(The weekly GPS Small Group Guide can be downloaded in .PDF format from the individual sermon page, found at http://www.cor.org/worship in Sermon Archives)
The Worst Thing is Never the Last Thing
A Grow-Pray-Study guide for small groups
This guide uses the Scripture readings from the daily “GPS” study guide. Group members may read the daily readings before the group meeting, or read the verses aloud when the group meets. The group may subdivide into two or three smaller groups, each discussing a set of the daily readings and the matching questions on page 2, or the entire group may discuss those questions together. We pray that, whatever pattern of study you choose, the Holy Spirit will weave God’s Word into the life and heart of each group member.
Even Jesus’ death didn’t dim the women’s loyalty. They returned to Jesus’ tomb “very early in the morning on the first day of the week.” They went to care for his body as soon as the Sabbath laws (which he had challenged) allowed. They didn’t find his body, but did find two men in gleaming clothes who said, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He isn’t here, but has been raised.” They reported this to the eleven, but true to form for their day, “their words struck the apostles as nonsense, and they didn’t believe the women.”
Just as Luke shared details about Jesus’ birth that no other gospel included, his research found this unique story about the resurrection day. Jesus, unrecognized, walked with two disciples discussing recent events. They were disillusioned (“we had hoped”), sad about the crucifixion, and stunned that some women said Jesus’ body was not in the tomb. Note that these two followers gave no sign that they believed the report—just that it puzzled them.
On the road to Emmaus, Jesus interpreted for his discouraged followers “the things written about himself in all the scriptures, starting with Moses and going through all the Prophets.” As he broke and blessed bread for them, they recognized him in a flash of insight and memory. His transformed body disappeared, but they joyfully realized that their hearts were “on fire” as Jesus made the Bible clear.
After meeting the risen Christ at Emmaus, the two disciples rushed back to share the news with the others. As they were speaking, Jesus himself appeared. Luke reported in detail that he was no ghost, but physically alive. Jesus again explained the Scriptures to the disciples, and commissioned them to share his message of repentance and forgiveness of sins. “You are witnesses,” he said, promising that God’s power would help them spread his message.
Luke 24:50-53, Acts 1:1-8
From the gospel of Luke, Jesus’ story continued directly into “volume 2,” the book of Acts. Before leaving earth, Jesus charged his followers to witness to him, but not based on their own courage or cleverness. Instead, they were to wait for the Holy Spirit’s power. Some have even suggested that instead of “Acts of the Apostles,” we might better call Luke’s second volume something like “the Acts of Jesus through the apostles.”
Luke wanted Theophilus (and all other readers) to know Jesus’ story didn’t end in Jerusalem with the cross and the resurrection, or even the ascension. The risen Jesus told his followers that the saving work he had begun would go on through the rest of human history and into eternity. The risen Lord left earth, but two men in white told them this was not the end of Jesus’ story—he would return. His followers devoted themselves to prayer to prepare for the huge task that now lay before them.
To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from http://www.cor.org/guide.
Lord Jesus, King of our hearts, Isaiah said you would be “the prince of peace.” Through your Holy Spirit’s great power, enable and empower us to bring about your vision, your plan for this world. Help us, as members of your diverse, worldwide family of believers, to live out the spirit of love, unity and peace that your Spirit brought about in the first group of believers. Amen.
CONNECT (5-10 minute discussion, at most)
Have the shootings and senseless murders in your area or other areas of America dampened your Easter celebrations? In what ways so these kinds of tragic incidents affect your feelings about Easter? Do you feel more like a member of Christ’s family when you celebrate the risen Christ, even in the face of tragedy?
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY
NOTE: We encourage study groups to have several different Bible translations available for these readings. Reading aloud from the Common English Bible or The Message may help to clarify the meaning of some passages.
Read Luke 24:1-12. How important is the resurrection of Jesus Christ to you personally? To the Christian faith? Why wouldn’t the apostles believe the women? When he saw the empty tomb, what might have gone through Peter’s mind? How significant is it that Jesus told the disciples in advance that he would rise after dying?
Read Luke 24:13-24. Based on these verses, how widespread was the awareness of Jesus’ suffering and death in Jerusalem? Why might this have had a significant impact on the spread of Christianity? Why didn’t the two disciples recognize Jesus? What preconceived ideas might Cleopas have had about a messiah? What kinds of preconceived ideas can affect how we understand and live our Christian faith? Do we fully understand everything about the Bible? Do we trust the Bible even if our understanding might be flawed? Has God ever changed your understanding of some passages in the Bible? What factors brought about this new insight?
Read Luke 24:25-32. How would you feel if Jesus, in person, explained the scriptures to you? How would these disciples feel after Jesus appeared to them, having not believed in the resurrection? How must they have reacted when he disappeared? What spiritual “aha” moments have you had in your walk of faith? The disciples urged Jesus to stay. How do we, as Christians, go about doing that? How have you learned to recognize his presence in the midst of everyday life?
