An Easter Message from Bishop Leeland
“Peace be with you.”
These are the words the Resurrected Jesus speaks to the eleven disciples and their companions gathered in the locked upper room. They were “startled and terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost” (Luke 24:37). In response to their fear, Jesus asks, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have” (v. 38, 39).
Let us reflect on this word individually, as a conference, and as The United Methodist Church. As Christians, we believe in the resurrection of the body, not simply the immortality of the soul, spirit, or energy, but the resurrected body. Thus, in the midst of the glorious presence of the resurrected body, we can embrace the miraculous Mystery and set aside our fear. Too many of us have been fearful, and it might be helpful to claim our faith that Jesus, the visible image of the invisible God, is reconciling all things in heaven and earth, has delivered us from the dominion of darkness, and ushered us into the kingdom of God (Col. 1).
There are a number of streams of conversation running throughout the Church, some of which frighten us and others that ignite our passion and joy. During this Easter season, I would invite us to remember that the Church has always had strong emotional issues that have swirled through the people of faith threatening to divide the Church: circumcision (Acts 15), slavery, divorce and others. Each time the Church has experienced schism, we have lost influence, momentum, and members. I have been thinking about the kind of legacy we will leave our children and future generations. Following the special session of General Conference 2019, I am committed to working through the difficult challenges that face the Church and living into Jesus’ prayer, “that they may be one.” (John 17:11). Whose Church is this? Who is really in control? God is the only One who can provide the Counselor to guide us through these moments. As we grow into the Fruit of the Spirit and are made into the image of Christ, I would like to believe we can both disagree in love and transform the world in love. “Why do doubts arise in your hearts” (Luke 24:38)? The powerful hope I see is the Presence of the One who has overcome the world. For this reason, I have put my whole trust in Him, for God can create “things that are from the things that are not” (Rom. 4). After all, this is the Easter story.
During this Easter celebration of the Presence of God, I join the congregations of our Western North Carolina Conference in praising the signs of God’s compassion evidenced in the work our missional networks. These are grass roots movements, not something initiated from the top down. Ministries within our conference such as Festival on the Hill (ministering to homelessness, hunger, and children), Soul Food (feeding 100 people), mentoring at-risk students, Matt’s Ministry (feeding 600 people a week), recovery ministries, Fresh Expressions, and The Table at Glenwood (offering 150 free meals every Monday night), are simply some of the examples of ongoing service growing out of our worship and praise of God who raised Jesus from the dead, and by the same power will raise us up also! (Rom. 8:11).
During Easter season, I invite you to look for other signs of power and resurrection, offering hope to our future. He is Alive! Christ is risen! I give thanks to God for The United Methodist Church and for each of you who are called to be servants (Col. 1). “You are witnesses of these things” (Luke 24:48). May we all be open to receiving the fruits of this promise. Blessed Easter.
Paul L. Leeland
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