Blessed Easter

He is not here; for he has risen, as he said.

Matthew 26:6

Thank you for spending time with us each day as we encountered Christ through Lent. We pray our devotions have been a blessing to you this season and that your journey to the cross has, in some way, brought you closer to your savior who gave his life so you might live.

May you experience God’s love and faithfulness each day as you eat, drink, and gather with the faithful everywhere in celebration of the risen Christ.

Until we encounter each other again, go in peace to love and serve the risen Christ. Alleluia!

Grace Lutheran Church
River Forest, IL 60707

Matthew 28:8-9

Easter Sunday, April 9
Rev. Troy E. Medlin

So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him.

I remember the first time I came out. My dorm neighbor whispered the words, “I am gay.” And I said, “Me too.” At that moment I felt as if time had started to move in slow motion and I was stopped in my tracks. Like my life paused in front of me. It was almost as if those words came from so deep inside of me I was surprised that they finally found their way out of my mouth. Growing up in a small town and a church tradition that taught me I had to stay in the closet, I wondered if I would ever be able to say those words. 

It was a miracle. I began to see, even through a glass dimly, a future that I did not think was even possible. Using the language of faith, it felt like death and resurrection. Something only God could do. Create a future that I thought, on my own, was impossible. 

It is in the midst of those situations, when we feel like we are stuck in a tomb and cannot imagine life outside of it, that we encounter this Christ. Beyond the grave and alive again. 

With the risen Christ walking in our midst, hope is not just a thought, but your future and mine is literally bound to hope. This is where we live. The promise of this day is that all those things that seem impossible will not be the end. 

Whether it is our fractured planet, broken relationships, or the shame we feel in our hearts because of things we have done or things that have been done to us. None of those things need be final or will be final in Jesus Christ. Forgiveness is real. Reconciliation is a gift. And life bursts forth from tombs we thought were long ago sealed shut for all time.

We encounter the risen Christ. Set loose. In Word, Meal, and neighbors. And in the miracle of new life in places, relationships, and people we would have least expected it. Be ready. Resurrection can be scary at first. It disrupts the whole old order. It fills us with great joy, indeed. 

Living God, you bring life from every death. May we be witnesses of the impossible life we have received and share that joy with all this dying world. Alleluia, Amen.

Matthew 27:54

Saturday, April 8
Rev. Frank C. Senn

When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!”

On what basis could the Roman centurion make this claim? How would he even know how to make this connection between Jesus of Nazareth, whom he had just crucified, and God’s Son? Had he heard claims from bystanders? And then there was the earthquake and the dead coming out of their tombs  that Matthew reports. Apparently, there were tombs nearby, since Jesus would be laid to rest in one. For ancient people natural as well as supernatural events were signs to be read for divine activity.

What signs do we have that affirm Jesus’ identity as God’s Son? Might it be through the prayers of faith uttered by us or others? The so-called “Jesus Prayer” is regularly used by Eastern Christians. “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” It can be used for all sorts of situations. The desert fathers and mothers taught that this short prayer is a summary of the gospel and that it should be prayed continually according to St. Paul’s admonition to “pray ceaselessly.” Praying puts us in communion with God. The faithful have experienced the blessings of God, blessings of forgiveness, joy, and peace, from prayer. Is the experience of receiving these blessings a sign that prayer to Jesus is effective, and that Jesus is truly the “Son of God”?

We all need a reason for making a faith statement such as the Roman centurion made. As we come to the end of our Lenten encounters with Christ, what can we affirm about Jesus the Christ? We don’t discount dogma, what we have been taught. But we make our confession of faith on the basis of what we have seen or experienced. “Truly this man was (is!) God’s Son.”

Pray today the Jesus Prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Amen.    

Matthew 27:45-46

Friday, April 7
Katharine Roller

Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabchthani?” That is, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

The crucifixion is a terrible trial in every possible way. Christ is subjected to betrayal, fear, mockery, exhaustion, excruciating pain, and finally, death—and in these verses in particular, deep and terrible loneliness. A feeling that he has been abandoned even by the One who is supposed to be present at all times and in all places.

For many who lived with family, a partner, or roommates, the pandemic lockdown of 2020 was its own kind of trial: close quarters, incessant demands on attention, nowhere to get away from an argument or hurtful comment. Especially when talking to friends with school-age children, I said little about what it was like to live alone during that time. It felt churlish to complain when I had all the quiet and privacy in the world.

But unless you live atop a pillar in the desert, there is only so much quiet and privacy a person is meant to have. Days upon days would go by without seeing another human face or hearing another human voice, except through a computer.

