Formation groups through Easter Season, starting today, have a historically different role than either during Lent or Holy Week. Lent was about establishing holy habits. Holy Week was about abiding with Christ and one another to face his death and all that it means for us, for the earth, and for the universe. Easter Season is about “mystagogy” or “learning the mysteries.” This learning comes in two forms: doctrinal formation (what are theological and doctrinal grounds of ministry, Eucharist, and baptism) and ministry formation (claiming our ministry and beginning to practice it in ways that enable us to be one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world).
Each week’s group meetings during Easter Season point forward to the coming Sunday. For this week, your groups will explore together the meaning of the baptism they have received or come to reaffirm.
Here is a suggested agenda for this week’s first Easter Season Formation Group meeting.
1. Brief, informal time of gathering (10 minutes or so) with snacks to share.
2. Formal gathering —seated in a circle in chairs or around a table-- with requests for prayer for the coming week (10 minutes) -- and prayer led by the group leader or unison in the group. If the latter, one practice I’ve found useful in leading such groups is immediately after a person shares, the whole group pauses, then says in unison, “Into your hands, O God, we commend our sister/brother/sibling(s) Name(s).” Proceed to the next person and repeat until all who wish to offer requests for prayer have had the opportunity to do so.
3. Teaching and Conversation (35 minutes) — The Grounding of Life and Ministry in Jesus’ Name. Read John 20:19-23. There are four key elements to what Jesus does in starting his disciples in their ministry after his Resurrection: Peace, Sending, Giving the Spirit, and the Commission to Forgive. He doesn’t give them a specific plan for how to carry out their ministries. He gives them the basic tools they need wherever they may be sent.
Peace: Jesus has already transformed this basic greeting (almost the equivalent of Hello in English) into something much more. Read John 14:27. In our reading from John 20, Jesus says “Peace be with you” twice, as if to underscore his point. He is not merely saying hello. The Risen One is now giving his disciples his peace.
This is the first gift of the Resurrection to us. It is the grounding of all ministry we will ever offer in Christ’s peace.
Sending: It is first in peace that the Risen Jesus sends his disciples into the world. They are sent in the peace of Christ. This is why a common dismissal from Christian worship across the centuries has been “Go in peace.”
The words of sending that follow this second giving of peace (John 20:21) reinforce this grounding. Jesus says, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Reflect together on what “As the Father has sent me” means. How did the Father send Jesus? In desperation? In confidence? In hope? How does reflecting on this question help you reconsider how Jesus may now be sending you into ministry where you are?
With the Holy Spirit: Read John 20:22. Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit upon his disciples. Talk about the implications of this. At least one of these is not surprising, since the text we read about the peace of Christ in John 14 is spoken exactly in the larger context of Jesus promising not to leave them orphaned, but to send the Spirit to them. And he conveys the spirit (a word that also means wind or breath in both Greek and Hebrew) precisely by breathing on them.
We are sent into ministry with the peace of Christ, sent as the Father has sent Christ, and in the Holy Spirit. All our ministry, as our baptisms already proclaim, is thus grounded in the whole of the love, power, presence, and Person of the Triune God.
To Forgive or Retain Sin: Read John 20:23. There were lots of things that could follow the preposition “to” here. One might have expected, “to change the world,” or “to make justice happen everywhere,” or even “to convert everyone.” But no, the very first words Jesus speaks after breathing on them to receive the Spirit who would empower them for ministry was about forgiving or retaining sin. They were about mercy and wisdom. And mercy is first. Go forgive, unless you must retain the sin. But the first word is forgive.
How does this reading from John’s Gospel, which we will encounter in worship again next Sunday, help you orient or reorient your understanding of the ministry you are given as baptized disciples of the Risen Lord?
What do you find you may have to rethink? What habits of approaching what it means to be in ministry may need to change? What is affirmed that you may have not given awareness or voice to before?
And how can you help one another claim this grounding for your ministries in the name of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit, starting now?
4. Gather in a circle or huddle, lay hands on one another, one by one, and pray in unison, “X, may you continue to grow in Christ in the days ahead.”
5. Thank all for coming, and send the group out to keep learning and living the baptism they have received.