Read Luke 24:33-49. In verse 48, who was Jesus speaking to? What does being a witness mean? How can we be witnesses for Christ? What kind of “testimony” does God seek? In what ways has your faith in Jesus changed your life? How is your life better as a result of your faith? What makes you believe Jesus has the authority and power to forgive sin?
Read Luke 24:50-53, Acts 1:1-8. What was the key notion of the “strategic plan” Christ laid out for his followers? When will the plan be completed? What responsibility does each of us have to continue working on that plan? Do we, like the disciples of that time, have the Holy Spirit to help us carry out Christ’s plan? Might some of us, perhaps unconsciously, tend to “go it alone? What are the risks associated with that? How do we prevent it?
Read Acts 1:9-14. You have now read and discussed Luke’s story of the risen Christ. Is that story over? Is Jesus’ plan for the world over? What will signal the culmination of his plan? If asked, could you tell someone else the story of the Christ – his life, suffering, death and resurrection? Could you recount the story of his love and saving grace? Are you willing to tell the story if the opportunity arises? Christ preached unity and love. Do you feel united with your fellow men and women, regardless of their race, color, ethnicity, gender, color and background?
From last week: Did you begin each day in prayer, remembering that this was Easter week? Did you seek during the week to reflect all that Christ is, all that he has done for us and all that he has and is teaching us? Was the week special for you?
FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT
From Pastor Adam Hamilton’s sermon, April 20, 2014:
My plan this week was to focus on Mary Magdalene and the women, the first to arrive on Easter morning to find that Christ was risen. Last Sunday afternoon I received word that three people had been shot…ten minutes later I learned that two of these were members of our church….Dr. Bill Corporon and his grandson 14-year-old grandson, Reat, died at the Jewish Community Center. Reat was confirmed here last year and was a volunteer in our Sunday night children’s program. Bill and his wife Melinda joined earlier this year….Terri LaManno is the aunt of Resurrection West staff member Kevin Euston. My Easter sermon will blend parts of the sermon I had intended to preach with ideas from the sermon I preached at Bill and Reat’s service on Friday.
Tragedies like this week’s elicit one of two responses about faith in God from people. Some see tragedies and say, “This shows that there is no God. If there is a God he is a monster, or impotent, or both.” Sometimes what they’ve heard from Christians leads them to this conclusion. It is common to hear Christians say, in the face of tragedy, things like, “Everything happens for a reason.”
We’ve likely all said this. But it is good for us to question this idea. The phrase “Everything happens for a reason” implies that God has a plan we cannot see, and this tragedy was a part of his plan. What we often don’t think about is that this implies that God actually intended the tragedy to take place. We call what happened last Sunday a hate crime committed by a warped personality who will be tried for murder. How could we believe God intended for this to happen? I remember one of you telling me once that after your child died someone told them, “This must have been the will of God.” The woman turned away from God for years, believing any God who would will the death of her six year old was not a God she would wish to worship.
I so appreciated Mindy, Reat’s mom and Bill’s daughter. As she was interviewed throughout the week, she said over and over, “We do not believe this was the will of God.” Methodists believe God is just, loving and merciful. The Bible is the story, from Genesis 2 to Revelation 18, of how human beings reject the will of God and misuse their freedom. This brings pain and brokenness and in Milton’s words, paradise is lost.
I spent Monday listening to past interviews with the man who committed this crime. He believed people of Anglo-Saxon descent were victims of oppression by Jews. He told himself this story day after day, year after year. He found friends who believed the story and would tell it to each other. That became his defining story. It ultimately filled his heart with hatred and warped his soul.
For Christians, our defining story is that there is a God who created all things, whose nature is love. He came to us in Jesus Christ to show us the way, the truth and the life. He called us to love our neighbor and our enemies. He called us to forgive. He commanded us to show compassion for, and to help the weak, the vulnerable, the hungry and thirsty. He ultimately died as a king for his people, and from the cross he cried out to God, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” On the third day he rose from the dead, demonstrating God’s power over evil, sin and death. This story shapes our lives, our understanding of the world and our place in it, and is meant to lead us to love and compassion and hope….
Early Sunday morning Mary Magdalene went to Jesus’ tomb. She was a very important disciple. She exemplifies, in Luke’s gospel, a nobody who became a somebody. Mary was from the town of Magdala on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. She was single, with no children. Luke tells us that Jesus cast seven demons out of her. In the first century demons were considered the cause of any unexplained medical condition or mental illness. Maybe she suffered from depression, or was bi-polar. Whatever her demons, Jesus set her free. And she’d begun to follow Jesus and the disciples, hanging on every word Jesus said.