There are people who, when they are lonely, can assuage that loneliness by talking to God. I wish I was one of those people; I never have been. Instead, I encountered Christ, during that time, through faces familiar and strange: friends who drove half an hour each way to take a half-hour walk together; strangers who made conversation in the elevator; clients and fellow volunteers at Beyond Hunger, where my work was deemed essential when, in truth, it was the work that was essential to me.

In times of great loneliness, you cannot pick and choose in whom you will see Christ. Each face and voice is precious. Each face and voice is a reminder that you have not been forsaken after all.

Lord, our greatest comfort, be near us always, especially when no one else is near. Help us to feel your presence in the silence of an empty room, and in the voice that breaks that silence. Amen.

John 13:3-5

Thursday, April 6
Gwen Gotsch

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from supper, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.

You can’t get much closer to the ground than dirty feet. When Jesus kneels to wash his disciples’ feet, I see him right down there in the dirt and the grit. The water in the basin grows murky, the towel around Jesus’ waist becomes damp and streaked with mud. It’s an earthbound task, gracious and humbling service. 

Yet the story begins in a headier, more heavenly place, telling us that Jesus was conscious of “all things” being given into his hands, of how he himself “had come from God and was going to God.” In the chapters that follow this story in John’s gospel, Jesus describes his relationship to God in words that the disciples will remember after his death: “I am the way and the truth and the life.” “I am the vine, you are the branches.” “Because I live you shall live also.”

But first—before the teaching, before the preaching, before the prayers—Jesus gets up from his meal, gets down on the floor, and works his way around the table caring for his followers’ feet, their very human feet, with his very human hands.  “I have set you an example,” he says (John 13:15), “that you should do as I have done for you.” 

He does this not in spite of his close relationship with all things heavenly, but because of it. The same hands that held the power of almighty God were nailed to a cross. After Jesus’ resurrection the wounded hands remind us that living a life grounded in God means sharing in human aches and pains and suffering.

Dearest Jesus, you came to the world to show me the way to God. Help me to follow where you lead, as I love and serve the people around me. Amen.

John 13:31-32

Wednesday, April 5
Rev. David R. Lyle

When he 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 himself and will glorify him at once.

Betrayal is many things. Betrayal is painful, surprising, dishonest, and treacherous. But glorious? That’s hardly the first word that comes to mind. Yet this is what we find in the gospel appointed for the Wednesday in Holy Week. Our verses come immediately after Judas departs the Upper Room to put his plans into motion. With a piece of bread from Jesus in his hand, and for the thirty pieces of silver that await, Judas goes to betray Jesus to the authorities.

Jesus sees in this action the beginning of his glorification. Having knelt and washed his friends’ feet, he goes even lower. He allows this betrayal, and the arrest and execution that will follow. It doesn’t look like glory, like the winning of great renown or the manifestation of the divine presence. Yet that is what Jesus says God is doing. God is glorifying Jesus through suffering, abasement, and death.

Have you ever been betrayed? I’ve never had someone turn me in, but I’ve had people turn on me. In a previous call, a cadre of people who didn’t like some of my decisions took it upon themselves to spread lies about me throughout the church and community. This was not a glorious time in my life or ministry. It was hard. It hurt. I will never forget the voice of my bishop over the phone: “You must really be doing some things right for Satan to come after you like this.”

Jesus suffers and dies for our betrayal. He also suffers and dies to join us when we are betrayed. He is present in these moments to remind us that, even when others have turned on us, he is for us. The glory of God is manifest in moments of pain, hurt, and shame. Jesus has lived it. But nowhere is God more glorified that at Jesus’ lowest moment as he is lifted high upon the cross. In our baptism into his death, Jesus has forged an unbreakable bond. Our God is faithful.

Gracious God, thank you for glorifying your Son. Help me cling to Jesus Christ alone. Amen.

John 12:24-25

Tuesday, April 4
Dan Lehman

Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

All of us are a work in progress, born into a broken world, one suffering all kinds of burdens, misdeeds, and travails. We face a choice: stick to our selfish selves or grow into the kind of loving, caring person Jesus calls us to be.

Decades ago, at a leadership retreat at Grace, I confronted a critique of the congregation that contained a kernel of truth at that time: Some of us (certainly me) relied too much on our “passive” benevolence of financial contributions in working for and with all God’s people. “Active” benevolence—giving of our time and talents—was work for others. These very verses awakened me to the extent of the call to serve “the other.”

Jesus could have walked through life passively helping others with parables, observations and the like. He didn’t stop there. He took up the cross, died and was resurrected, offering hope and a new life to humanity.

