Tag Archives: easter

There Is No Going Back To Normal Or the Glory Days – This is the Beginning

GOSPEL: John 17:1-11
1After Jesus had spoken these words [to his disciples], he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you… 11And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.” (Read the whole passage)

Today, we arrive at the seventh and final Sunday in the season of Easter. Easter 2020 must be, without a doubt, the most memorable Easter in our memories. “We are living through history” has been an oft’ repeated phrase of the pandemic era. And our Easter journey as people of faith has not been that far off from our lived reality. Hiding out in locked rooms for fear of the outside world is an essential Easter experience. Having no frame of reference, no experienced story to tell that makes sense of our new world is an essential Easter experience. And being prepared as disciples of Jesus for an unknown future is an essential Easter experience. 

As we prepare to the flip the page on Easter with Pentecost Sunday next week, we slide between Easter realities. In John’s gospel we slide back to Holy Week where Jesus prays for his followers just as he is about to go the cross. In Acts, we hear Jesus and the disciples having a conversation about what happens next to this fledging Easter community. 

The disciples come to Jesus with a request to go back, to return the Kingdom of Israel.  To a specific dream of the“glory days.” A vision that requires a deep dive into the history of Israel.  A specific moment in time, after Moses, after the promise land, beginning with King David but before foreign nations began threatening their borders and before they were exiled and occupied by the Romans. And of course not during the reign of one of the bad or mediocre Kings, but one of the greats! Of course they forget that even during the best of times, God was still sending prophets into their midst telling them to repent and get their act together. 

After all the disciples had seen, from following the call of Jesus from their fishing boats to witnessing the resurrected Christ appear behind locked doors, and their burning question is “are we going back?”

Sound at all familiar?

If you have spent any time reading, watching or listening to the news, you know that the world is wondering when things are going to reopen: from sports to shopping to public spaces – including places of worship. In fact, in many cases, Christians have been at the forefront of the demand to for political and public health leaders to loosen restrictions on gatherings. 

And you would think of all the people demanding that things go back to the way they used to be, we would know better. 

Because we have been longing to go back to what we remember as the glory days, long before this pandemic hit the world. But of course, nailing down what we think we want to go back to is not as easy or straightforward as we think. It was only a matter of weeks ago that we were concerned with declining resources and aging populations and shrinking congregations. Is that what we want to return to? Or is there a more specific place we want to go backwards towards? Do we want to go back to the days of church buildings full of worshippers and bursting Sunday Schools? To a time when women, people of colour and LGBTQ2SIA+ people were prevented from holding positions of leadership in the church? To the time when many churches were homogenous cultural enclaves? To the time when pastors were paid in the chickens and made pastoral visits in order to shame members into handing over their offering?

Our desire may be to go back to the good old days, but which good old days might be hard to answer. 

It is normal to lament what was. Especially when we don’t know what is or what will be. But we have to admit it is strange to long for something that most of us can agree wasn’t that good… something that, if we’re really being honest needed change?

So when the disciples ask their question, Jesus not so gently tells the disciples that they have no clue what is coming next for them, and it isn’t their job to know. That is up to the Father. Instead they are just along for the ride, they are simply witnesses to the activity and plans of God in the world. 

The disciples had no clue that they were about to preach the gospel in all kinds of languages to all kinds of people baptizing them by the thousands. Nor did they know that most of the early church communities would small groups of 12 or 25 people spread throughout the Roman Empire and would be ministered to by a former Pharisee and murderer of Christians who liked to write letters. They did not know their little group of followers would spawn generations upon generations of faith communities proclaiming the gospel to all the ends of the earth.

They had no idea what their path would be as Jesus ascended to the Father. 

Yet as John describes to us, Jesus knows that his followers don’t have a clue what is in store for them. They are dreaming of the return of rose-coloured glory days, of going back to some imagined time of greatness that is certainly better in their imaginations than the real thing. 

They cannot help but look back with nostalgia and hope for the glory days again. 