In the first century women, while valued and loved, were also viewed as less than men. A line from a common prayer dating around that century used by Jewish men said, “God I thank you that I am not a woman.” Josephus, the first century Jewish historian wrote, “The woman, says the Law, is in all things inferior to the man.” Rabbi Eleazar ben Hurcanus, who lived shortly after Jesus wrote, “Let the Law be burned rather than entrusted to a woman.” Men could divorce their wives for no reason. They were often left poor if their husbands divorced them or if their husbands died, the property being passed on to the male heirs. And it would be nearly impossible to imagine a prominent rabbi counting women among his disciples.
But Jesus did. Luke in particular tells us Jesus regularly stopped what he was doing to minister to women who were sick or in need. Luke tells us that at least six women travelled with the disciples, maybe more, and only Luke tells us they provided much of the funds for the work of Jesus and the disciples. And Mary Magdalene, likely rejected and discarded by her own people, became chief among these female disciples. She loved Jesus and demonstrated remarkable courage in standing at the cross as the male disciples hid. And on Easter morning as they were still in hiding she went to the tomb, finding the stone rolled away. And then, as she wept in the garden, the risen Christ spoke to her….
One of the texts I preached from at the service on Friday was Paul’s words in Romans 12: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” This is precisely what we are called to do as Easter people. We serve a crucified and resurrected Messiah. Therefore we remain steadfast, not afraid in the face of evil, and we give ourselves to the work of the Lord. There were over 6,000 people who were here in person or joined us on line for the funeral. And we spoke about overcoming the evil that led to Bill and Reat’s death by practicing love. We challenged those present to honor them by choosing to stand up for the others, to let no evil talk come out of our mouths, as Paul says, but only what is useful for building up. As Easter people we are Christ’s agents and instruments to bring good from evil, to bring love where there is hate, and to bring hope where there is despair….
In Buechner’s famous words, Easter means the worst thing is never the last thing. We can and will survive the tragedies that happen in life. Christ promises that this life is not the end, only the beginning. As people whose defining story is the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, we’re called to overcome evil with good and to be Christ’s instruments to bring hope to our world.
And that leads me to these concluding words. For the last 24 years, I have ended my sermon with the same words. People ask me from time to time, “Do you really believe this story that Mary Magdalene found the tomb empty, that Jesus rose from the dead, that evil and death will not have the final words—that the worst thing is never the last thing?” My response is always the same: “I not only believe it, I’m counting on it.” Reat and Bill’s families are counting on it. I invite you to count on it too.
Easter Traditions from Around the World
Kids in the U.S. expect eggs and candy from the Easter bunny. German immigrants who brought the practice to this country in the 1700s believed that rabbits and eggs symbolize fertility and rebirth. Other cultures have their own, unique Easter customs.
Children in Finland go begging in the streets with sooty faces and scarves around their heads, carrying broomsticks, coffeepots and bunches of willow twigs. In some parts of Western Finland, people burn bonfires stemming from the belief that the flames ward off witches who fly around on brooms between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
Pouring water on one another is a Polish Easter tradition called Smingus-Dyngus. On Easter Monday, boys try to drench other people with buckets of water, squirt guns or anything they can get their hands on. Legend says girls who get soaked will marry within the year. The refreshing tradition has its origins in the baptism of Polish Prince Mieszko on Easter Monday in 966 AD.
Don’t forget a fork if you’re in the French town of Haux on Easter Monday. Each year a giant omelet is served up in the town’s main square. Napoleon and his army stopped in a small town and ate omelets. Napoleon liked his so much that he ordered the townspeople to gather their eggs and make a giant omelet for his army the next day.
On the Greek island of Corfu, people throw pots, pans and other earthenware out of their windows, smashing them on the street. Some believe the throwing of the pots welcomes spring, symbolizing the new crops that will be gathered in the new pots.
Easter is such a popular time for Norwegians to read crime novels that publishers actually come out with special “Easter Thrillers.” It started in 1923 when a book publisher promoted a new crime novel on the front pages of newspapers.
On Good Friday in Rome, the Pope commemorates the Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) at the Colosseum: A huge cross with burning torches illuminates the sky. On Sunday, thousands congregate in St. Peter’s Square to await the Pope’s blessing.
In the Czech Republic and Slovakia, men spank women with handmade willow whips decorated with ribbons. The branches are supposed to transfer the tree’s vitality and fertility to the women. This playful spanking is in good fun and isn’t meant to cause pain.
On Holy Thursday in the Medieval town of Verges, Spain, the traditional “dansa de la mort” or “death dance” is performed. To reenact scenes from The Passion, everyone dresses in skeleton costumes and parades through the streets.
“Sprinkling,” a popular Hungarian Easter tradition, is observed which is also known as “Ducking Monday.” Boys playfully sprinkle perfumed water on girls and ask for a kiss. People used to believe that water had a cleaning, healing and fertility-inducing effect.
Easter week is over, but our Easter experience shouldn’t be. Make a special effort to infuse the meaning of Easter in your day-to-day life. Find ways to daily increase your prayer time, extend love and kindnesses to others and seek peace and unity. Next week, share your experiences with your group.