He was the seed, seemingly sacrificing everything and was lost. But no, his death became what it was intended to be—reconciling us to God and offering eternal life. As one theologian put it, just as the seed must “lose its life” to fulfill its ultimate purpose, so too we need to “lose” our worldly life. That doesn’t literally mean physical death, but rather the willingness to follow Christ and his commandments.

In these verses Jesus is telling us to put our efforts, priority, and emphasis into the will of God. There is nothing passive about being a Christian. A challenge to be sure, but one leading to something greater and more glorious as is intended for the believer.

Direct us, O Lord, in all our daily decisions and actions, both great and small. Grant us your guiding light on our path through life to serve you and all those around us to the best of our abilities. In Jesus name. Amen.

We are blessed with TWO devotions on today lesson!

John 12:24-25

Tuesday, April 4
Connie Zyer

Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

In this parable of the seed, Jesus is speaking of his own imminent death. It is necessary for him to die before there can be a plentiful harvest of new lives reconciled to God. Jesus continues by explaining that his followers too need to undergo a type of death; a transforming death where we die to the things of this world that we love and that hold a higher priority in our life than Jesus does. This is not a death that happens once and is done, this transforming death is ongoing for as long as we live on this earth. The Holy Spirit within is continually working with each of us as we surrender those areas of our being that do not align with God’s plan for our life.

I have discovered that spending time in solitude and silence on a daily basis is when I become aware of those things in my life that do not align with what God is asking of me. As I take the time to quietly sit and converse with the Lord in prayer, he gently reveals and encourages me to give up those things that seem to have a higher priority in my life than him. I was uncomfortable in discovering that the things that had the tightest grip on my heart were not the physical things outside, but rather the things within, like pride and fear of what others might think about me.

With loving patience, as I spend time with Jesus enjoying his presence, he helps me to loosen my grip on these things and slowly refocus my gaze on him and the hope that he provides because of the tremendous sacrifice he paid on my behalf.

Precious Lord, thank you for willingly surrendering your life to fulfill God’s desire to reconcile us to himself. Grant me the grace and strength to surrender those things in my life that keep me from living in harmony with you and with others. Amen

John 12:7-8

Monday, April 3

“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”

I often forget how our senses are like keys that unlock memory. When I hear mourning doves or encounter a specific scent in the air, I am taken back to my paternal grandmother’s backyard in East Detroit on early summer mornings. The smell of Mr. Bubble finds me in the bath in my maternal grandma’s home in Cleveland. The smell of sawdust or engine grease puts me in the garage with my dad on a Saturday morning. We all have those smells that take us out of ourselves and place us directly back into memory.

This passage finds us sitting down for a meal with Jesus, his disciples, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, just after Lazarus has been raised. Mary pours expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet and wipes them with her hair. There is an intimacy in this moment that I cannot ignore. Feelings of safety, family, and the joy of having Lazarus with them permeate the house. The smell of food, the sight of beloved faces, the sound of laughter, etc., all create an intimate picture. To that moment is added the lavish scent of expensive perfume, the touch of Mary’s hair on Jesus’ feet, and the observing eyes of all those closest to Jesus.

While there are those who view this intimacy as erotic, it is exactly the opposite. It is an act of holy worship. Mary “gets it.” She knows what’s coming. She also knows who sits at table with her. Her devotion to her Lord is extravagant as she offers affection, devotion, and the costly gift of her whole self. This smell will act in direct contrast to the scents of death and dying that are to come. And both will linger in the hearts of those who sit at this table, for the rest of their lives.

So, what does love smell like, taste like, sound like, for you? Is it your spouses’ favorite perfume? Your grandmother’s talcum powder? Fresh baked bread? Freshly mown hay? Your children’s laughter?

For me, God’s love and grace feel like a big bear hug and the sun on my face. They smell like candle wax, old wood, and the air before a summer storm. They sound like laughter, the crackling of a fire, the unique silence of an empty church, and the glorious ending of “Thine the Amen.” They look like wrinkled hands, smiling faces, and the dying embers of a fire. They taste like mom’s Christmas Bread right out of the oven, baked pork chops, or an ice-cold beer on a hot day. Mary’s act reminds me to engage my senses; that my relationship with God is a full-body, sensory experience as God can be seen, heard, touched, felt, and tasted everywhere. Mary helps me see that while giving myself to God may bring criticism and be misinterpreted by the world, it is exactly what my God asks of me. And that, while what I do may be momentary, the memory invoked by the “scent” of my faithfulness lives on in memory for others.

Grant me the boldness of Mary to give my life lavishly over to you. May every sense be attuned to your presence as I live a life of praise and glory. Amen.

