The Next Generation: Practicing Resurrection
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” Acts 2:42-47
The title of this column might puzzle you. “Practicing” Resurrection? What’s that? The Resurrection is an event, not an assignment, right? The Resurrection is God’s greatest miracle, the Father’s vindication of the crucified Son, the definitive defeat of death. What’s to “practice?”
Lutheran Christians rightly raise such questions. It’s in our DNA, it’s part of our vocation within the Body of Christ. We get nervous whenever someone tries to turn a gift into a duty or an obligation or even a “practice.”
But sometimes our nervousness betrays us. The “happenedness” of the Resurrection too easily leads us to treat Easter as an event in our past. But what if Easter isn’t over yet? What if the Resurrection is an event that unfolds in a transforming way of life?
Living Into God’s New Future
This seems to be what happened in the Jerusalem church that was birthed on Pentecost, the 50th Day of Easter. In Acts 2:42-27 (the basis for our 2011 Synod Assembly theme, Awe-Filled Worship: Doing Acts 2) we behold a gathering of Christ-followers living in this world still, but mindful that God in raising up Christ has opened up a brand new future for them, also.
So, rather than waiting for God to do something amazing, they live new lives characterized by Easter awe—a palpable sense of dwelling in the presence of the Risen Christ. God is active—outside of them but also in and through their faith-filled lives. They extend the Easter event through learning, worshiping, sharing, praying, breaking bread, working wonders, welcoming new believers. Every day became a new adventure!
And notice especially the interplay between their public and private lives in verse 46: “Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts…” There was a rhythm established, hot on the heels of Pentecost, that valued both what happened in the public church (“the temple”) but also in the domestic church (“at home.”)
The Four Keys
This dynamic interplay of public-and-private undergirds the Next Generation vision for our synod. My March column (The Next Generation: Deep into the Marrow) offered a high-altitude overview of the Vibrant Faith Frame. This month we bring the plane down to a lower altitude, to focus on the Four Keys—ways “practicing resurrection” in the 21st century.
The Four Keys take seriously the experiential side of being Christian. Dr. David Anderson of Vibrant Faith Ministries quotes appreciatively from the American sociologist of religion, Robert Wuthnow: “Effective religious socialization comes about through embedded practices; (emphasis added) that is, through specific, deliberate religious activities that are firmly intertwined with the daily habit of family routines, of eating and sleeping, of having conversations, of adorning the spaces in which people live, of celebrating the holidays, and of being part of a community.”
Indeed, all living faiths have some sort of “embedded practices”—some very similar to our own. What makes these “practices of resurrection” is that we do them “in Christ.” The Four Keys represent four ways that the risen Christ lives in and through us, for the sake of the world.
This one sounds so easy, so basic. The First Key—caring conversations—nudges us toward a practice that used to come more naturally for Christians, i.e. to check in with one another regularly on how the Christian walk is unfolding in the daily-ness of life.
In our atomized, cocooned, “wired” 21st century lives it is so easy to miss chances to connect with one another personally in our congregations and our homes. The more high-tech our lives become, though, the more we hunger for high-touch encounters with one another.
Caring Conversations need not be highly organized or intricately choreographed. A simple, leading question may be all you need: “How was your day? What happened at school or work? How did you meet God today?” Some households and church groups share “highs and lows” as part of the “agenda” of every meeting.
It’s tempting to skip over these brief personal sharing times, though. Parents of ‘tweens and teens can’t always get their kids to talk—so why bother trying? Or in church committees we want to “get on with business.” Ironically, as studies have revealed, we actually handle “business” more efficiently and effectively when we start our gatherings with some personal checking-in-time.
Moreover, caring conversations keep the boundaries of the Body of Christ “permeable,” i.e. able to invite and include seekers who are looking for the one true God. What if our homes and congregations became known as places where no topic is off limit and no potential conversation-partner is turned away?