And yet as Jesus prays, he names the ways in which his disciples belong to each other, that their life together is a reflection of Christ, peek into the Trinity, the relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. All along Jesus has been stitching this rag tag group together, shaping and moulding them for the next phase, the next chapter. Transforming them into this newly birthed community of the gospel. A community defined by the life of Christ, a community tied into the very death and resurrection of the One sent to save. 

That even as they have no idea where they are about to end up, Jesus has been preparing them to be what God needs them to be. 

A community of faith, 
of imperfect and flawed people 
who may not know where they are going, 
but who proclaim that the risen Christ 
is their way, their life and their truth. 
That the cross and empty tomb have changed them 
and all creation 
for the kingdom that has God envisioned. 

And so here today, what does this mean for us? 

We who long to return to normal, even as we begin to recognize that life as we knew it will not, cannot to be the same as it was. We come to the end of Easter, in the midst of this time of global uncertainty longing for comfort of the past. 

And we too are just as clueless about what comes next for us as the disciples were. No matter our desire to go back to normal, to go back to the glory days, to restore the kingdoms of our imaginings… there is no going back. And more importantly, we aren’t the one steering the ship anyways. 

Yet, Jesus’ reminds us today, with Pentecost on the horizon, that our future is known by God. And that we too are being prepared for what comes next for us. 

That Jesus is sticking us together into One Body, 
preparing us yet again to be new communities of faith, 
birthed into the story of Christ’s death and resurrection. 
That the cross and empty tomb redefine us, 
even in a world of declining churches, 
even in a world of pandemic closures… 
God is transforming us into the very body 
that will proclaim the Good News to the world, 
through whom God will proclaim 
forgiveness of sins and salvation in the waters, 
in whom God feeds the world with God’s own Body – the Body of Christ given for us. 

And so yes on this 7th Sunday of the most memorable Easter we have known, we are reminded again that God has the regular habit of setting us off in new directions when we least expect it. And that the destination is not for us to know, nor what things will look like when we get there. But only that God is the one leading us, that we belong to one another in Christ and that the sprit goes with us. And that Christ has been preparing us for this moment long before we even had a clue.

The season of Easter may be coming to an end…

but Christ promises us that this new resurrected life in this Easter community is only beginning. 

Amen. 

Imagining The Destination and Not Knowing the Way

GOSPEL: John 14:1-14
Jesus said to the disciples:] 1“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4And you know the way to the place where I am going.” 5Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

Today we enter into the second half of the season of Easter. We had been staying still, soaking in the the moment of resurrection, the stories of Easter beginning with the women at the tomb, then the disciples hiding away in the locked room, and then the two walking down the road to Emmaus. Coming back to that resurrection day because of its singular significance for us as a touchstone of faith. 

But then last Sunday we heard about the Good Shepherd, the Christ who leads us through the dark valleys, who shows us the way to the other side of the dangers that await us in this world, and it wasn’t just a comforting image to think about. Good Shepherd Sunday moved us from the immediacy of the first Easter morning and the immediacy of our pandemic lockdown, moves us onto the next step of this collective journey were are on as citizens of a pandemic world and as followers of Jesus.

This middle Sunday of the Easter Season moved us along the story, and put us into the second half of the Easter Season… to the part of the story of faith about becoming an Easter community and Easter people… it sounds great, but just like for the disciples, it is also scary for us. 

Today, we hear a familiar passage from John, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places…” This conversation between Jesus and his disciples comes to us from Maundy Thursday. Jesus has already raised Lazarus from the dead, and rode into Jerusalem hailed as a conquering Messiah. This conversation is first heard in moments before Jesus is eating the Last Supper with his disciples and friends. He is about to be arrested, put on trial and sentenced to death. This conversation happens in the shadow of the cross and just around the corner from the resurrection. 

And yet, Thomas (who will later demand to see the resurrected Jesus for himself) is wanting more information. He remembers following Jesus for the past 3 years, not really knowing where Jesus was going or what surprises might befall them, where the end goal might be. He is certain that he and the others won’t find their way on their own. 

