The pre-launch team of the Tennessee-Western Kentucky Annual Conference is preparing weekly devotionals for leaders during this Easter Season.
WEEK OF APRIL 20, 2020 – Change
Read: Acts 9:1-17
There have been a lot of changes in our world lately. We have changed the way that we have church. Kids have changed the way that they have school. Adults have changed the way they go to work. Many have suddenly found themselves without work. Even routine tasks like going to the grocery store are suddenly major ordeals, filled with face masks and gloves and a general sense of dystopia.
A few months ago, just before life as we knew it began to change, I visited the Frist Art Museum in Nashville. I wanted to see a traveling exhibit with original artwork from the acclaimed children’s book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, illustrated by Eric Carle. The exhibit was filled with frame after frame of intricate collages – not just caterpillars, but brown bears and blue horses, fireflies and hermit crabs, and a flock of rubber duckies sailing across the sea. It was beautiful and calming and wonderful. Impressively, it was all made out of tiny, separate pieces that were carefully brought together from different sheets and paints to reveal the artist’s vision.
But let’s go back to the classic: the caterpillar.
When I was a child, there was one autumn when there were caterpillars everywhere. My friends and I would each adopt one as a pet at recess. We picked up the furry little creatures and pushed them on the swings until the bell rang. In retrospect, I’m sure that was awful for the caterpillar. A caterpillar lives a predictable life. They crawl, they eat, and they tolerate the whims of eight-year-olds. Life goes on.
Of course, change is coming for the caterpillar. One day, they weave something called a cocoon, and they hide inside of it. We can’t see what is happening while the caterpillar is in the cocoon, but God knows. God always knows what is happening.
After a long time, the caterpillar comes back out. But it isn’t a caterpillar anymore…It’s a butterfly! Now how did that happen? God made something new and beautiful. What a big change! We don’t even call it a caterpillar anymore. We call it a butterfly. It’s the same creature…but God made such a big change, that it needs a different name.
The world is full of change, and so is the Bible. Acts 9:1-17 tells about a man named Saul. He changed, too…rather like a caterpillar changes into a butterfly.
At first, Saul was an enemy of Christ-followers. He was arresting people for believing that Jesus was the Son of God. But one day, while he was traveling down the road on his way to Damascus, something amazing happened. Saul saw a big bright light, and he heard the voice of Jesus!
After that happened, he couldn’t see. His sight was gone. Saul must have been so scared. He stayed in a house in Damascus for three days, not eating or drinking anything. Then, one day, a man named Ananias came to see him. Ananias said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 9:17, NIRV). Ananias put his hands on Saul. And, suddenly, Saul could see! After that, he believed that Jesus really was the Son of God.
God had changed Saul’s heart. It was such a big change that, according to Christian tradition, people didn’t call him Saul anymore. Now, they called him Paul. That is generally how we remember him, too; not as Saul, the enemy of Christians, but as Paul, the apostle.
Saul had done a lot of mean things to the people who believed in Jesus. But now, he was Paul – and Paul did wonderful things for God! He wrote letters of encouragement and guidance to fledgling churches, even while he was imprisoned. Several of these letters are now included in the New Testament, where they continue to lead people to God today.
God can make amazing things happen through change.
I don’t know if caterpillars know what will happen when they go into the cocoon. I don’t really know how they even know to weave the cocoon in the first place. Yet, it happens, and God uses this sheltered time to introduce radical change in the life of the caterpillar. Where they once could only crawl, they now can fly! Can you imagine? All because they spent some time away from the world.
Saul certainly didn’t know that his life would be changed on the road to Damascus. But, suddenly, there was the voice of Jesus in his ears and the loss of sight from his eyes. Paul, too, suddenly sheltered away from the world. Acts 9:11 says he stayed for three days in a house in Damascus, neither eating nor drinking until God sent Ananias to lay hands on him and cause the scales to fall from his eyes. Then, like the crawling caterpillar that has turned into the flying butterfly, his whole worldview changed in an instant.