Matthew 21:9

Sunday, April 2
Sabrina Maggio

The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,
          “Hosanna to the Son of David!”
            “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
            “Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

This verse is a celebratory one! I wish my students reacted like this when I walked into my classroom. Instead, I’m greeted with eye rolls and hormone-fueled apathy—the plight of any typical 7th-grade teacher. 

The coming of Jesus, however, is no eye-rolling matter. The fact that we are forgiven for our sins, that God loves us always in spite of all the sins—that is something to scream about. And while I typically despise screaming crowds (they give me anxiety), this crowd I could handle. “Yay for Jesus!” is what they’re saying. This Palm Sunday crowd is really pumped about Jesus’ arrival, and I mimic that sentiment in that I, too, am very pumped and excited and grateful for his presence in my life.

My most significant encounter with Christ’s presence started in 2013-14. My dad, a brilliant scientist, and my bestie, passed away tragically and suddenly at the age of 63. At this point in my life, I had been married three months, and was teaching at a brand-new school. I was angry at the world and at God for taking such a wonderful human from this world. But amid my grief, there was my family, my new work family, and friends who were there to comfort me. All examples of Christ’s love, even though I didn’t see it then. 

Fast forward a few years to 2018-19, still grieving, now making the biggest career transition I had ever made, and mother of a toddler. I was exhausted on all levels and had a falling out with my best friends of 20 some years. I was devastated about it.  Soon after this, Pastor Lauren Wegner invited me to Moms of Littles. At my first meeting, I definitely cried a weird amount. But, instead of judging, these women understood my fatigue and my stress in a way that no one else but a mother could. They validated me, held me up, and even though I barely knew them, they embraced me. In spite of the embarrassing amount of tears shed, and the crying that has followed since, there is no judgment and only acceptance and love. There’s nothing complicated about it…it’s so simple. If that’s not encountering the presence of Christ, I’m not sure what is. I see Jesus’ love in every interaction I have with these women. The common connection that links us is faith and how that plays out in raising our little people. Being a part of this group of beautiful humans has brought me back to church and strengthened my faith in a way I never thought possible. 

While my sweet dad is not here to see the very best part of my grown-up life, and there is nothing that can really numb that pain, the steadfast love of my family and the friendships I have built here at Grace are truly a gift. So, if I were to shout “Hosanna!” it would be based on these encounters with Christ’s love, these gifts that I promise to never take for granted, my way of shouting “Yay for Jesus!”

Loving God, thank you for all of the gifts in my life. Thank you for surrounding me with people who love me unconditionally. May everyone find their own way to shout “Alleluia!” and in doing so, may they recognize your presence and your abundant love. Amen.

Romans 8:9-10

Saturday, April 1
Julie Hinz

You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness.

At 44 years old (2012) I was diagnosed with kidney disease. I had not been sick with anything that might lead to kidney issues, there are no genetic kidney problems, and out of nowhere I had a new identity, “idiopathic primary membranous neuropathy.” (Idiopathic = spontaneous or coming from nothing, primary = not a by-product of another disease like cancer, chemotherapy, aids treatments, etc.)

Three years later I was told it was time to get on the transplant list. I was terrified. In the space of one phone call, my mind went from “managing an illness” to “without a new kidney, you will die.” No amount of forethought can prepare you for when that reality hits. While working to meet the UNOS parameters, changing how I eat, adapting to new medications, additional doctors’ appointments, and the long list of tests required for organ transplant, my mortality weighed most heavily. I suddenly recognized the reality of frail human flesh. I had never been frail in my life!

After a successful transplant in 2016 it was discovered that what I have is not a disease of the kidney itself but is the existence of an antigen that attacks my kidneys. This will never go away, so, while I am “healthy and fine” this condition continues to sit in the shadows of my life. The hard reality is that this may cause my death.

Many in my situation find themselves living into the refrain of “Why me?!” Well, why not me? Am I any better or worse than anyone else? Since Adam, human flesh has been pointed toward death. When, we do not know, but physical death certainly awaits all of us.

What I do know, and what the passage above reminds me, is that while my physical being will die, my real life is wrapped up in the righteousness of Christ, and the glory that is to come after this body ceases its earthly journey. While my body is subject to death, my soul belongs to Christ and will live eternally with God. Now, having fully grasped that reality, there is no fear, only the deep desire to live life to the fullest, to share in ministry and faithful connection, in gratitude for what I do have; a faith family that embraces me, a purpose in ministry to God’s people, and a God who loves me and walks beside me through it all.

Gracious and loving Father, thank you for walking with me on my rocky and shadowed journey here on earth. May I know the consolation of your love and recognize that my frail human flesh is only a doorway into life with you. Amen.