Saturday, May 01, 2021

Reflections from the Journey

In this season of Easter, we reflect on the post-resurrection stories where Jesus engages with his disciples. Luke 24: 36-48 is one of them. “Ho hum,” you might say. But that’s not the way the disciples experienced these times. What wild experiences! So disorienting! They’ve been through so much trauma with Jesus’ arrest, trial and crucifixion, and then all of this! What does it mean? Is it real? So many disciples have stories to tell about Jesus. They don’t know what to think, and then Jesus appears to all together. He just appears! Who is this? What is this? A ghost? Is there some kind of mass hysteria - - all of them having the same apparition? They’re trying to make sense of it. But nothing in their previous experience gives them a frame of reference. Nothing in their life, in their world, has prepared them for this. As the text says, they are startled, terrified, disbelieving, and wondering. 

It strikes me how incongruent the words started, terrified, disbelieving and wondering are with the term witnesses. Jesus proclaims that the disciples are witness in the Luke 24: 36-48 passage.

Startled + Terrified + Disbelieving + Wondering = Witnesses

As you can see, I put an equals sign after those first four words and before “Witnesses”. For a while I thought it really should be a sign that indicates that these things are NOT equal. It seems like startled, terrified, disbelieving, and wondering wouldn’t add up to being witnesses. How could these disciples, who were still trying to make sense of their experiences, be effective witnesses? Here they are just a couple days after Jesus’ horribly cruel death, in the midst of their raw grief, in the midst of not believing the stories they’re hearing from their own companions, and Jesus is calling them witnesses.   

But you know what? As Jesus is there with them, he’s opening their minds and hearts. He shifts to a teaching role to help them understand what the scriptures have been pointing to all along. He’s starting the process for them of being transformed into people who are no longer only startled, terrified, disbelieving, and wondering. Over the next fifty days, the reality of the resurrection is sinking in. The disciples are then filled with the power of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost so that they really can live fully into the role of being witnesses to all that Jesus taught them, all that they experienced, all that God was doing in the world. 

What Jesus started with them that day, they continued – studying and praying over the scriptures, pondering what Jesus had taught. They weren’t ready that day to be witnesses, but they would be ready. 

As I think about us being witnesses, I’m reminded of the Compelling Vision that Annual Conference will be considering this summer. The language of it is a striking contrast to those four words (startle, terrified, disbelieving, wondering) from the post-resurrection story. Here is the Compelling Vision.

“Together, as the Church of the Brethren, we will passionately live and share the radical transformation and holistic peace of Jesus Christ through relationship-based neighborhood engagement.

To move us forward, we will develop a culture of calling and equipping disciples who are innovative, adaptable, and fearless.”

There’s a part of me that is ready to embrace that vision. I want us to be like that. I long with all my heart for the Church of the Brethren and every congregation in every district to reflect that language. Then I think – we are not ready to be like that. How can we possibly embrace that vision, that commitment, when we are struggling so much as a denomination with divisiveness and conflict? How can we even begin to do that with the year that we’ve just been through?  Maybe we’re not ready just yet, just like the disciples were not ready yet in the first few days after the first Easter. But they became ready; they got ready through their commitment to ground themselves in Jesus’ teaching, through living into the relationship with the risen Christ, through their study of the scripture, and through openness to the power of the Holy Spirit that would come upon them fifty days later. 

Now for us, it’s fifty-plus days until the beginning of Annual Conference when the whole church will come together to decide whether and how to adopt and embrace this Compelling Vision. I’d like to suggestion that we hold this vision close to us over these coming weeks. Perhaps some of you have been engaging in the Bible Study materials offered in connection with the Compelling Vision. I’d like to suggest that we pray for ourselves and for the whole church to change from being startled, terrified, disbelieving, and wondering, to being passionate, transformed, innovative, adaptable, and fearless disciples, as the Compelling Vision says. Will you pray for that with me?  I hope you will. 

Connie R. Burkholder
Interim District Executive

Information about the Interim District Executive Position

Connie lives in McPherson, Kansas, so her ministry will be done by email, phone, and Zoom. Since her ministry is to be ¼ time and she has responsibilities as part of a pastoral team in McPherson, she will generally not be available for Sunday morning commitments. Special circumstances would be negotiated. Her contact information is:

Cell phone: 620-245-4600