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In our scripture reading just now we heard how Jesus, the Risen Christ, appeared to the disciples, breaking through locked doors where they were fearing for their lives.
In this part of the story today – the disciples were afraid – perhaps the events of the previous week were overwhelming and too much to bear. Mary Magdalene’s announcement of her witness to the resurrection could not convince them. The empty tomb is not the sign of his resurrection for the disciples but a source of disappointment and fear, which leads them to gather in a locked house.
This man, Jesus, their teacher and friend, was killed. Perhaps they feared for their own lives, that they might be next. Their fear was compounded by the grief that they felt by the death of their friend. There were rumours of resurrection, but they weren’t sure if they should believe it. Maybe someone just stole the body. Fear and grief, wrapped up together.
We are now intimately familiar with words such as lockdown and fear. Like the disciples in the reading today, while behind the closed doors of our own homes, essentially for over a year, we may have experienced fear in our own contexts. We have experienced wounds and traumas that the global pandemic of the virus and injustices caused. Over the last several weeks there have been many things, too close to home in the news and in our daily lives that certainly can stir up feelings of fear in us. The stabbing attack here in North Vancouver in Lynn Valley, children and women being followed, taunted and assaulted around the Lower Mainland. And as our numbers surge, I find myself being more concerned now than I was a year ago when everything was locked down much more significantly. At that time I was more worried about the most vulnerable in our community, our seniors, my parents. Now that most of them are protected by at least their first dose of vaccine, I worry more about my kids and even myself and other not-yet vaccinated people, as more virus is circulating in the community than ever before.
I fear the long-term effect on mental health that this has produced, and I have concern for the other public health emergency in BC, the opioid crisis, and how much worse it has become in the last year. Watching the news these days, it feels like people are getting exhausted and weary, and in many conversations that I have had over the last few weeks, I have heard a lot of discouragement. People are being vaccinated, so more protection is out there – but at the same time others are throwing caution to the wind and ignoring health orders and the virus is spreading more than ever.
I invite you to take a moment and think about what causes you fear in these days.
In March I attended a four-week leadership series offered by the Pacific Mountain Region of the United Church, for people in leadership in the church. It was called “How to lead, when you don’t know where you are going.” A clever title, and appropriate too, because we were reflecting on the times we currently find ourselves in, when we don’t know what things will look like on the other side of this. Susan Beaumont, the session presenter is a church leadership expert, and she talks about this time as being a liminal time. A liminal time, simply put, is defined as a time after something has ended and before something new has begun. A liminal time is a time of uncertainty and sometimes chaos. Often during this time, our values emerge more strongly – we realize what we miss about being together, and – yes – what we don’t miss about being together. It gives us the opportunity to see things differently, from a new perspective and thoughtfully move ahead with purpose into the future.
We know that things will not be the same again after having been through this pandemic, but we aren’t yet sure about what will remain and what might change. We may have some fear in that, fear of losing things that are important to us when we return to whatever life will be like on the other side of pandemic.
The disciples were in what could be explained as a liminal time. Jesus, their friend and teacher that they followed, learned from and heard stories from had died. This time with their teacher had come to an end. They didn’t know exactly what was coming next. Jesus had told them that he would see them again, but what exactly did he mean by that? They were caught in a confusing time of uncertainty. They feared what their new reality meant, and they were unsure of how to move forward.
Like the disciples, our fears are compounded by our grief… When will we be able to see our friends again? Will we be able to hug anyone again? When will it be safe to hug our grandchildren? Finally next year, will we be able to have Easter dinner with our usual guests? When will we be able to gather to celebrate the life of our loved ones who have died? When can we be together in church again, and sing and pray and share meals together? And then there’s the grief of being in the most exciting times in life and wondering how or if the celebrations will happen… Another graduating class unable to celebrate. Women having babies and not being able to celebrate with friends and family. Grandparents not being able to hold their first grandchild. Couples wondering if they’ll be able to have the wedding that they have been planning and dreaming about for a long time. Think for a moment about some of the things that have caused you grief during this past year. What are some unexpected effects of this time of isolation that you are grieving the loss of.
We don’t know how much longer this will go on, how much longer we will be in this liminal time – or how many more losses and disappointments we will have, but we do know that having gone through this experience, we will be forever changed.
When the disciples were behind their locked doors sitting in their time of fear and grief, they wondered what would come next and knew that they would be forever changed. The disciples are fearful. Good news does not erase fear. Good news, incredible news, can ignite hope, but even hope does not eliminate genuine fear. So, there they were in a familiar place desperate with unfamiliar fear. An empty tomb isn’t enough to confirm that all Jesus promised is true. What does the resurrection mean? It means God still shows up.
So Jesus shows up. Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” No doubt it was Jesus. They recognized the scars. They see the stripes on his back and the hole in his side. And in recognition, John says they rejoiced. God is (still) with us! And Jesus, like God breathing life into the first human, breathed on the disciples. Jesus empowers them in a very intimate way by breathing the Holy Spirit on them, and Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you.” Amid their fear, the peace that Jesus gives will enable them to go out. As God sent Jesus, he sends the disciples into the world. His followers are invited to continue the work of forgiving and peace-making through the power of the Holy Spirit.
As Jesus appeared to his disciples to bring peace in their time of fear and grief, Jesus also comes to us in our time of fear and grief behind our closed doors. The Gospel of John invites us to see the life that Jesus has given to the world in the midst of wounds, pains, and traumas. But he breathes the Spirit on his disciples, and he breathes the Spirit on us. Amid our wounded hearts and in these troubled times, the message we receive is one of peace and comfort. Our pain and sorrow may turn to joy.
We feel peace in so many different ways. For some it is through communicating with friends and loved ones – using our telephones to talk on the phone once again. Or having video chats with family, or meeting a neighbour on the street while out for a walk, or enjoying the beautiful weather we have been having. Some find peace by following the news closely and knowing everything there is to know about the virus, the vaccine and its impact on the world… some find peace by not following the news at all! Others find peace through their focused spiritual practice or prayer time. For others it is through comfort food or doing a jigsaw puzzle. Others find peace through cleaning and organizing, or by exercising or reading novels, and some through working in the garden and watching new life emerge and spring flowers bloom. What are some of the ways that you find peace? What are some of the sights or sounds or words or actions that are for you that “voice in your ear” that says, “Peace be with you.” Or if you don’t feel like you have experienced peace, what is a memory that you have of something that brings you peace?
The greatest thing that brings me peace is in knowing that out of death there comes resurrection and new life. The basis of our faith leads me to believe that with this death – death of our usual patterns and usual routine, will come new life, a new way of being. I remember thinking last year that I wondered what Easter would feel like amid this time of isolation and physical disconnection. A time when it felt very Lent-like. And now here we are, a year later. Easter did not wait for social isolation to be over – Easter came anyway. Easter didn’t wait for the pandemic to be over. Easter came anyway. Easter didn’t wait for everyone to be vaccinated. Easter came anyway. Easter came to our empty sanctuaries and empty Easter dinner tables. God enters in, even to our darkest times and places and shows us the love that is beyond all measure, the peace of Christ that comes knocking behind our closed doors, and the Spirit that is breathed into us to keep us going and looking forward to a brighter tomorrow. May you feel that love of God surrounding you, the peace that the Risen Christ offers deep in your heart, and the breath of the Spirit upholding you in your days ahead. May it be so for you today and always.
Thanks be to God.