturgical calendar when we participate dramatically and sacramentally in the mysteries of salvation fully revealed in scripture. In our worshipful participation we engage not just the stories, but come to know the very sacred realities to which the scriptural stories bear witness.

The Three Days – consisting of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Vigil of Easter on Holy Saturday – are best understood as one seamless sacred drama enacted over the course of three different days. Hence, we are producing one worship booklet to cover the Three Days.

I urge you, for your edification and spiritual well-being, to come to worship on each of the Three Days beginning at 7:00 pm each evening. Those who participate fully have routinely told me over the years just how powerful it is spiritually, intellectually, emotionally, and existentially to be immersed in the richness of the Christian gospel in these liturgies which communicate to us salvation in Christ.

For your prayerful consideration, here again is a summary of what you can expect this week:

The Three Days Commence, Maundy Thursday (April 14): Worship at 7:00 pm, Confession and Forgiveness, Washing of Feet, and Holy Communion with Stripping of the Altar.

The Three Days proclaim and re-enact the drama of Jesus’ last days of public, earthly ministry culminating in his death and resurrection.

Worship on Maundy Thursday begins with confession and forgiveness, and also features footwashing. In obedience to Jesus’ new commandment to love one another, those wishing symbolically and literally to enact such servant love will wash each other’s feet. We continue with Holy Communion, the institution of which is remembered on this night. Worship concludes as the lights in the nave and chancel are dimmed and the altar and chancel are stripped of their adornments as Psalm 88, a psalm of lament, is sung as we recall Jesus’ agonized prayer in the garden. We will then depart in silence.

Good Friday (April 15): Worship at 7:00 pm, with sung Passion According to John and Adoration of the Cross.

We assemble again on Friday evening, continuing the Three Days, where the focal point of our time together in worship is the Passion According to John, which will be sung by our choir. After the sermon and Hymn of the Day, worship continues with bidding prayers in the context of which your silent prayers are invited for the church and world. Then a rough-hewn cross is carried in procession into the nave as we sing of our adoration of Christ who was crucified on that lifegiving tree. Solemn Reproaches are said and the Trisagion (“Holy God, holy and mighty, holy and immortal, have mercy on us”) is sung while members of the assembly come forward for various expressions of devotion at the cross, including placing lit votive candles around it. When worship concludes in a darkened church, and all depart in silence.

The Three Days Conclude, Resurrection of Our Lord, Vigil of Easter (April 16): Worship at 7:00 pm, new fire, procession with Paschal Candle, Easter Proclamation, service of readings, affirmation of baptism, and Holy Communion.

We assemble once again on the third of the Three Days outdoors on the Potomac Street side of the church to begin the Vigil of Easter. The new fire is lit, from which the Paschal Candle, is also lit and blessed. The whole assembly follows the Paschal Candle into the church, through the hallways and into the nave where worshipers will receive their own individual candles with light taken from the Paschal Candle. We will gather at chairs surrounding the baptismal font as the Easter Proclamation is sung. A series of readings, recounting major stories of salvation history, is read followed by prayer. Still at the font, we’ll affirm our baptism, confessing anew our faith as we are sprinkled with water from the font. Then the lights will come on, and we’ll sing “This is the Feast of Victory for our God” as we take seats in the pews in the nave for Holy Communion, concluding the Three Days, having run the gamut from sorrow to joy, from darkness to light, from death to new life in Christ.

Resurrection of Our Lord, Easter Sunday (April 17): Worship at 10:00 am. Easter Breakfast begins at 8:30.

We’ll assemble yet again on Easter Sunday, Resurrection of Our Lord. An Easter Breakfast of egg casseroles and breakfast breads begins in the parish hall and outdoors at 8:30 am. At 10:00, we’ll assemble in the nave for a festive celebration of the Resurrection of Our Lord in the manner of our usual Sunday Assembly, but with the volume of celebration turned up a bit in honor of the resurrected Christ who is our light, our life, our salvation.

Your share in the joy of Easter Day will be all the more enriched by your having also attended liturgy on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and at the Vigil of Easter!

Again, as your Pastor, I urge your full participation in each of the Three Days.

God in Christ take us together into these paschal mysteries in the power of the Spirit,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

 

Passion and Palm Sunday, Luke 23:1-49

Preaching week after week on passages from Luke, I’ve been struck by how Jesus consistently is found amidst the crowds in Luke’s telling. I’ve called attention to this repeatedly in my sermons in the past months. Beginning from Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan River, where Jesus was one among many in the crowd to be baptized, Jesus always seems to end up amidst the teeming throngs of people.

In short, Jesus in Luke loves to be amidst the crowds, and he does his best work right in the thick of things. This proclivity continues to be true in the Passion according to Luke, much of which you just heard read.

