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Marking the start of Holy Week

For Christians, Sunday is Palm Sunday. It marks the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem and the beginning of Holy Week, the last week of our Lenten season. Together, we remember all the events of that week long ago that led to Christ’s death on the cross.

Despite the celebration of waving palms and shouting supporters at the beginning of the week, it was not a happy time. As the week progressed, there were lies, deceptions, broken promises, torture, bloodshed and death. It was also a low point for those that had been closest to Jesus throughout his ministry. Whatever dreams and expectations they were clinging to, all seemed lost when the man they had devoted themselves to was arrested, tried and sentenced to death. The disciples scattered in fear and went into hiding to save themselves.

Growing up in northern New England during the ’60s and ’70’s, my family didn’t go to church much. I know from a piece of paper that I was “Christened” in the church as a baby. I have vague memories of attending Sunday School once or twice, and being disappointed that I had so few attendance stars by my name. At some point, my family quit going altogether. We weren’t even good Christmas and Easter Christians (“C & Eers” to the devout folks). And yet here I am, pastoring a church, carrying cards that have the word “Reverend” in front of my name and trying to do the best I can to live and speak in a way that God is glorified.

It wasn’t always this way. I have plenty of regrets about things I’ve done and said, no different from anyone else. But many years ago, I decided to consider this Christianity thing, and find out why so many people were talking about a guy named Jesus. I did a lot of research and talked to many people I respected. I looked at historical evidence and listened to people’s testimonies. And I think the thing that struck me most was how significantly people’s lives changed when they trusted and put their faith in Jesus Christ. It was this evidence, more than any other, that convinced me there was something important about this man Jesus Christ.

Consider those pathetic disciples, hiding in fear to avoid the Jewish and Roman authorities. Things certainly didn’t look good if God was relying on this bunch. But something changed. Men that were afraid to be seen in public were soon willing to risk their lives proclaiming the kingdom of God and the message of Christ. It was an amazing transformation, and it happened — as the cliche says — overnight. We will celebrate that miracle next week. But you can read about the changes to the disciples for yourself — simply turn to the Book of Acts in the New Testament of the Bible, and read the history of the early church, and the men and women that were there. They were common people, just like you and me, and beyond all odds and expectations, they changed the world.

I have never regretted the decision I made then to become a follower of Christ, and spend the rest of my life serving him. Has everything been perfect? Absolutely not. I still make mistakes, still say and do the wrong things sometimes, but I have also seen God’s hand at work in my own life and in countless others. I’ve been reassured that I’m doing precisely what God wants me to do many times, and seen firsthand the miraculous transformation that occurs in people’s lives.

The great news is: God wants this for all of us. Each of us is a unique and precious creation, created in the image of God, and it’s never too late to experience this transformation for yourself. May the peace of God be with you all today, and in the days to come.

David Downer is pastor of the Trinity United Church of Christ in Centre Hall. He can be reached at trinity uccpastordave@gmail.com.

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