A call to gratitude at Easter
March 6, 2020 by Christine Chakoian
Holy Week and Eastertide are not typically associated with stewardship. It is unlikely that Palm Sunday or Easter would be primetime for a sermon on stewardship. But in its larger sense, stewardship is everywhere in this sacred season: in our gratitude for Christ’s sacrifice, our awe at God’s incalculable blessings, and our commitment to a lifelong calling to service in the Spirit.
April 5 – Palm/Passion Sunday
Holy Week begins with Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1-11). In contrast to the extravagance of human royalty, Jesus fulfills Scripture’s prophecy of the king arriving humbly on a donkey.
Notice that Jesus does not use his Godly powers to summon the donkey; instead, he calls on his disciples to do so, inviting them to direct their will to help fulfill this holy moment. Generosity is present everywhere: in the owner who does not hesitate to let his animal be used according to God’s purpose, and in the crowds who lay not only palms but even garments on the road to greet this humble king.
For many congregations, Palm Sunday is also Passion Sunday (reflecting the reality that many households do not participate in Holy Week services). The lectionary provides the longer reading in Matthew 26:14 to 27:66, or the shorter reading in Matthew 27:11-54.
Whether today, on Maundy Thursday or Good Friday, what better time than Holy Week to point to Jesus’ most extravagant sacrifice for us: the offering of his very life. Even as he faces betrayal by Judas, he shares the Passover meal with his disciples, celebrating the new covenant sealed by the sacrifice of his blood. Even as he endures denial by Peter, humiliation by political and religious powers, and death on the cross, Jesus steadfastly fulfills his calling for our sake. The magnitude of his offering puts to shame the tokens of loyalty we bring to God. Yet even more importantly, may the power of his sacrifice move us to lay down our offerings – indeed, all that we have, and all that we are – in gratitude at the foot of the cross.
April 12 – Easter Sunday
April 19 – 2nd Sunday of Easter
April 26 – 3rd Sunday of Easter
Our gratitude for Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is followed by our awe at God’s astonishing gift of new life in the resurrection. John 20:1-18 and John 20:19-31 together paint a picture of the risen Lord meeting us not in a prescribed or limited way, but with the generous gift of meeting us wherever we are. First, as Mary Magdalene, Simon Peter, and the “other disciple” go to the tomb and find it empty. Even in their confusion, this revelation is enough for the other disciple to see and believe (John 20:1-10).
Next, Mary Magdalene stays at the tomb, weeping in grief. She sees Jesus, but mistakes him for the gardener. Jesus offers her what she needs to believe: to hear her name from his lips, which transforms her grief to ecstasy (John 20:11-18).
Then, Jesus appears to the disciples in the upper room, where they have gathered in fear. He offers them peace, and shows them the wounds in his hands and side. Seeing him, and hearing his voice, their fear is transformed to joy (John 20:19-23). Next, Jesus appears again, this time to Thomas, who has not yet seen. To him, Jesus offers not only sound and sight, but invites him even to touch his hands and side. This offering alone is enough for Thomas to believe, and his doubt is transformed to belief (John 20:24-29). Finally, Jesus turns to us, saying: “Blessed are those who have not yet seen and yet have come to believe” (John 20:29), echoed by the Gospel writer: “These words are written so that you may come to believe … and that believing, you might have life in his name” (John 20:30-31). The ongoing offering of the Gospel will never end, so that generation after generation might know the good news.
Next, the lectionary moves to Luke, and the walk to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). Again, Jesus meets his followers where they are, with a gift they can receive. This time, he walks alongside them, hearing their grief and doubt, and only then interpreting the Scripture. Through his humble accompaniment and patient revelation of Scripture, he gives them the gifts they need to have hope. Then, he does even more: he breaks bread with them, revealing his presence as the risen Lord, transforming their confusion into breathtaking clarity.
Jesus’ persistence to meet his followers wherever they are, in whatever form they need, urges us to consider how we offer our gifts as well. Rather than “one size fits all,” there are many ways our offerings can be made. Rather than simply assess what amount of time or money we can offer, Jesus’ model urges us to consider what gifts are most needed. The form may change; the timing may shift; for in all things, the stewardship of our presence is offered not for our glory, but for the sake of the world that God so loves.
Rev. Dr. Christine (Chris) Chakoian serves as Pastor and Head of Staff of Westwood Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles. She has served in this position since August 2019. She is called to lead the congregation in the ways of Christ. She comes to us from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary where she served as Vice President for Seminary Advancement. Her previous calls include Pastor/Head of Staff at First Presbyterian Church of Lake Forest, IL, and Community Presbyterian Church in Clarendon Hills, IL, as well as Associate Pastor at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Portland, OR, Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago, and Overbrook Presbyterian Church in Columbus, Ohio. She is married to John Shustitzky, Director of the Doctoral program in Applied Clinical Psychology at the L.A. campus of the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. Their daughter and son-in-law, Anna and Spencer Sohn, live in Albuquerque.