Here’s a summary of how the crowds appear in connection with Jesus in Luke’s Passion:

  • At the time of Jesus’ grand entry into Jerusalem, crowds of people spread their cloaks on the road, and the multitude of the disciples praised God with a loud voice, saying “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” (Luke 19:36-40) Thus, the crowds begin with great enthusiasm, echoing the song of the angels announcing Jesus’ birth.
  • Later at night, the mood turns darker as a crowd suddenly showed up at the Mount of Olives when Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss. (Luke 22:47ff.)
  • Then the assembly of the elders of the people were akin to a crowd when Jesus was on trial before the religious council. (Luke 22:66ff.) The religious authorities took a lead in turning public opinion against Jesus.
  • Those crowds clamored saying, “We found this man perverting our nation, forbidding us to pay taxes to the emperor.” (Luke 23:2)
  • Then the crowd insisted, “He stirs up the people by teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee where he began even to this place.” (Luke 23:5) The crowds begin to take on the manner of a mob.
  • After Pilate called together the crowd of chief priests, the leaders and the people (Luke 23:13) shouted all together, “Away with this fellow! Release Barabbas for us!” (Luke 23:18ff.)
  • And the crowds kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!” (Luke 23:21)
  • Despite Pilate’s pleas, they kept urgently demanding with loud shouts that Jesus should be crucified; and their voices prevailed” (Luke 23:23) That is to say, the mob ruled.
  • As Jesus was crucified, the crowds of people stood by, watching (Luke 23:35), a passive stance with no one taking any lead in trying to prevent this travesty. Evil triumphs when otherwise good people do nothing….
  • Finally, after Jesus died and the show was over, Luke reports that “when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts” (Luke 23:48). They were there for the spectacle, a perverse form of entertainment, not unlike the crowds of onlookers who were present for lynchings in the history of our own country. All the throngs had to show for their participation was stirred emotions – anger, fear, grievance, a spirit of violence – all indicated by their going home beating their breasts.

In short, the Passion according to Luke reveals the fickleness of the crowds, how they blew hot and cold, starting with great enthusiasm, but then quickly turning on Jesus and ending up with a mob mentality, all riled up with no place for that emotional energy to go except to cause grave damage, ultimately Jesus’ death at the hands of Roman authorities who caved to the mob’s wishes.

Crowds of human beings are like that. We are given to a mob mentality all too easily, as we have been seeing in our own nation and world of late.

But Jesus, true to form in Luke, remains in the crowd, remains for the crowd. The prophet Isaiah, in his suffering servant song in today’s first reading, points us to how Jesus, in public ministry long after Isaiah prophesied, responded to the throngs. Isaiah’s words could be those of Jesus: “I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.” (Isaiah 50:6)

Indeed, here’s the gospel truth: even if the crowds turn on Jesus, Jesus does not turn on the crowds, but stays right in the midst of the throngs, even the mobs.

The bad news is that crowds are fickle and embody communally some of the most extreme features of human sin, the crowds giving people the permission to act their worst.

The good news is that Jesus is steadfast in his love for the throngs even when they violently betray him in a way which ended up with him being put to death. Jesus simply would not turn on or abandon the crowds to which he was drawn since the first moments of his public ministry at his baptism amidst the throngs of people.

Indeed, for the sake of the crowds, Jesus emptied himself. As the Apostle Paul puts it in the great Christ hymn that is the focus of today’s reading from Philippians, Christ Jesus “relinquished it all, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, Christ humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:7-8)

And there from the cross, Jesus forgave the crowds: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)

Still, the crowds forsook Jesus, leaving the spectacle and returning home, again, beating their breasts.

But that’s not the end of the story. In the absence of the crowds, so much more was accomplished in these last hours of Jesus’ earthly ministry, and in the three days beyond. In short, life and death contended, again suggested by the suffering servant song in Isaiah: “Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me.” (Isaiah 50:8) Jesus’ most real, cosmic adversaries with whom he contended were ultimately the mob-like forces of sin and death expressed in the violent energies of the throngs, who were captivated by the powers and principalities of this world about which Paul writes elsewhere.

And when that battle stupendous was over, when God raised Jesus victorious from the grave, then other crowds and throngs would return, drawn by the Spirit of the living Christ, suggested in the Philippians Christ hymn: “Therefore God also highly exalted [Jesus] and gave him the name that is above very name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11) Every knee bending, every tongue confessing is indication of the assembling of another crowd, in this case, of believers.

We are such a crowd gathered here today. We are among the billions over the centuries and now in our current day whose tongues confess that Jesus Christ is Lord as we bend our knees in worshipful adoration to the glory of God.

And in our usual routine, we are sent from this place and this weekly time together, having been fed in word and sacrament, and with our faith thus renewed and strengthened, we go back into the crowds, the teeming throngs, and even mobs of people, with the confession on our lips that Jesus Christ is Lord, expressed not just in our words, but in our deeds of loving, thankful service in Jesus’ name right in the thick of things, where Jesus continues to do his best work. Thanks be to God for the wonder of it all. Amen.

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