Philip then comes out with it, he wants Jesus to show them the way, to fast-forward to the end and to show his followers the Father. 

The disciples, even after all they have seen of Jesus, all the miracles and healing, the exorcism and his preaching… they still have no idea where Jesus headed. They don’t know what Jesus is up to. They don’t know where they are headed, and they certainly don’t know how to get there. 

And yet the disciples seem to keep imagining the end goal, the destination, the point of arrival. They watched Jesus being greeted by hungry crowds wherever they traveled and they imagined celebrity. They watched Jesus debate and argue and put the religious authorities in their places, and they imagined power and influence. They see Jesus ride into Jerusalem like a king, and they imagine a throne room, a general commanding armies to victory. 

This whole time, the disciples have been thinking of the destination, imagining that possibilities of what this journey following Jesus bring them to, reward them with, change their fortunes to. 

This coming Friday, it will be 2 months since we last gathered in person for worship. Back then we were hopeful of being back together by Easter Sunday. How naive we were. We are now 5 Sundays on from Easter, and even with lots of conversation in the news and on social media about re-opening our world, we know that things aren’t just going back to the way they were before. The way ahead is mostly unclear with a lot of ideas and possibilities, but little certainty. Might we be still be tuning into the worship on Facebook for Canada Day? Will our Back to Church BBQ be a zoom gathering? Will will be lighting virtual candles for All Saints? Will Christmas Eve worship involve singing silent night from our respective front porches (if it isn’t too cold)?

We have come into a time where making plans is nearly impossible and every decision we took for granted before is now a calculation about risk and need, about timing and importance. Knowing what will happen and what will be possible for us next week or next month is simply beyond us. 

And so we stumble along, day to day, hour to hour, waiting for clarity and a path forward.

But more importantly, we hold onto some idea of a destination. We imagine the world as it used to be, or perhaps an even better version than that. We want to arrive at the moment when public gatherings and sharing public space are normal, unthinking activities again: Haircuts, grocery shopping, visits to the dentist, going to the movies, chats at the office water-cooler, dinner out with friends, backyard Barbecues with neighbours, airline flights where the biggest hassles are crying babies and people who insist in putting their seat back into your knees. And of course we imagine gathering together as a community of faith, greeting one another with handshakes and hugs, singing together again, sharing the peace, gathering at the table of the Lord, sharing coffee and cake after worship. 

“Jesus, we don’t know where this is going, how can we know the way?”

“Just show us the vision and we will be satisfied.” 

It isn’t surprising that this text is so often used at funerals. There is comfort in our visions of the destination. The great house where there is a room for us, the vision of our loved ones being welcomed into eternity is something to hold onto in the midst of crisis and grief. 

Yet, as Jesus speaks over the Last Supper to his disciples about the dwelling place of God with many rooms, he isn’t wanting us to imagine a giant mansion in the sky. In fact, it isn’t about the destination of our imagining at all. 

Where Jesus is going is to the cross. And the dwelling place of many rooms is not so much a mansion, but the opening up of creation itself… the opening up of us ourselves. The dwelling place of God will now be among mortals we hear at Christmas and incarnation. It fulfilled at Easter and in the resurrection. The creation that chose selfishness and therefore death in the fall, is about to be reunited with the creator who is making room within Godself. The creation that was once closed to new life will now be the home of God, and we will be welcome into the life of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 

And the way to get there is not to imagine the destination… But rather through the One who is the Way, the One who shows us the Father, the One who will face separation and isolation, who will go over the brink of sin and death… this One… 

This Christ is our Way. 

This Christ our Truth. 

This Christ is our Life. 

This One is where we are going, this One brings us into God’s way. 

As the disciples moved on from the day of the empty tomb, they moved into a new Easter world. A world where the Good News of Christ’s death and resurrection defined their community, defined their purpose, and defined their lives. They moved into a world where they didn’t always know what might be next for them, yet where God had opened God’s new dwelling, God’s welcome right there, wherever they were. 

