The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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March 24, 2013

'Tremendous hope' | Clergy will deliver messages of joy, victory on Easter

Area ministers will deliver messages of hope and victory in their Easter Sunday sermons.

For Christians, Easter is the most important festival and the one celebrated with the greatest joy because it marks the Resurrection of Christ.

Orthodox Christians who follow the Gregorian calendar will celebrate the holiday on May 5.

Area clergy are inspired to bring the good news of the Resurrection to their flocks.

The Most Rev. Mark L. Bartchak, bishop of the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, calls on the Roman Catholic faithful to be vigilant during the Easter season.

In a recent conversation about Easter, Bartchak was asked by a fourth-grader, “Why didn’t Mary Magdalene recognize Jesus after he rose from the dead?”

While the question was posed with the curiosity of a child, he recognized that she also was seeking to deepen her faith in the fundamental Easter message: Christ is risen.

The Resurrection

During his conversation with the grade-school children, Bartchak was convinced they believe and understand the effects of the Resurrection.

“They did not hesitate to tell me that because of his death and Resurrection, Jesus Christ has overcome sin and death and opened the gates of heaven for us who believe in him,” Bartchak said.

But he felt obliged to answer the young girl’s question about Mary Magdalene.

“In the Gospel (John 20:11-18), we learn that Mary Magdalene was the first disciple to see and speak with the risen Christ,” Bartchak said.

The encounter took place in the garden outside the empty tomb. Mary began weeping when she saw the empty tomb. She was afraid someone took the Lord’s body. And to make her more upset, she saw two angels who spoke to her.

As Mary Magdalene turned to leave, she saw a man and thought he was the gardener. Mary asked if he had taken the body of Jesus. The man was Jesus, but she did not recognize him; at least not at first.

Moment of reflection

“The question made me reflect on the mystery of the Resurrection in a way that we might not think of at Easter or other times,” Bartchak said.

“Mary Magdalene did not recognize Jesus because of her sadness over his death on the cross. In her grief, she was not able to recall that Jesus had warned his disciples that they would not understand why he would suffer and die until after he was raised from the dead.”

Bartchak recognizes that even now, the minds and hearts of people can be filled with sadness, confusion or even disbelief because of burdens or unanswered questions.

Why didn’t Mary Magdalene recognize Jesus after he rose from the dead?

“Jesus knew that Mary needed to be recognized at that moment and so he simply called out her name,” Bartchak said.”

Heavy hearts

We want and we need to be recognized when our hearts are burdened or when we have unanswered questions like a fourth-grader.

“Christ Jesus recognizes every one of us whenever we call his name,” Bartchak said.

“He recognizes every one of us as we pray, as we read the word of God, as we receive the sacraments.

“Christ has died. Suffering and death brings sadness. Christ is risen. In his risen glory, Christ recognizes each one of us, even before we recognize him.”

The Rev. Kevin McNamara of St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, 3328 William Penn Ave., Mundys Corner, will deliver a message titled “Let’s Meet at the Empty Tomb.”

‘Christ cares’

“We can meet at the empty tomb with all our cares, concerns and our deepest prayers, knowing that Christ cares for us and loves us so much that he gave up his life for us,” McNamara said.

“We are comforted in all our struggles knowing that as Christ was resurrected from the dead, one day we too will share in his Resurrection, our sins forgiven and be with Christ for eternity. So, let’s meet at the empty tomb and bring all our struggles in this life to Christ.”

‘A Go Ahead God’

The Rev. Larry Rowe, pastor of First United Methodist Church at 436 Vine St. in downtown Johnstown, will tell his congregation about “A Go Ahead God.”

Following the Resurrection, the disciples were waiting in fear that Jesus would confront them about their desertion and denial.

Rowe said Luke gives three Resurrection accounts in which Jesus greets them with “peace be with you.”

“Jesus is not discovered in these accounts by his followers, but he reveals himself at the garden tomb, on the road to Emmaus and in the room where the disciples have gathered,” Rowe said.

“God has always been ahead of us every step along our way. Easter is the greatest ‘go-ahead’ ever taken by Jesus Christ who goes ahead of us into the future. He promised, ‘I go to prepare a place for you.’ ”

Calling Easter the holiest time of the year, Rowe said the greatest fear of humanity is death because people are unable to bridge the gap between life and death.

“As early as childhood, we want someone else to be the first to experience the unknown adventure,” Rowe said.

“We can be confident and assured that death has no sting when passing through the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23). The ‘Go Ahead God’ evidences that those who follow Christ can live victorious lives and that death cannot keep its grip.”

The Rev. David Streets, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church, 425 Luther Road in Richland Township, will delve into the subject of how the Resurrection changes everything in the world.

Power of God

“It gives us hope to face all that life throws at us because it shows us the power of God in life and death,” Streets said.

Streets will speak at Emmanuel’s traditional 9:30 a.m. service as well as at the branch church, Emmanuel West, which meets at 11 a.m. at the Westwood Plaza Theatre in Lower Yoder Township.

Streets will talk about how the Resurrection of Jesus changed Mary Magdalene from a mourner to a missionary.

The text is from John 20.

“The fact that Jesus is alive makes a huge difference in how the Christian views death,” Streets said.

“We no longer need to fear death or weep inconsolably. Easter is a message of tremendous hope.”

At Greater Johnstown Christian Fellowship, 3429 Elton Road in Richland Township, Pastor Gary Tustin will share a message of “What Made the Cross of Christ Different?”

Tustin said while three men were crucified on a cross the Friday before the first Easter, two robbers were executed but Jesus was offered as a sacrifice.

Tustin said it’s important to know that only Pilate, the Roman governor, could sentence a person to death.

But when it came to Jesus, he said, “I find no fault in him.”

Lamb of God

In making that decree, Tustin said Pilate cleared himself of Jesus’ death and unknowingly declared Jesus to be the sinless Lamb of God.

But it was Caiaphas, who after the resurrection of Lazarus, when many Jews were becoming believers, called a council to discuss the matter.

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The council agreed that Jesus must be stopped for fear that Rome would take over the nation of Israel.

Because of Caiaphas, Jesus was turned over to Pilate.

“It was Pilate who had Jesus tied to the whipping post in his judgment hall,” Tustin said.

“Jesus bore 39 stripes on his back, a beating that no man should survive, yet he did so that he could carry his cross and fulfill what he said in John 3:14-15: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. We can look to the cross because Jesus became sin, who knew no sin, paying the penalty for all mankind, that we might become the righteousness of God.”

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