On faith: Visitors expected
By: Rev. John Dietz, Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Two Harbors, Lake County News Chronicle
Where I served as a pastor before coming to Two Harbors, we had two annual “folding chair” events. By folding chair events, I mean there were two days when we actually had to use folding chairs to accommodate the crowds at worship. On Christmas Eve and Easter Sunday we filled every seat in the sanctuary, including the balcony, and then we started setting up folding chairs so people would be able to sit during worship.
Jesus had a number of “folding chair” events in his lifetime, but ironically, neither of the ones we call Christmas and Easter were well attended. When he was born, it was just Mary, Joseph, and some shepherds. When he died – depending on which gospel you’re reading – there were only a handful of friends. And by Easter Sunday, it was him and a few women.
Lots of people wanted to be around Jesus when he was healing the sick. The crowds were so thick at times that people resorted to going through rooftops just to get at him, or climbing trees just to see him. There were days he actually had to get in a boat and escape because people wouldn’t leave him alone. At one count, there were five thousand people following Jesus - when he was giving away free food.
But on the first Easter - on that Sunday morning, only a few women went out to the cemetery where they expected to find Jesus’ dead body in a tomb. That’s where they had laid him on Friday after he had been removed from the cross on which he had died. None of them expected anything but the sad reminder that their friend had been murdered and was no longer with them.
When we least expect it, God seems to be at work. That’s the reason for all the surprise and excitement on that first Easter. Not just that the tomb was empty - but that the one who had been buried in that tomb was now alive. Nobody, not even his closest friends, expected it. And yet, before it was even light out that morning, before the women woke up to go out to the cemetery, God was rolling away stones and raising the dead.
Of course, news like that spreads and people want to hear about it—sometimes even large crowds of people. Sometimes we even have to get out the folding chairs for everybody to have a place to sit. And it might be the hardest work our church ushers do all year - but it’s the most rewarding work. Making room for more people to join us is not a bad thing. Finding a place for everyone to hear what kind of a powerful, loving, life-giving God we have is really no trouble at all. Really, we’re happy to have you join us.
If you have been away from the church for a while (a couple of weeks, a couple of decades ... you decide what “a while” is) this is a really good Sunday to come back. If you’ve never really been a church person but you’ve wondered what we do, or who we are, why not join us on Easter? We welcome you. In fact, we’re kind of expecting you – so don’t disappoint us.