And as we wonder what is next for us and when we might get to our imagined destination, Jesus reminds us that God has always been our way. 

That the place that Jesus has always been going to has been to us. 

Meeting us in the Word and showing us the Father. 

Welcoming us into the dwelling place of God in the waters of baptism. 

Showing us the way at the table of the Lord, and transforming us into the Body of Christ. 

Sure we don’t know when we will get back to work, or school, or shopping malls, or football games. And we don’t know when we might welcome our family and friends again into our homes and to our dinner tables…. 

But as the Body of Christ we have always been going to the same place… always to New Life in God. 

And how do we get here, what is our way?

Today Jesus reminds us again, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.

Unexpected Shepherds and the Good Shepherd

GOSPEL: John 10:1-10
Jesus said:] 1“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. 2The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out… (Read the whole passage)

The early church understood the 7 week season of Easter to be like one great day of celebration. Time kind of gets mushy in Easter, unlike other seasons of the church year where we are so often counting the weeks as they go by. And while many comparisons to our pandemic isolation have been to the season of Lent, there have been also similarities to Easter. Disciples hiding out in upper rooms, sticking to small groups and avoiding crowds, time becoming mushy and hard to keep track of. We just might be living the most authentic Easter season of our lives. 

Today, we are four weeks into the season of Easter, nearly a month since first hearing about the women going to the tomb early on the first day of the week. And yet, today is the first time that we are moving on from that first day. We divert somewhat to familiar images of the pastoral Jesus. Psalm 23, and John 10. Shepherds and sheep. Comforting images of the love and care of God, poured out for us. 

The church that I grew up in had a stained glass window of Jesus the Good Shepherd, a blonde hair blued-eyed Shepherd lovingly gazing at the lamb he is holding in his arms. An imagine imprinted on my mind, that often surfaces on this fourth Sunday of Easter, or when I hear psalm 23. 

And there is a certain amount of comfort and safety that we imagine into the image of the Good Shepherd, especially in times of struggle and hardship… such as in this moment in time. 

In John’s Gospel, Jesus gives us another comforting image of the Shepherd, who is known by the sheep. The Shepherd who lays down as the gate to the pen to provide protection for the sheep. 

Yet, Jesus isn’t talking his disciples or the hungry crowds about the Shepherd, but rather the  Pharisees. The Pharisees who have just criticized him for healing the Blind man… a story that we heard only a few weeks in Lent. Jesus is speaking to those who bear responsibility for caring for the sheep, caring for the community. To the religious and community leaders who are balking at any change to the social order, even if it comes in the form of  healing a blind beggar in their midst.

As Jesus describes the familiar voice of the shepherd, he also describes the voice and motives of the thieves, bandits and strangers… labels he is applying to the religious leaders. Jesus suggests that not everyone charged with the care of the community is tending to that charge as they should. They are instead more concerned with the status quo, with keeping the power and control in their own hands and out of the hands of others…. Whether it is Jesus wantonly offering God’s love and care, or a blind man becoming self-sufficient. These are voices and leaders who are calling the sheep into danger for their own gain, their own selfish purposes. 

Does this sound at all familiar?

As we enter into week 8 of lockdown and staying at home, the calls to #OpenforBusiness are starting to get louder and louder. Here in Manitoba, we are beginning the slow yet still ambitious move of opening up some businesses tomorrow – hair cuts and restaurant patios and select other businesses will be aloud to open. Even as public health officers tell us it is isn’t exactly safe yet.

This pandemic moment has taught us a lot about the voices that we listen to, the voices who call us sheep to follow. And what is clear is that there are those in our world too, charged with caring for our communities who might not have our best interests in mind. 

And while Jesus declares that the sheep know the voice of the Shepherd, I am not so sure that it is easy for us to recognize. In fact, perhaps what is clear is that most of the voices out there are seeking something from us other than our wellbeing. Our votes, our dollars, our consumption, our attention, our productivity and labour… even our willingness to be sacrificed for the sake of profit and maintaining social order. And all with promises fo green pastures, still waters, prepared tables, and cups running over. 