Caring conversations prepare us for the Second Key: devotions. Remember the verb that dwells within this word: devote. Devotions center us in the One who is utterly devoted to us, the God to whom we are utterly devoted. Devotions place our busy lives in the presence of the God and Father of us all, who raised Jesus the beloved Son from the dead.
Having devotions in our households or church groups need not be burdensome. Instead of setting the bar too high, let’s view devotions as moments-in-time when we take a brief break from the routine and remind ourselves that the Risen Christ is always with us—that we are not alone in the universe.
So reading Christ in our Home or another daily devotional guide—at the breakfast table or before bedtime—is never wasted time. Homes that include small children will want to use age-appropriate devotional resources. Dwelling in a verse of the Bible sustains us. More and more Lutherans are following ancient prayer practices like lectio divina (sacred reading): a four-step way of living with a verse or two for some moments that lead to prayer. (For a simple introduction to lectio divina go to http://archive.elca.org/prayer/resources/jump.html and scroll down to #4, “Pray the Bible.”)
Rituals and Traditions
Closely akin to devotions is the Third Key: rituals and traditions. These are healthy habits and routines that sustain the Easter life God has opened up for us by raising Jesus from the dead. The rituals and traditions we actually embrace will be many and varied. The Third Key includes
• How we adorn our homes and church buildings with symbols of living faith;
• How we pray upon rising, before meals, and at the close of the day;
• How we bless and commend one another to God every day or before every journey or farewell;
• How we immerse ourselves in art, music and other forms of beauty that reveal God’s love;
• How we mark life’s milestones in homes and in congregations;
• How we practice forgiveness and reconciliation with one another;
• How we baptize, affirm, marry, heal and bury “in Christ.”
I suggest a spirit of playfulness, imagination and variety--especially in our homes, as we develop rituals and traditions that “work” for us. When our children were little, Joy and I included very long “God bless” lists in night-time prayers (including even blessings for favorite stuffed animals—“all God’s creatures”), brought home fun table graces learned at family Bible camp (“Be Present at Our Table” to the tune of the Flintstones theme), and precious children’s hymns (“Have No Fear, Little Flock” was a favorite).
The Fourth Key draws us out of our tight circles and into God’s wider world: service. Our caring conversations make us wonder how others are doing. Our devotions and traditions ground us in God who is always showing up in the face of the “least ones” around us (Matthew 25:31-46). Families, homes and congregations “practice the Resurrection” as they follow the Risen Christ out into our communities and beyond.
Last November our family did something we’d thought about for years. We helped serve the community Thanksgiving Dinner at St Joseph’s Catholic Church of Moorhead (in cooperation with Trinity Lutheran Church and the Moorhead community). It was great: being with our neighbors, giving thanks for God’s abundance, reducing the loneliness that is a daily reality for so many. Afterward I was struck by how serving together in this way fed back into our family’s own caring conversations and prayers. Indeed, the Four Keys are intimately related to one another—playing off each other as “practices of the Resurrection.”
In the Risen Christ,
Lawrence R. Wohlrabe
Bishop, Northwestern Minnesota Synod
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
God’s work. Our hands.
For reflection and discussion:
1. The Four Keys aren’t the only “practices of the Resurrection” in the church. What are some other “embedded practices” that enliven faith in your homes and congregation?
2. How have you observed “caring conversations” opening up a home or a congregation to include an outsider (or outsiders)?
3. What pattern of devotions do you find to be most faith-strengthening and sustaining?
4. How do you perceive connections between the Four Keys?
This is the fifth in a series of columns on Bishop Wohlrabe’s “Next Generation” vision (available at http://www.nwmnsynod.org/BISHOP'S%20PAGE.htm) for the NW MN Synod. These columns are designed to equip the disciples and leadership groups such as church councils, for faithful and fruitful ministry. Feel free to use the column for personal reflection or group discussion, e.g. church council meeting devotions/discussion.