As we shelter away from the world – social distancing, working from home, homeschooling kids, and sanitizing everything – I wonder if we aren’t also in a sort of cocoon. It is so easy to focus on what we have lost. Perhaps we need to pause and ask ourselves: what change could God be working in our world through this mess of uncertainty? What gifts has the upheaval to our daily life already brought to us? How will we be different when we finally emerge one day?
Take some time today to talk to God about these things. Share your fears, your guilt, your anxiety. Ask God to reveal the gifts that God has already given you in this last month, and to open your eyes to the positive change that can come from this time.
Remember: God knows what is happening inside the cocoon. And God knows what will happen after we break free.
Written by Celia Fuller, a provisional deacon in the Tennessee Conference of the United Methodist Church and chairperson of the pre-launch Tennessee-Western Kentucky Conference Children’s Discipleship Team.
WEEK OF APRIL 13, 2020 – Christ is Risen!
Read: Matthew 28:1-10
Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! This opening greeting on Easter Sunday, the sound of trumpets, Easter lilies, crowded pews, everyone in their Easter finest. These are some of the images and sounds that make up my Easter memories. This year is different though. Most of us celebrated Easter from home. We gathered in spirit and celebration but not in person. It felt weird and strange, but the tomb was still empty! Christ is risen indeed! This is still a time of celebration and of joy. I hope this week you will find time to continue to celebrate, to mark the occasion, and to find rest. The week after Easter is usually a time for pastors and volunteers and staff to take a breath and break after Holy Week. While Holy Week was different this year, we are all in need of breath and a break still. We have been carrying heavy burdens of grief and trauma collectively as events got canceled, as plans changed, as we pivoted to doing ministry in a new way, as we cared for ourselves and others from a distance. So this week after Easter, celebrate and rest: have a dance party, make a special meal, do something creative, spend time in nature, take a nap, whatever will bring you joy. Take heart friends. Even in this unusual Easter season, Christ lives and that is worth celebrating.
Ideas for Celebration and Rest:
Put on your favorite music and have a dance party
Cook a favorite meal
Spend time in nature
Make a poster that says Alleluia or Christ is Risen and post in your front window to share the good news
Take a nap
Anything that brings you joy!
God of everlasting life, we give thanks for your victory over the power of death. Renew our bodies and spirits this day and make us people of hope and joy, now and forever. Alleluia! Amen!
Written by Rev. Maggie Jarrell, Minister to Children and Families at West End UMC. Maggie is a member of the TNUMC NextGen Operational Team and a member of the pre-launch Tennessee-Western Kentucky Conference Children’s Discipleship Team.
WEEK OF APRIL 6, 2020 – Jesus Heals a Blind Man
“He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” John 9:11
I have read the story of the blind man many times in my life. This week, I reconnected with it as I was prepping my children’s sermon. Reading it this week certainly hit differently. This week I think I understand the emotions of the blind man better than before. Use your imagination for a moment and think about living in a crisis. Pretty difficult? Unfortunately, it is not. In the current pandemic, we find ourselves our emotions may be heavily affected.
I personally have experienced grief, disappointment, anger, sadness, loneliness, disbelief, and the list goes on and on. I cannot say for certain, but I’m sure those are emotions the blind man knew well. Walking through life feeling like there was nothing about his situation he had control over. I think we can all relate there. COVID-19 is not anything we have any control over. We can use precautionary measures and even follow the CDC’s recommendations to a T, but ultimately we are not in control of what this virus can do.
I want to challenge you to change your perspective. What if the self quarantines, shutdowns, cancellations, and postponements, are the mud? They are the things allowing us to prepare for a new vision. Many of us know the wise words in the psalm, “Be still and know”, what if this is a season of us doing that? What if in this season we are called to be still in a time of confusion and chaos, and figure out a little bit more of who we know GOD to be? The blind man did not know JESUS to be a healer personally until he placed a faith so bold, his sight was restored.
So even though we have many emotions about our current state, use the time to reflect and discern who GOD is for you. Think of the things that are stopping you from experiencing new sight. And lastly remember to love GOD, everyone you meet, and yourself. Even the blind can experience GOD’s love.
This post was written by Josh Shaw. Josh is the Director of Children’s Ministries at St. John’s United Methodist Church in Memphis, TN.