Dear Members and Friends of First Reformed Church of Bethlehem:
This year, Easter happens the very first day of April 2018. This also happens to be April Fool’s Day. As some of you know well, April 1 is a special day of remembrance for me. It was on April 1 that I was Board Certified by the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education as a Clinical Pastoral Educator (then called a “supervisor”). In 1996 I began as Director of Pastoral Services on …… you know what’s coming ….. April 1, at Albany Medical Center. Am I certified (or certifiable?), was I really Director of Pastoral Care at Albany Med? On the good days (of which there have been many) I claim my office and calling. There have been a few days when I’ve been tempted to say “April Fool!” and walk away.
And then there are the days I prove myself to be a deceiver, an April fool, when I am trying my best to be serious. What happened yesterday morning illustrates my point. After the service someone asked me, “Pastor, how many chapters are there in the Gospel according to Mark?” She went on to explain that she looked for the scripture passage I had printed in the bulletin, and could not find Mark 19:29-48, because Mark’s Gospel is divided into sixteen chapters. She was led down a path that came to a dead end. When I pointed out my intention, and the passage I actually read, Mark 11:1-19, it seemed to make sense to her.
That conversation got me to thinking; how many others noted the glitch but said nothing? How many read the passage ahead of time?
And then the really important question. If we noted next Sunday’s scripture text in this week’s bulletin, or in the newsletter, or both places, would it inspire some of us to read the text a few times during the week? I know that when those attending church have read the text ahead of time, they hear and see the story in unusual ways. It is the Word of God coming alive in us.
This Sunday, the first day of April, Easter Sunday, we welcome members of the confirmation class to make their confession of faith and step into their adult membership in First Reformed Church of Bethlehem. They base their judgment not only on their understanding of the faith through the Creeds, but more importantly, on how they have experienced us. The gospel without words speaks volumes and often overrides what we say. Saint Francis’ well-known comment fits here: “Preach the Gospel always; if necessary, use words.”
It is my intention to include next week’s text in each bulletin, and it is my hope some of you (truthfully I want to say all of you) will find the time to read the text at least once. Wouldn’t it be great if it inspired conversation around the table, or in conversation with friends.
So, this week, come Sunday, there is ample room to “April fool” one another. And we face the empty tomb and the appearances of the risen Christ to refute any charges that his resurrection was a deception. And we are awed at the privilege of hearing the confession of six young people choosing to respond to God’s promise in baptism and choosing to live as Christ’s faithful servants. Welcome to a dynamic and challenging life!
Living as Christ’s faithful servant means living at great risk and with enormous benefit. Annie Dillard comments on Christian life that has grasped the implications of living in this world by Christ’s values and call: “The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.”
The peace of Christ be with you,
Harlan E. Ratmeyer, Pastor