Home Altar: Week of April 4, 2021

by Greg Asimakoupoulos

One-Armed Joy

Easter Sunday, April 4
Mark 16:1-8

It was very early that Easter morning when I was ten years old. Excitedly I accompanied my pastor-father in the dark to an outdoor ecumenical sunrise service. I passed out programs while worshipers gathered. I remember a woman with one arm singing “The Holy City.” (Ten-year-olds remember such details.) I still have that Easter bulletin tucked in my Bible.

In the familiar text we consider today, the women who walked to the graveyard that first Easter morning were not excited. They stumbled in grief. Their beloved rabbi and friend had just died. Their joy had been amputated. What had been normal no longer was. In this season of Covid, we relate, don’t we?

Even when the women are welcomed at the grave with news of Jesus’s resurrection, they aren’t sure how to respond. They are fearful and bewildered. The reference to these candid emotions is refreshing. Against the backdrop of resurrection, Easter people have permission to confront the ongoing challenges of life honestly.

Lord, help us continue to navigate our new normal with a sense of your presence. AMEN.

Living in Death’s Shadow

Monday, April 5
1 Corinthians 15:1-11

In our passage today Paul refers to those who were eyewitnesses to the risen Jesus but then passed away. Against the backdrop of resurrection, there is the admission that death still exists. But those who died knew a secret: Christ’s resurrection has removed death’s sting. Throughout my career, preaching the reality of the resurrection on Easter Sunday has been one of the highlights of my call as a pastor. There is something indescribably wonderful about declaring the central message of our faith with joy and confidence. I’ve always known that Easter is more than just a day. It’s the linchpin of our faith. But it’s only been in the past eight years that I’ve realized when the reality of the resurrection means the most. As a chaplain at one of our Covenant Living retirement campuses, I live in the valley of the shadow of death continually. Yet sadness does not dominate our community. I can attest to the hope that fills the hearts of dying friends who claim the Easter message as the gospel truth.

Lord, allow me to be a means of grace in the lives of family and friends nearing the end of life’s journey. AMEN.

Lessons from the Resurrection Tree

Tuesday, April 6
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

“I will not die but live” (v. 17, NIV). This refrain reminds me of a muchloved tree on our retirement community campus. This 110-year-old weeping willow recently gave us actual reason to weep when without warning, it collapsed in the middle of a summer night. What had been a favorite location for picnics, band concerts, and personal devotions was gone. The arborists removed all the giant limbs and branches, leaving only the trunk. We even held a memorial service for the tree to express our sadness. Within four months, however, green shoots began to emerge from the naked trunk. What had appeared to be dead was very much alive. We began referring to the willow as our resurrection tree. On a campus where death is a constant visitor, our tree is a visible reminder of the truth of Easter. Death does not have the final word.

As Jesus confidently confessed a millennia after the psalmist, “Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:26).

Lord, give me eyes to see the fingerprints of your handiwork of resurrection in the blossoming trees and the flowers of spring. AMEN.

Unmasking Our Joy

Wednesday, April 7
John 20:1-18

A global pandemic has changed the way we look at each other. Masks and face coverings became a regular accessory to our daily wardrobe. Wearing fabric on our faces may minimize the spread of infection, but it also minimizes our ability to recognize the people around us. We long for the day when we can remove our masks permanently.

In today’s passage we learn that Jesus wore a face covering. According to first-century burial customs, dead bodies were wrapped in strips of cloth, mummy-style. A shroud wrapped the body, and a smaller one wrapped the face. When the disciples entered the tomb, they discovered both coverings cast aside. Shrouds and face coverings are for corpses. Neither was necessary any longer. Jesus was alive!

Because of that first Easter, followers of the risen Christ have no need to mask their emotions when their day of dying comes. We don’t have to put on a brave face. We don’t need to hide our fear.

Lord, I look forward to the day we can see each other with unveiled faces. AMEN.

