Living Columns & Blogs

Why 'congratulations on your new location' might be just right for a funeral card

A bank worked with a commercial customer building another store. When the store held its grand opening, the bank sent a floral arrangement. However, there was a mix up at the florist shop, and the card sent with the arrangement read, “With our deepest sympathy.” The florists apologized, but became even more embarrassed when they learned that the floral arrangement sent to a funeral home read, “Congratulations on your new location.”

Oops!

On the other hand, that just might be an excellent summary of the Easter message: Congratulations on your new location. Even though Easter was four weeks ago, many churches celebrate the Good News of Easter for 49 days, a week of weeks, if you will. The grave could not hold Jesus; he rose from the dead. Later, he would ascend to the Father, returning to heaven. Congratulations on your new location, indeed! Between Easter and the Ascension, Jesus appeared to his disciples in many locations, such as the garden outside the tomb, the road to Emmaus, Galilee and the upper room. That last one includes a rather mundane location — the supper table.

Sharing a meal is more than eating. It is a time of fellowship, whether among family or friends. The supper table provides a forum for the family to review the day’s events. We share meals with others to celebrate our joys or to grieve our sorrows. Eating together symbolizes the closeness we have with others. On the other hand, some people will not sit down to a meal with certain other people. That refusal to break bread points to a deeper fracture in the relationship.

Back when families ate supper together regularly, there may have been times when one of the children was sent to his or her room without supper. Their behavior had temporarily cut them off from the family. Later, when the parents invited their children back to the table, that pointed to the reconciliation that had taken place.

When Jesus was arrested, his disciples had all abandoned him. Would Jesus forgive them? Would he welcome them again? On Easter evening, Jesus appeared to his disciples in the upper room, forgiving them for their faithlessness and even sharing a meal with them. He restored them to fellowship. Jesus’ new location — the supper table — was good news for the disciples.

Jesus continues to join his disciples at this new location today. He joins us at our supper tables whenever we invite him. As a child, my parents taught me this prayer before meals, “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest. Let these gifts to us be blessed.” Jesus is waiting for that invitation. When he joins us, he brings his love and forgiveness, along with any reconciliation that may be needed. Most of all, Jesus invites us to break bread with him through the Lord’s Supper, the meal that points to the reconciliation that Jesus came to bring. Jesus’ new location is good news for us, indeed.

In the meantime, Jesus’ willingness to join us in fellowship demands that we work toward reconciliation with those around us through Christ. We dare not let differences divide us when Jesus came to make us one. If we have wronged someone, we need to seek their forgiveness. If someone has wronged us, we need to extend Christ’s forgiveness to them.

One of the biblical pictures of heaven is that of a meal. Like Moses and the elders who ate in God’s presence, like Jesus who broke bread with his disciples, one day we shall live in God’s presence eternally. It will be as joyful as an on-going banquet. The good news about Jesus’ new location for us is that everyone who believes in him will join him. Through his cross and burial, Jesus joined our lives. Through the power of Easter, he joins us at our supper tables, even as we shall join him at his.

“Congratulations on your new location.” That sentence summarizes Jesus’ resurrection from the grave, his ascension to heaven and his abiding presence with his disciples, whom he joins at supper tables wherever they might be. That sentence also summarizes the good news for us. Come to think of it, it would make a pretty good note to attach to flowers at a funeral, too.

Chris Milarch is the pastor at Emmanuel Lutheran Church in State College.
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