Knowing the shepherd’s voice is one thing, hearing the shepherd’s voice at all is another. And if the Pandemic has made something clear, it’s that shepherds and their voices are not heard as often as they should be. 

So as Jesus declares that the sheep know the shepherd’s voice, we might be asking, do we really know it?

_______

We always hear Psalm 23 on Good Shepherd Sunday, but there is of course a reason far more common for us to hear this most familiar of psalms. 

Over the years, as I have presided at many funerals, I have often read Psalm 23 as I lead mourners into worship. Pall bearers and casket, followed by grieving family. And in that moment, we enact that what the familiar psalm describes. We walk together into the valley of the shadow of death.

You see the Good Shepherd does not promise us that everything is green pastures, still waters, and abundant tables and cups. Rather, the Good Shepherd is honest about the world, about the dangers and risks. The Good Shepherd tells us that the there are dark valleys ahead, there is the shadow of death in store. And there is no going back, no staying in the green pastures. There is only forward into our future.  

However, the Good Shepherd also promises to lead us through the valley of the shadow of death. 

Jesus promises that the sheep know the Shepherd’s voice not because the sheep are good sheep, but because the Shepherd is a Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd whose only concern is the well being and care of the sheep. The Good Shepherd who knows the sheep. The Good Shepherd who gathers and collects the confused and lost sheep, wherever we are going – green pastures or dark valleys. 

And as we navigate this shadow valley of pandemic, there have been voices emerging from the fray, voices whose only concern has been our health and well being. Shepherds who didn’t know they were shepherds only a few months ago. 

Often in this pandemic the voices of Chief Public Health Officers have cut through the fray of the voices out there calling us to follow. And these unexpected shepherds have surprised us by being singularly focused on our health and well-being…  voices that are seldom heard among the leaders of our world. Shepherds that tell us the truth, that do not promise all green pastures and still waters, but who warn of the valley of the shadows of death ahead. 

But Shepherd voices who also promise to lead us through. 

To lead us through the dark valleys to whatever lies in wait for us on the other side. 

To go with us all together. 

And this promise is of course the promise of the Good Shepherd. 

In this pandemic moment, our whole world feels as though it is gathered at the back of a church about to walk into the dark valley. Yet today, the Good Shepherd promises that we do not go alone, that the Good Shepherd will see us through, that the shadows of death will not be the end of our story, that there is life on the other side.  

This is the only voice, the only promise that really matters. 

And so on this fourth Sunday of Easter that on the surface it feels like we have moved on from Easter morning, the promise of the Good Shepherd takes us right back to the empty tomb, right back to glimpse of the other side of the shadow of death. 

The Good Shepherd comes to us in the middle of Easter because the Good Shepherd is an Easter Shepherd, a shepherd whose voice knows the sheep, whose voices knows us and knows what we need, a shepherd who has been through the valley of the shadow of death and promises us see us through, to the other side and into New Life. 

Not Knowing Our Own Easter Story on the Way to Emmaus

GOSPEL: Luke 24:13-35
Now on that same day [when Jesus had appeared to Mary Magdalene,] two [disciples] were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16but their eyes were kept from recognizing him… (read the whole passage)

Even before the Pandemic, I was a pretty voracious reader of news. Local, national, international, political news, as well as articles and opinion. And of course as a pastor and blogger, I have been reading and writing about the issues facing Christianity and the church today as well.  

A lot of us these days are news junkies, I am sure, consuming as much as can about every bit of news. And so as this pandemic lockdown extends longer and longer, we know that the question of when and how things are going to start opening up is starting to bubble to the surface. Even as case numbers increase in some jurisdictions, in those experiencing any kind of plateau, the question of returning to “normal” life is front of mind, whether is it governments, business, schools, leisure and of course churches. There are countless articles to read about opening the world back up, not post, but mid-COVID-19.