A Memorable Meal

Thursday, April 8
Acts 10:34-43

Of all those times Peter broke bread with the Lord, I can’t help but wonder if the big fisherman was thinking about that day Jesus prepared breakfast for him and the other disciples. They had fished all night without success. When Jesus directed them to cast their nets on the opposite of the boat, they struck gold. As they hauled in their catch, weary and wet, they found the Lord grilling fish and bread on a seaside fire.

No doubt Peter recalled the conversation he had with Jesus immediately following that memorable breakfast. Three times he affirmed his love for his Lord. The lingering shame from his previous three denials was canceled.

There is nothing quite like the contentment that follows the realization that our sins are forgiven and our slate has been wiped clean. Easter is God’s exclamation point on Jesus’s declaration from the cross that our debt has been paid in full. That’s what that famous phrase “it is finished” means!

Lord, with Peter I celebrate your free gift of forgiveness. AMEN.

Staying Alive

Friday, April 9
Isaiah 25:6-9

As a chaplain I spend a lot of time with individuals who are nearing the finish line of their earthly race. I’ve learned to recognize the indicators that point to the end of life. Those who have suffered a massive stroke lose their ability to swallow. When that occurs, death is not far away. Without that involuntary mechanism, a person cannot ingest food (apart from a feeding tube). Swallowing is essential to staying alive.

The prophet Isaiah makes clear that the Creator of life is not on life support. The Lord Almighty is committed to caring for his people. He will nourish them with rich food and fine wine. He will remove their face coverings. And swallowing is no problem for our God. He will swallow death even as he dries our tears. Isaiah’s words are no doubt what the Apostle Paul had in mind when he encouraged the first century church with the implication of Jesus’s resurrection: “Death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Corinthians 15:54). We have reason to be encouraged as well.

Lord, remind me that you are capable of caring for all my needs. AMEN.

A Champion’s Champion

Saturday, April 10
Isaiah 42:10-13

Earlier this week March Madness culminated in the crowning of the national champions in collegiate basketball. Two months ago, the Super Bowl champions celebrated a victorious season. Meanwhile, in the PGA the best golfers in the world compete each weekend in hopes of claiming the coveted FedEx Cup.We like to cheer for champions. There is something about someone who stands out from the rest that captures our attention. Greatness attracts glory. In the case of the Champion we have considered this week, his accomplishment—defeating the enemy of death—attracts our worship. In today’s passage, the prophet likens the Lord to a warrior who rallies the troops and motivates them to fight. What Christ won for us in that first century garden tomb was a strategic battle. The resurrection energizes us as we find ourselves on the frontlines of spiritual conflict. If our ultimate foe has already been conquered, we have reason to hope. Easter is more than a day or even a week. It offers an eternal perspective all year long.

Lord, keep my eyes focused on the empty tomb when doubts fill my heart. AMEN.

About the Author: Greg Asimakoupoulos

I am beginning my ninth year as the full-time chaplain of Covenant Living at the Shores in suburban Seattle. Three decades as a Covenant pastor in California, Illinois, and Washington state prepared me well for this current assignment. I can honestly say this season of ministry is proving to be the most fulfilling. My creative gifts in writing, poetry, and music are finding meaningful expression. Throughout my years in ministry I have pursued opportunities as a freelance writer, writing a dozen books and currently serving as the faith and values columnist for three newspapers. My most recent book, Sheltering in Grace, is a collection of meditations and sermons written for our residents during Covid-19. My wife, Wendy, and I live on Mercer Island. We have three grown daughters and two granddaughters. Our son-in-law is a Covenant youth pastor serving nearby. Although we raised our family in Chicago and love deep dish pizza, we are diehard Seahawks fans. Go Hawks!

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  1. I appreciate your reflections here Greg. Thank you for your ministry as a chaplain and a writer. It was encouraging to be reminded from the example of the women at the tomb that “Easter people have permission to confront the challenges of life honestly.” Easter Sunday, marked two years since my husband, Russ died. There were all sorts of emotions to grapple with on Sunday, and God can handle them. Thank you Greg for the encouragement.

  2. Pastor Greg,
    It was a blessing to have you there at the passing of my Mom and then my Dad.

    Thank you.

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