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By Pastor Wayne Zschech

I grew up attending one of the largest Lutheran churches in Southeastern Pennsylvania, St. John’s in Mayfair Philadelphia. The building was a city block long. The sanctuary had been built by German masons and was a combination of brick and mosaic tiles with slate floors. It had stained glass windows and wood pews with hand carved images on the ends (I have one in my office if you ever want to see it). The Parish Hall was the size of Our Savior’s sanctuary and hosted dinners, bazaars, breakfasts, blood drives, and Fastnacht musicals that required weekend rehearsals beginning in January! It was a beautiful church building. But that’s not why my family and I loved St. John’s and spent not only Sunday mornings there, but also Sunday nights for Luther League, and some weeknights when we had youth group executive meetings for my sister and I, or Council meetings for my parents. I wish we had EZ Pass back then for all the trips we made over the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge coming from Cinnaminson.

The best part about St. John’s wasn’t it’s building and brick steeple. What made St. John’s special was the community of people connected by our faith in Christ. I haven’t been inside St. John’s for a few years now, but I am in contact with many of the Luther League youth group friends on a monthly basis. I count them among my closest of friends, having been present for some of the greatest joys (marriages and births of children) and deepest sorrows (hospitalizations and deaths of parents, spouse, and children) of their lives. The common thread that stitched us together in a tapestry of diverse back-grounds was our baptism and faith in Jesus, our crucified and risen Lord.

In the weeks following Easter Sunday the church hears the stories of Jesus’ disciples’ lives after his resurrection. We re-member how the community of the believers began to evolve from a group of eleven scared apostles in an upper room that first Easter night to 3,000 baptized fifty days later when Jews from all over the world were gathered in Jerusalem for Pentecost. In those first years they often gathered in people’s homes. Then, when the community got too large for homes, they began to meet in large caves for fear of persecution from the Empire. It would be centuries before the first church buildings would be built for the people of “The Way,” Jesus’ way, now called Christians to gather for worship. A millennia later the grand cathedrals and basilicas were built to inspire and draw people closer to God for worship. Is it possible that in focusing so much on the grandness of the places where we worship we also may have forgotten what the church truly is? The church is not a building with a steeple. The church is the community of baptized people.

When an infant or child is baptized parents promise to “live with them among God’s faithful people” and later when that child affirms their baptism they promise to “live among God’s faithful people” as well. It is as if the authors of our baptismal liturgy recognized the importance of relationships among the members of the baptized community being paramount in the life of a Christian disciple. Like I’ve discovered in my life, my “church friends” are some of my deepest and longest lasting relationships because they are connected by our faith.

Carla and Phil were members in a former congregation. They were a typical church family who faithfully baptized their children, brought them to church on Sundays for worship and Sunday school as well as Vacation Bible School in the summer. And once their boys were confirmed and the boys were not involved in youth group they stopped coming to church except on Christmas Eve and Easter.

Then Phil got prostate cancer. They started coming back to church – to the community of baptized believers in a crucified and risen Savior – and began meeting people who were also praying for Phil and their family. “It wasn’t long,” Carla said, “before the majority of our closest friends were people from church.” Relationships are at the center of what it means to be a faithful disciple. Our relationship with the God we have come to know in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit leads us into meaningful relationships with our neighbors and fellow believers in Christ. We embrace being a member of the body of Christ, the community of the church, not simply a member of a religious institution that gathers on Sundays at the corner of Wood Lane and Wayne Avenue.

In this Easter season, I pray you seek out and take advantage of the opportunities to create and nurture relationships within the community of the baptized that gather around Word and sacrament as the congregation of The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Our Savior. Go to brunch together after worship. Attend Bible Discussion Group classes. Check out the Reflections “worship” in the parlor before the 9:30 worship where participants talk about how the reading relates to their faith lives. Pack pantry bags together. Go out for coffee or tea, or even an adult beverage. The church is not just a building with a steeple. The church was and always shall be a community of baptized people.