During the recent three-week long Derek Chauvin trial, Eric and I watched highlights of the trial every morning on the local news. Watching footage of the trial and listening to updates offered by reporters on witness testimonies and tactics used by the trial attorneys took me back to March of 2013, when I, myself, was a juror in a three-week long trial. These three weeks spent sitting in a courtroom taking notes, eating lunch and drinking coffee during breaks with my fellow jurors in the jury room, becoming friends with the bailiff, and skirting news crews outside the elevators has been etched in my memory forever as a painful, yet enlightening and faith-deepening event.
The defendant, Chad Chritton, was on trial for allegedly abusing, starving, and locking away his daughter in the basement for years, until she was able to escape and seek help.
At the time of this incident I was busy commuting to seminary in Evanston while leading a small rural congregation, and so I had only taken a quick notice of this case. But by the end of the trial, I knew more than I wanted about the defendant, had my heart broken by the victim’s testimony, and gotten a first-hand look at how the American judicial system works.
My memory as a juror in this trial began as I waited one sunny winter morning in a downtown Madison government building with dozens of other Dane County residents who had also been summoned for jury selection. One by one, the names of prospective jurors were called, including my own. By early that afternoon, I had been questioned by the attorneys and chosen as one of twelve jurors. Fortunately, my seminary professors and congregation were gracious enough to allow me to focus solely on my jury duties for the next three weeks. Unfortunately, though, the jury ended up deadlocked on all of the charges except for that of felony child neglect; a single juror was the hold-out for not believing the victim’s testimony due to her own life-experience with a sister who was a chronic liar. My fellow jurors and I spent hours sequestered in a back room, trying to convince this jury member that her reasoning concerning the authenticity of the victim’s testimony was being jaded by her own life experience. Eventually, the judge made the decision to declare the jury deadlocked on all counts but one.
My anger over the outcome lasted a long time. Gathering with fellow jurors afterward (five of the twelve were from my little town of Stoughton!) helped me work through my anger. Hearing that Chritton was convicted in his second trial renewed my faith in our justice system. Praying to Jesus, naturally, helped with my emotional healing. And two of my fellow Stoughton jurors and I became lifelong friends.
Eight years have gone by, but it seems as if I were sitting in that Dane County courtroom only yesterday. In technicolor I can visualize my view of the witness box, of the defense attorney seeming to treat me differently (was it because I was clergy?), of the judge’s hair always falling in her eyes, and of my tendency to doodle in my juror’s pad. What I visualize most though, is of those crosses--small and large—scattered around the courtroom: not actual crosses, but imaginary crosses that I could ‘see’, a comforting aid for keeping Christ at the center of my heart as I experienced a bit of the horror that the victim had gone through for several years.
Like the fuzzy purple crocus, whose sudden appearance in the spring on lawns and fields offers hope to a frozen world, keeping the Risen Christ at the center of my heart during those three weeks in March of 2013 kept my focus on the hope that suffering and evil never, ever, have the last word. Ever since, I have made this my practice whenever I am feeling stuck in a cold, dark place in my life; the Risen Christ continues to offer me the hope of new life. I just need to be open to it!
Hope in the Risen Christ,
art image by Chris Antenucci
When they came to Emmaus, he acted as if he was going on ahead. But they urged him, saying, “Stay with us. It’s nearly evening, and the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. After he took his seat at the table with them, he took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he disappeared from their sight.
They said to each other, “Weren’t our hearts on fire when he spoke to us along the road and when he explained the scriptures for us?”
They got up right then and returned to Jerusalem. They found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying to each other, “The Lord really has risen! He appeared to Simon!” Then the two disciples described what had happened along the road and how Jesus was made known to them as he broke the bread. (Luke 24: 28-35)
It was the first day of the new week--three days after Jesus had been crucified outside the city walls of Jerusalem. A group of Jesus' followers--all of them women--went to his tomb to anoint his body with burial spices. In shock, the women discovered that the tomb holding the body of their beloved rabbi and friend was empty. Adding to their shock was the sudden appearance of two angelic messengers, who then proceeded to inform them that the very man they had witnessed dying on the cross had risen from the dead!
With excitement and wonder the group of women returned to the larger group of Jesus' disciples to share what they had witnessed at the empty tomb. (Imagine how frustrating it must have been for the women to have not been taken seriously by the men!) Only Peter felt inclined to visit the tomb; he returned to the group of disciples, 'amazed at what had happened.'