Yet, plans to re-open while there is no treatment of vaccine for COVID-19 involve slow, socially transformative steps. Everything about the way we interact will be on the table, from how many of us can be together, where we can be together, and how we will need to adjust some of the basic things we long took for granted like handshakes. 

As we arrive on the 3rd Sunday of Easter, I cannot help but feel like we have been hearing a similar story in the gospels. The story of a community that experiences a traumatic, life-changing event – the death and resurrection of Jesus. And this event requires the slow yet undeniable transformation of a community, there is no going back to normal for the disciples and followers of Jesus. Rather, the Easter season story is one of a community transformed by the Holy Spirit for the new reality of an an Easter World. 

For the 3rd Sunday of Easter, we go back again to that first Easter Day, the day of the empty tomb. 

After the women had gone to the tomb and Jesus met the disciples behind locked doors, two disciples are on their way to Emmaus, a town near to Jerusalem. 

On the way, these two are met by another traveller. This travelling companion seems not to know about what has just happened over the past week in Jerusalem, yet then proceeds to explain to them how the events of holy week fit into the Scriptures. These two disciples don’t recognize that the one travelling with them is Jesus. 

It seems a bit absurd that these two wouldn’t be to recognize their teacher and master. Was Jesus wearing a disguise? Were they blinded by their grief? Did God close their eyes to seeing?

I think there might be another explanation, one that relates to us and this moment in time. 

Human beings tell stories, in fact stories are how we understand the world. Stories and narrative help us construct meaning. Stories are the vehicles for us to make sense of things. It is why we go back a rehearse in our mind the events of an experience that we cannot make sense of, it is why we rely on eye witness testimony so heavily, it is why we are enraptured by good movies, books, tv shows, songs, artwork or a good story teller. 

So these two disciples on the road to Emmaus didn’t recognize Jesus because they didn’t understand the story of Holy Week yet, they couldn’t see Jesus because they didn’t know or understand the story of how he could be walking with them. 

Not understanding our story yet is the reality that we are living too. As this Pandemic unfolds it has thrown us for a loop because we simply don’t have a story to understand it by. Even as unspeakable tragedy has occurred in Nova Scotia this week, this pandemic story has changed the way we understand that story too. Usually and unfortunately we know the story of mass shootings, and we know how to respond too well. But in a physically distancing world, we cannot follow the same narratives, road side shrines, prayer vigils, neighbours and communities coming together. 

COVID-19 is story that we haven’t figured out how to tell yet. And if Jesus were to try and walk with disciples sorting it out here, he would only find mostly empty streets, empty churches, empty public spaces. This pandemic has given us more questions than answers, even as we are in the middle of living through it. 

As the disciples walk the road the Emmaus, they too have more questions than answers. But rather than just coming out with who he is, Jesus takes the disciples back to the beginning, back to the stories they do know. The stories of God’s people. To the scriptures, the stories of faith. Stories told to children from the moment they are born. Stories told in homes and in the synagogue, stories that help to mark the passage of the days and the years, stories that gave frames of meaning, symbols, images and metaphors that helped them to understand their lives and their world. 

And just as the prophets foretold the coming of Messiah, just as John the Baptist preached out the wilderness, just as Jesus himself preached in the towns and countryside while doing miracles, Jesus begins with the stories they know already. And then Jesus interprets the stories in light of the promised Messiah. 

Yet, still the disciples don’t recognize Jesus. 

So finally when they reach Emmaus, Jesus takes the disciples back to Maundy Thursday. To the breaking and blessing of bread, where Jesus had been revealed to his disciples anew in the ancient familiar meal of faith – the passover meal.  

And all of sudden, these two disciples have a story to tell. They have seen this moment before. They have seen this One breaking the bread before. They know this stranger, they recognize the Christ. The Christ who has come to give them a new story of faith to tell. A story that begins at the Last Supper, that descends to arrest, trial and crucifixion and seemingly ends on cross. But now a story that continues on the Third Day with empty tombs, appearances behind locked doors, and revelations in the breaking of bread. 

