Message from the Pastor

Rev. Sundar Samuel

Rev. Sundar Samuel

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

I want you to think about those special places in your life. It might have been at your grandmother’s or mother’s kitchen table where over milk and cookies questions of faith were answered, or the reality of God became clear in a way it never had before. It may have been a particular Vacation Bible School or a sermon. It may have been the moment one of your children was baptized or accepted Christ for themselves. It may have been the altar rail or the lake or just a picnic table at summer camp. But I want you to think about those sacred spaces and sacred places in your life.

For me, its hard to nail down just a few. There’s mountain top over nine thousand feet high overlooking the rolling hills below where Nilgiris Tea leaves were grown. The foothills of blue mountains where I was attending a month-long camp for college teens where I surrendered to the call to preach. But then there are all those other places like the hospital rooms where I held each of my daughters, grandsons, and granddaughters after they were born. Or where grandchildren were baptized.

There was Camp China Lake in Maine or camp in Cooperstown where I’ve encountered God in so many ways both through my own experiences like the Walk to Emmaus and through seeing God encounter campers, pilgrims and even those in jails and others in powerful ways.

And then there’s this place. This is sacred territory. The heritage of this congregation. And just this space. We claimed this ground for God, and we built this building for God. And for many of us, it holds deep significance. And while we are engaged in the work and ministry of this place, it is, in a sense, a home away form home. A haven and a place of rest and renewal.

Jesus, who had no home of his own, had one of those places which he could call a haven and a place of rest in his life. It’s mentioned in the passage of Luke 24:44-53. The place I’m talking about is Bethany. Bethany is about two miles from Jerusalem. But for Jesus, Bethany wasn’t just some place close to Jerusalem. Bethany was a haven, a place of rest, renewal, and refreshment. A place of relaxation. A home away from home.

Rev. Grace Mathieu, biblical story teacher, pointed out the importance of Bethany to Jesus and just how it was a haven, a place of real refreshment. A place of relaxation. A home away form home. So, let’s look a little at Bethany and what took place there in Jesus’ life and ministry. 

Bethany was the home of some of Jesus’ closest friends. They play significant parts in Jesus’ ministry, but they are not listed amongst the Disciples. Bethany was the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. And the course of Jesus’ ministry, he spends considerable time in their home.

The conversations and interactions of Jesus with this family shows that there was a close, intimate, family like relationship. That didn’t just spring up overnight. Jesus spent lots of time in this home. It was, for him a home away from, home. And for someone without a home, it was special.

It was in Bethany, that Jesus’ friend, Lazarus died. Martha sent word to Jesus that Lazarus was sick, but Jesus decided to delay his trip to Bethany for two more days. In the meantime, Lazarus died, they held the funeral, and he was buried. Death and grief were trying to show Jesus who was boss. They had the power. They were in control. Lazarus was dead, what would Jesus do about it. Jesus stayed away an extra two days. But then, four days after Lazarus was buried, Jesus showed up in Bethany. One sister was upset with him. The other met him expectantly. And Jesus wept. Death is death. Grief always accompanies death even if you know there’s a resurrection. Grief, death still grip your heart and soul and ring the tears out of you.

Jesus wept. Both for his friend and for his own future. Jesus wept. But tears and grief weren’t the end. Jesus came to show death and grief and the entire world who was really in charge. “Roll away the stone!” he said. He’s been dead four days. “Roll away the stone!” Jesus said. But what about the smell? “Roll away the stone!” Jesus said. Afar all the objections had been raised, there was only one thing to do. They rolled away his stone. Jesus stood at the entrance of the tomb and called to his friend in a loud enough voice to wake the dead. “Lazarus, come out.” And he did. Jesus had them unbind Lazarus. All this took place in Bethany.

In the Gospel of Matthew, we also have the story of Jesus visiting in the house of Simon the Leper, who also lived in Bethany. This took place six days before Passover. Simon had been a leper, but Jesus had healed him. Somehow the name stuck. It was in Simon the Leper’s home, while Jesus was eating supper and talking with a group of Pharisees, that Mary, the sister of Lazarus came, knelt at Jesus’ feet, and anointed them with costly perfume. Then dried Jesus’ feet with her hair.

So many momentous events took place in Jerusalem. And so many of those events either took place or had their beginnings in Bethany. For Jesus, Bethany is a haven, a place of rest and refreshment. A place of relaxation and renewal. A home away from home.

For the Disciples, Bethany became a place of blessing. A holy place. A sacred place. A place that would forever live in their hearts like the sacred places in our lives, it was to Bethany that Jesus returned after the resurrection. He took the disciples with him, and Saint Luke says, Jesus “lifting up his hand, blessed them.” This is where I’m told we get the notion of a benediction being a blessing. We lift our hands just like Jesus did. We lift our hands and pass on the blessing of Christ which had been passed from the disciples down through the centuries to each other. May you and yours have a blessed Spring and you experience all the newness of life in Christ Jesus.

God’s peace is with you!

Pastor Sundar