After this (yes, it is still the same day), two of Jesus' disciples set out on foot for the village of Emmaus. As the men discussed the events of the past three days, Jesus appeared to them, but they did not recognize him. Assuming he was oblivious to the happenings in Jerusalem, they told him about Jesus of Nazareth, how he had been killed, and how early that same day a group of women disciples were visited by two angels at Jesus' empty tomb.
Evening on this first day of the week was approaching, and it was time for supper. The two men--as an act of hospitality--invited the stranger to rest and dine with them. It wasn't until he blessed and broke the bread that the two disciples recognized Jesus. Instantly, he vanished from their sight.
After this (yes, it was still the same day!), the two men eagerly returned to Jerusalem to share with their friends what they had just witnessed: Then the two disciples described what had happened along the road and how Jesus was made known to them as he broke the bread.
It is common in scripture for things to occur in 'three's'. Such was the case on this first day of the week; the Risen One would appear a third time to his disciples. This Sunday's worship will focus on this third appearance of Jesus to his disciples. In preparation of worship, I invite you to read Luke 24: 36-49. Imagine you are one of the disciples experiencing the appearance of the Risen One. Would you have believed your eyes and ears? Would you have had the faith and courage to tell others what you had witnessed? How do the events of 'the first day of the week' connect to your own faith, today? The events of 'the first day of the week' offer us a lot to reflect on!
Easter wonder and joy,
From left to right: Nyia, Anya, Beyza, Kysi, Clea, and Leif
Last Sunday, after the church building had emptied itself of the Easter hubbub, I drove up to my father-in-law Harry's house in Northfield to join in on the hubbub of another type: the introduction of three beautiful little girl-cousins to their great-grandfather and to each other. As many of you already know, my father-in-law suffered a traumatic brain injury last December 21st, and since then requires 24/7 care from his five children. What a joy it was to once again see the big wide smile that Harry is known for as he watched his three great-grandchildren play on the front lawn! And what a joy it was for the parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles to watch the three wee-ones check each other out--at first, hesitantly--and then, playfully-as they frolicked among the spring flowers!
As I recall this day with my extended family, I am reminded of Psalm 133, in that it refers to the blessing of family. Though the psalm, sung by groups of pilgrims as they journeyed toward Jerusalem for a yearly Hebrew festival, refers to 'families' as the 12 tribes of Israel, I can't help but equate it with the blessings of new life bestowed on my own wonderful family. For like the abundance of expensive oil anointing Aaron's head and cold mountain streams offering refreshment to the residents of Jerusalem, my family has experienced an abundance of blessing, poured out as streams of hope and love, in the lives of these three beautiful little girls, making it a bit easier to prepare ourselves for that day when great-grandpa Harry's big wide smile will no longer light the room.
The blessing of everlasting life made visible in love on Easter Sunday, 2021. Praise be to the One who brings new life out of death!
Look at how good and pleasing it is
when families live together as one!
It is like expensive oil poured over the head,
running down onto the beard--
which extended over the collar of his robes.
It is like the dew on Mount Hermon
streaming down onto the mountains of Zion,
because it is there that the Lord has commanded the blessing:
The Institution of the Lord’s Supper
23 For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
(I Corinthians 11:23-26)
Late afternoon shadows move across the living room walls as I write this article. As the sun lowers in the southwestern sky, my thoughts linger on the meaning of this holy day—an annual remembrance of our Lord’s last earthly supper with his beloved disciples before his arrest, sham of a trial, and horrific crucifixion. It is Maundy Thursday, 2021.
Maundy Thursday: a yearly commemoration of an ordinary event that occurred long ago. A Passover meal held in the upper room of a house in Jerusalem as the sun set beyond the city walls. A group of women and men—just regular folk—relaxing on the floor around plates of savory food while sharing in conversation about their day. Seated in the midst of this group an ordinary-looking man—the host--with an extraordinary mission that, in a matter of hours, would change the world forever.
An ordinary group of people with their leader as host, sharing in a special meal. Last Maundy Thursday, April 9, 2020, I joined my parishioners at Glenwood United Parish in this special meal, with Christ as the host. The pandemic shutting down in-person worship could not keep us from commemorating that last earthly meal Jesus had with his disciples. We still gathered together and remembered the story as we shared the bread and the cup virtually. A couple present at the meal that evening are now part of the ‘heavenly host,’ thanks to COVID. I now remember them whenever I gather with my fellow sisters and brothers in Christ at SUMC to share of the bread and cup. Just as I always remember my beloved father and other family members who are now members of the heavenly host.
As the sun sets, and the dark shadow of the Good Friday cross looms before us, may we be assured that the One who once hosted a Passover meal with a group of regular folk--his beloved disciples--has something extraordinary waiting for us beyond the cross!