Did you know the early church did not originally practice holy week? Holy Week was not a thing in the early first couple centuries. Rather, what we think of as Holy Week (Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday) was smashed together in one full celebration on a singular day. This day was typically what we would call Easter Sunday, but was celebrated during the Passover, or Pascha. On the Pascha, Christians would gather to celebrate our “Paschal Lamb (Jesus)” who had been crucified but raised from the dead. A full day of walking through the last days of Jesus’ life would commence on Easter Sunday. However, at some point in the 4th Century, the one day celebration was broken apart into a full week’s worth of celebrations and services as we know it now today.
As Church Historian James White notes, “The reason for this dissolution apparently first occurred in Jerusalem...a need was felt to hold a separate commemoration for each event at the holy place where it had occurred in order to serve the throngs of pilgrims who were arriving from all over the world.” In other words, as people flocked to Jerusalem to remember the miraculous last days of Jesus' life and resurrection, the Church altered its traditions to help people worship God. They expanded the one day celebration to allow more people to participate. We know this from historical records which have been discovered. In fact, a Spanish woman living in 383 AD named Egeria, had taken notes on the events and those notes survive to this day! The week, as she notes, wasn’t originally called “Holy Week,” but “The Great Week.” While originally developed out of necessity for the vast amounts of people flocking to the city, it became an opportunity for pilgrims to savor the last days of Jesus’ life. It allowed them to walk alongside Jesus, experience through sight, sound, and location, what Jesus had experienced. It changed the pace of Easter and caused the Church to slow down, remember, take in, and celebrate God’s grace.
As I hear the history of the early Church I’m inspired to slow down during “The Great Week” that is approaching. This coming Sunday we will kick off this Great Week with Palm Sunday. I would encourage us all to slow down as the early church did, almost by accident, in order to savor what Jesus has done for us. During this coming week, consider Jesus’ last days. Each day take time to consider what Jesus may have been doing between his entry into Jerusalem and his death on the cross. Consider what the disciples were doing. What was Judas doing? What was Peter thinking? What was it like to recline with Jesus as he lifted the cup and said, “This is my blood poured out for you and for many?” Don’t allow this season to pass by in a day. Rather, let it settle in over the course of the week and dive deeply into its significance.
Rev. Nathan Kilbourne
Look around you at Jacksonville First United Methodist. We have so much good happening right in our midst. We are a church on fire. There is a song that Hillsong sings called, “Church on Fire.” When I think about all FJUMC is doing we are a church on fire.
Look around at how our church is being the hands and feet of Christ. We are serving hundreds of families meals and groceries weekly, we are tutoring 25 children afterschool on Wednesdays and building relationships with them, we are quilting blankets, making hats, and numerous creations for people all over, we are having Bible studies, LIFE Groups, Youth events, welcoming visitors, and so much more.
We were blessed through COVID to be able to connect digitally; and during that time, I believe God was talking to you and preparing you for when we were fully opened to come back on fire. We have refocused programs and created new programs. I believe we have a new energy within us calling us to do Christ’s work throughout the community.
Holy Week is one week away and we have many opportunities to worship with us during that week. Invite a friend to come with you. Sunday, April 10th is Palm Sunday and you will be welcomed with palms, the Choir, and the Handbells that morning. Thursday, April 14th is Maundy Thursday when we remember Jesus’ Last Supper with His disciples. Friday, April 15th is a Good Friday, a service to recognize that Jesus paid the ultimate price for us. Sunday, April 17th, Easter Sunday, we will have music and celebration to remember that Jesus rose to have Eternal Life. We will have our Flower Cross so be sure to bring flowers to add to the cross before Church begins.
Let’s continue to be a church on fire and offer Christ to the world. How are you going to be involved?
Church on Fire
Christian Education Coordinator
About a month ago, I was sitting in a meeting of Testimony HQ here in the Connection Center. We were meeting to talk about the Testimony HQ program and our Church. Being raised in a Southern Baptist Church, my idea of “testimony” was standing up in church and sharing your salvation experience! It was usually quite dramatic, and involved a lot of Amens from those in the crowd. So, when Pastor Nathan started talking about Testimony HQ, I suspected it involved standing up in Church and letting everyone know how I was saved. I was none too thrilled anticipating that experience. (Not that it was a bad experience.) Or even worse, going door to door in our community to share my experience. Waaaay outside my comfort zone.
Well, come to find out that’s not necessarily what Testimony HQ is about. You’ve heard the expression, everyone has a story. In this case, this is what “testimony” means. You are not expected to share your salvation story necessarily, just your every day story. What does your day look like with Jesus in your life? How does He have your back through every experience, bad or good?
Testimony is a good story that is also a God story. The Bible tells us that even Moses at first felt uncomfortable talking about God. The problem is people are not sure how to talk about God in today’s world. Here are some reasons people feel awkward: “I don’t know enough to talk about my faith; I haven’t had a lot of practice; I wouldn’t want to offend people; I let the Pastor do the talking; and I just try to show my faith by my actions.” Are one of these your stories?
The stories we tell inside the church community can spill out into our wider community where we live. Especially today, when people are longing to connect and reconnect, we need to be able to “speak about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20).
