calendar May 22, 2019 in Assembly, Communications

Laments of a Death-and-Resurrection People

“It is time for our inadequate dreams to die in order for Christ to rise in us, and our church.”

This observation by one pastor to Bishop Patricia A. Davenport grounded the preaching, prayer and lament during the opening worship service of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod’s 2019 Assembly. Several preachers and prayer leaders explored the challenge and promises for the church today through the lens of the encounter with Jesus along the Emmaus Road (Luke 24:13-35).

The service opened with a communal lament for changing times and missed opportunities,, and was woven together with singing verses of the hymn with the refrain: “It is well with my soul.”

“We say, that was then, and this is now,” but the implications of these disciples’ experience are relevant for the situation in which we serve God and the world, the bishop said.


“…But we had hoped that (Jesus) was the one to redeem Israel.” (24:21)

The story begins with Cleopas and friend encountering a man they do not realize is Jesus as they leave the city and the breaking news of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion. They are devastated because the one they thought was the Messiah was executed instead.

Like them, “some of us had hoped that children and young families would save us,” said the Rev. Bryan Penman of St. Mark’s, Conshohocken. Yet “they’re busy and don’t have the time to volunteer the way we used to. … (A)nd they don’t understand tithing.”

Fellow preacher the Rev. Lydia Posselt, of Family of God, Buckingham, added that some churches counted on their buildings to see them through, yet “we are burdened under the weight of massive maintenance projects” and “saddled…with large mortgages that have been drains on our ministry.”

“We find the solutions we have turned to in the past are not working for…the challenges of ministry today,” Penman added.


“Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things…” (24:26)

After Cleopas shares recent events and his discouragement, Jesus chides them for being “slow of heart” (24:25) to believe the prophets. His suffering is foreshadowed in scripture.

“Was it necessary for three church bodies to die” to be reborn as the ELCA, The bishop asked? She related a litany of losses suffered since the denomination was formed in 1988: Reductions from 186 SEPA congregations to 146 – “and counting”. Nine conferences becoming eight; 14 full-time synod staff down to 9 today.

“Yes, beloved, it was necessary…to give us reasons to collaborate, consolidate and merge – for the sake of the Gospel,” the bishop said.

“We are a death-and-Resurrection church,” she said. “God isdoing a new thing, but it is not the way we want it. (Yet) I understand through the words of scripture that God’s way is not our way.”


“Stay with us, because it is almost evening…” (24:29)

Despite Jesus’ in-depth interpretation of the scriptures relating to his work, the travelers do not recognize him as the one they had hoped for. Yet they invite him, seemingly a complete stranger, to stay with them, Posselt observed.

“Isn’t that what being a disciple on the road is all about? Welcoming one another, creating space for all of our stories and our experiences… because they areJesus?” she asked?


“Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road…?” (24:31-32)

Finally, it is the breaking of the bread that causes them to see Jesus’ true identity. We, too, must remain open to seeing what God is doing right in front of us.

“We the holy people continue to see God in the stories of our faith…”, in a table set “for all people, no matter where they are in their faith journey,” Penman said. “God continues to show up and remind us that it is well.”

“There is no Zantac® that will take care of this holy heartburn,” he said. “This is the burning of faith…that calls us, that renews us — the burning heart of the beloved community.”


“Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.” (24:35)

“Beloved we each met Jesus in the waters of baptism,” the bishop said. “In him we live, we move, we have our being.” And we share fellowship at the communion table: For rich or poor; black, white, or brown; gay, straight, or queer; for men and women – “the communion talbe is the gathering place of the beloved community.”

“But we do not linger at the table, she said. “The Holy Spirit causes us to run to tell others about Jesus.” – Bob Fisher