Jesus has tied all the events of the last week to their familiar stories of faith, and Jesus has given these disciples a new story to tell, a story that makes sense and meaning of crucifixion, death, resurrection and new life. Just as Jesus brought the two stories of his crucified body and resurrected body into one in front of Thomas last week, Jesus brings together the ancient stories of faith to the story of the crucified and risen Messiah.

The story of faith that we have been telling for 2000 years since: Christ has died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again. 

The story that Jesus is taking us back to in this moment, even in the midst of our crisis, our inability to make sense of things and to understand this moment. 

The story of faith that is grafted onto our bones from the moment we are born and then reborn in baptism. The story that is told in homes and at church. The story that helps us mark the passage of days and years. The story that gives us the frames of meaning, symbols, images, and metaphors that help us understand our world. 

And Jesus reminds us that this story of faith has room for us and our pandemic uncertainty. 

The story of the Messiah includes disciples locked away in their homes, fearful of the outside world, unsure of how recent events will change our communities forever. We might not have been here before, but the Christ who meets us on this journey has. 

Jesus walks along side us in our confusion and uncertainty, reminding us that our familiar stories of faith still have room for our unknown stories of our present. And Jesus promises to see us through, to see us all the way to the new reality that awaits us on the other side of this pandemic. 

And Jesus takes us back to our beginnings, to the familiar story of breaking bread that we know so well, that reminds us that Jesus is present and known to us, even when we don’t fully understand what is happening to us and where we are going. 

And so as we search for our story to tell, for the story that will tell us how we move on and move out of lockdown, Jesus reminds that there is a story that we already know. It begins with the breaking of bread, and continues through suffering and death, but surprises us again and again with an empty tomb, new life and a risen Christ. 

A risen Christ who met those struggling disciples on the road.  

A Risen Christ who comes and meets us today. 

Asking to See Jesus

**A sermon written by the Rev. Courtenay Reedman Parker (@ReedmanParker on twitter) in collaboration with Rev. Erik Parker and inspired by Rev. Dr. Karoline Lewis’ text study “Freeing Thomas” attended via Zoom Friday April 17, 2020.**

GOSPEL: John 20:19-31
24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” (Read the whole passage)

Today, we are 7 days on from the morning of the Empty Tomb. Yet, Easter has only just begun. Easter is not just a day, but 50 days. Not just a day, but an entire season of the church year. Fifty days to celebrate the joy of the resurrection of Christ. And each year, on the second Sunday of the season, we hear the same story. The story of the disciples hiding out in a locked room and Jesus appearing to them. The story of Thomas missing the whole thing, refusing to believe it and Jesus returning a second time, a week later to appear to Thomas. 

This morning we momentarily return to the day of the empty tomb. For us the woman ran back to tell their story a week ago for the disciples we encounter in hiding, they have just heard the report of the women, just minutes or hours ago. Yet, even with this news, they are still hiding. Hiding because of grief. Their teacher and friend has died, and like so many of us when on of our loved ones dies, they likely found it hard to summon the courage to go out into the world. 

But also hiding because of legitimate fear. Jesus has been arrested, tried, and put to death by the religious authorities and the empire. The disciples don’t know if they are next, if the soldiers are out looking for them. Jesus wasn’t the first Messianic revolutionary figure to be executed by the Romans, and they wouldn’t be the first group of followers hunted down by the authorities either. 

And so they are hiding, with good reason to do so. 

Maybe until now we didn’t fully understand or appreciate the disciples’ response to their situation. Maybe we couldn’t understand what legitimate reasons to be locked down might look like before this moment. 

But we have a better understanding now. Now that we are also locked behind our doors. Now that we fear for our health and safety. Or following the orders of health and government bodies to stay home in order to stay healthy. Or perhaps begrudgingly following the pleas of grown children to stay inside because of the particular risk to seniors who don’t believe they are seniors that this virus poses. 

And so there in the midst of lockdown, as the disciples hide from the world in fear, Jesus appears. Jesus appears bringing peace and breathing into them the spirit. 