On that Saturday sitting in the Testimony HQ meeting I felt led to proclaim to the group that I was going to personally challenge myself. I announced that on Fridays, Pastor Nathan willing, I would take an hour to go over to the area where The Marketplace distributes food every Friday morning, and I challenged others present. We have literally hundreds of people coming to this church with a need. But, as I found out they all have a “story”. Lisa Henson took the challenge one Friday, and I was able to do it this last Friday. Lisa shared that her experience brought her to tears, tears of joy and tears of compassion. Lisa and I would approach people in the line and ask if they had a specific need that our church could lift up in prayer. Talking about “opening a can of worms”, the stories just spilled out: cancer, addictions, concerns for family, loss, grief, sickness, etc, etc., on and on. Now, I’ll admit, I was not able to share MY story at that time, but I did share the story of MY CHURCH. Jacksonville First wants to know your need, and then pray over those needs. Someone cares enough to pray about it. However, over time, I may have the opportunity to share MY story. Either way, your heart is full to overflowing!!
Now, I have some challenges for you. First, the Prayer Team here at JFUMC could use you as a prayer warrior. At the beginning of each week, you will receive a list of current prayer concerns that you can pray over. Easy! We can all talk to God, right? For that opportunity, let Jim Silvi know you want to be part of that Team. Second, Testimony HQ, speak with Pastor Nathan and see where you can “fit” into that program. It’s great. Third, got some spare time on Fridays between 9:30 and noon? Come to the parking lot behind the FLC and prepare to be blessed. Talk to the people, tell them you are part of this Church; and we want to pray for you. It will show them we care, and I promise you God will be right there with you, giving you words of encouragement and support. Just like Moses!
Jo Ann Silvi
and Finance Manager
Back in December you may remember that the JFUMC Youth led a mission project, Christmas Stockings for the Homeless. They did more than put the stockings together, and actually went into downtown Little Rock and delivered them one evening. Lisa Meadows, one of our Youth, was a part of that group and was very moved by the experience. She told me she wanted to share with others the emotions she went through that night.
Lisa, who serves as the Youth Representative on the Testimony HQ Leadership Team, came to me very excited about how much power there is in sharing our stories. I reminded her she already had a story she wanted to share. So together we are going to share how a night of ministry, with different emotions, affected our lives.
From Lisa: “When Ms. Be and I went to deliver stocking to the homeless, it was sad seeing all of those people. They all had different stories. They came together to get the food that was brought and were delighted to get something else not food related. It was scary and nerve racking because we were in their world coming to them. It was something different yet gratifying. You got to enjoy handing the stockings out and seeing the delight in their faces when they received it. It was a wonderful time that had a lot of meaning to me.”
For me it was a night of anticipation when we loaded up to go deliver the stockings! We were meeting Grace Church from Saline County. They deliver meals every Friday night to the people in the streets of downtown Little Rock. Our Youth serve at our local Mission 5000 every second Wednesday of the month. With that experience of serving our neighbors - they come to us. In delivering the Christmas Stockings - we were going into their world. We saw where some lived (in abandoned buildings, alleyways, cars, and places unseen). They just came out from everywhere as soon as we found a place to park on the street. The response was almost overwhelming!
As we started to hand out the stockings, I got to witness two different things – the look of surprise and joy on the stocking recipients’ faces as well as the transformation of Lisa. She went from being uncomfortable approaching the recipients of the stockings to one with a mission eager to greet and share. That night we became the hands and the feet of Christ. I have to be honest, it was hard to do this. But we also have to see things as Christ sees them. We were called to love not judge. It was sad when we ran out of the sixty stockings we had prepared especially when we knew there was still a need to fill. We still had two more locations we hadn’t even gotten to.
That night Lisa and I got outside of our comfort zone. God touched us with the stories the stocking recipients shared. They were humbling, moving and filled us with blessings. It was a special memory made. I know when we do something like this again, Lisa and I can share our story, or testimony, why it is so important to do it.
Share your experiences and stories! At the time you may not see God using them, but He will somewhere, somehow!
Moved by others’ stories,
Youth Director and Lay Servant
This week, as you may have heard, General Conference has been delayed in meeting. Having been scheduled to meet last year but pushed back to this year because of COVID-19, the Conference has once again been delayed due to reasons surrounding COVID. There is much information, opinion, and blame floating around the Church as to why the Conference is not meeting. One thing worth noting is gathering a global Church is quite complicated in a COVID world. While many places are moving past COVID, there are many countries in which COVID is still wreaking havoc and access to vaccination and proper medical care isn’t available. Moreover, travel is quite complicated depending on where one is traveling from and if visas can even be acquired. Furthermore, access to technology (of which many of us take for granted) isn’t widely available either.
But the reason emotions are riding high in the Church is because the main issue facing General Conference is the issue around sexuality. Many thought this General Conference would be the one in which those in disagreement could finally separate from the denomination over irreconcilable differences surrounding varied viewpoints regarding sexuality. In fact, given the delay, the Global Methodist Church (representing the conservative church) has announced that they will go ahead and form their own denomination within the next month even though General Conference is not meeting. In other words, they are not even going to wait to meet in 2024 when the General Conference has been rescheduled. They would rather just leave.
I think what saddens me the most regarding this whole situation is the decision of separation. While it has been brewing for years, such dissolution only reflects the current state of our culture. Our culture is deeply divided and the solution offered is not to play in the same sandbox anymore. It is to throw blame to the other side and prop up one’s own opinion as Gospel. Outsiders look at the Church and only see a reflection of the wider culture. We offer no alternative to the world. Is it possible to offer a third option? Is it still possible to show what true community can look like in when we disagree?
It doesn’t seem possible on a global level at this point. But I believe it is possible on a local level and possible among us. We all come different walks of life and different opinions. Yet, it is possible to show how the love of God can allow us to remain as one, with one mission and offer a different picture to the world than fragmentation. May God continue to lead us down a faithful path together.
Rev. Nathan Kilbourne