The upcoming Easter sermon at Eastminster Presbyterian Church in Columbia will feature a new wrinkle this year: recovery from last fall’s devastating floods.
The Rev. Brad Smith still plans to focus on the fundamental story of Easter – Jesus Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection – and to teach about “life that is stronger than death, love that is stronger than evil, hope that’s stronger than despair.”
The deadly Oct. 4 storm dumped more than 20 inches of rain in parts of South Carolina, causing flash floods that drowned 10 people in the Columbia area. Nineteen South Carolinians were killed.
But, Smith said, the storm – and the community’s response to it – also can illustrate Easter’s uplifting themes.
“The flood is symbolic of chaos, of difficulty in our lives,” said Smith, the senior pastor at the Trenholm Road church. “And our God is a god who is stronger than any chaos. Our God is a god who is stronger than any flood.”
Our God is a god who is stronger than any flood.”
Rev. Brad Smith
It’s a message as many as 80 flood-affected families in his congregation can appreciate. More than two dozen of those families left their homes for months, and some still haven’t returned, Smith said.
Smith is one of several Columbia-area Christian pastors who plan to draw parallels on Sunday between Jesus’ resurrection and the community’s recovery from flooding. The gist of the message: If God can conquer death, he can help you recover from devastating loss.
“The power of the Easter story is that Christ defeats not only death, but all of the brokenness in the world around us,” said the Rev. Paul Wollner, pastor at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church on Forest Drive. “And in that victory, we find the strength to overcome all the challenges of our lives.”
Another key point in some pastors’ Easter sermons is that the hope, togetherness and “new life” brought by the resurrection was also present in residents’ responses after the flooding.
During the historic rainfall, some residents hopped in boats to save others from floodwaters, and thousands volunteered to help across the Midlands.
Donations of supplies and water poured in from across the state and country, many coming to churches that became distribution hubs. Even now, volunteer organizations and nonprofits are helping residents rebuild their homes.
“What we saw was a coming together of the community,” said Darrell Jackson, a state senator and pastor at Bible Way Church of Atlas Road, which distributed supplies to Lower Richland residents after the flooding. “Out of something so horrific, so bad, something good came. ... We saw the best of humanity after the flood.”
We saw the best of humanity after the flood.”
Rev. Darrell Jackson
“Anybody who went into the Gills Creek area that was so devastated, if you didn’t sense Christ’s presence, you were missing it,” said Smith, whose church is just a short distance from one of the creek’s tributaries.
The flooding has been an oft-used illustration in some pulpits for months. And this week as pastors studied scripture to prepare the Easter sermons, some saw an opportunity to recall it again.
Smith said the idea came to him as he read in Luke 24, part of which describes Jesus’ disciples after the resurrection traveling a road to a village called Emmaus. In the passage, the disciples, who didn’t believe Jesus had been resurrected, did not recognize Jesus was the stranger walking with them.
“I think all of us have periods in our lives where we’re walking along ... discouraged, in despair,” Smith said. “and yet, in unexpected ways, Jesus comes along beside them and they don’t even recognize him.”
Wollner said he tries each week to connect scripture to “the story of our community” and that the flooding has been an important part of that story for months.
“While the words may be different in each pulpit around this area, the central theme is that the experience of the flood connected us in a way that we all see God at work in all our lives,” he said.
The Rev. Katherine Raley, pastor at First Christian Church on North Beltline Boulevard, said every week she preaches that “God’s grace means that bad things, evil, never has the last word.”
God’s grace means that bad things, evil, never has the last word.”
Rev. Katherine Raley
The flooding was no different, she said. It brought hardship and sorrow but also a renewed sense of community.
Jackson said he will urge his congregation to carry that sense of togetherness into the long-term stages of flood recovery and beyond.
He plans to finish his sermon on Sunday by stressing a lyric from a popular hymn: “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow.”