Then Jesus moves on. 

The disciples are left with a split experience. A new reality has been revealed to them, but still one that exists parallel to their current one. On the one side is the grief, danger, suffering and death. On the other surprising new life, a teacher and friend returned to them. 

And Thomas misses the whole thing. Unlike the others, Thomas isn’t hiding away on the day of the empty tomb. Perhaps he was dealing with the experience of crucifixion differently than the others, maybe we had accepted this new reality more quickly than the others. 

So when he returns to the group, and they share with him the news that the women had brought them, and then that they had experienced themselves first hand, Thomas is not on board. Thomas refuses to be pinball back and forth, to accept these two competing realities. 

It must have sounded like the most absurd thing Thomas had ever heard. This alternate reality that doesn’t line up with what he knows to be true: Jesus is dead. That’s the world he is living in. It doesn’t make sense that Jesus would be alive. The disciples, his friends, are living in an alternate universe where Jesus is living, while he, Thomas is living in the world where that is simply not the case.

And we get it. For many of us, this world that we are living in seems unbelievable. It is not normal. 

Earlier in the week, our family called Erik’s grandmother to wish her a happy birthday. She is 96 years old, living in a care home in Saskatoon. “What a strange world this is,” she remarked as the kids ran in and out of the conversation, simultaneously signing happy birthday while showing off ninja moves and Easter dresses. Normal conversations in abnormal times.

Split realities that hardly seem possible at the same time. 

It feels like we are living in an alternate universe. Where what should be, isn’t. What was normal may never be again. We are trying, sometimes desperately so, to keep doing the things we’re used to doing in these new or adapted ways, while at the same time knowing that the world we are living in is not the same. Cannot be the same. 

It is almost as if we be believe that this pandemic moment is like a dream, an exception to reality. That life will soon go back to normal and we will all forget this awful time of forced physical isolation, this time of pandemic.

Maybe rather than doubting that Jesus was alive, Thomas knew something that we haven’t quite figured out yet. 

There is no going back, there is no back to normal waiting for us on the other side. 

“We have seen the Lord,” the disciples exclaim to Thomas.

“But I haven’t,” Thomas must have thought to himself. 

Jesus comes to Mary Magdalene. Her resurrection moment is hearing Jesus call her by name.  Jesus appears before the disciples, behind locked doors, and says to them “Peace be with you”. They see the risen Lord and believe. 

Thomas isn’t asking for anything different than what the others have already experienced for themselves.  

The difference is that Thomas asks. In the midst of a mixed-up, fear and anxiety ridden, grief fuelled world, Thomas asks to see Jesus, just as the others have. 

Remember, that in John’s Gospel believing is synonymous with relationship. Thomas is not expressing doubt so much as desire to be in relationship with Jesus. To have the same experience of Jesus coming to him as he has heard Jesus has done for others. 

And doesn’t Thomas express what we all want and need? To know that our relationship with Jesus doesn’t just go away. That Jesus is with us in the midst of grief and death. In the midst of sickness and job loss, of uncertain and abnormal pandemic times. Just as Jesus is in the midst of the joy of new life, of celebrations and life as we have known it? To know that Jesus is with us even when we can’t be together, gathered in our church home, when we cannot touch one another through the sharing of the peace or the handshakes and hugs that we greet one another with week after week? When we cannot sing together, pray or play together as we are used to. 

That Jesus comes to us. Jesus finds us, no matter where we are, or what roadblocks of walls, or locked doors might be in the way. Jesus meets us where we are and reveals himself to us in ways that we can see, and hear, and identify. Even in the midst of death and grief. Even in the midst of pandemic and the unknown. 

Throughout the 50 days of Easter we encounter stories of the resurrection, of Jesus meeting people where they are and revealing himself, alive, to them. And through these experiences, Jesus’ friends and family, his disciples, come to believe: “I have seen the Lord” they exclaim to others: Mary Magdalene to the disciples, the disciples to Thomas and Thomas to the whole world: Jesus is not dead, but lives.