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April 19, 2020

Easter 2: John 20:19-22

Rev. Carla Wilks at Mount Seymour United Church

In our scripture reading today we will hear how Jesus, the Risen Christ, appeared to the disciples, breaking through locked doors where they were fearing for their lives.  We will hear him speak to them and to us the words “Peace be with you.”  As we listen to these words, may we know the peace of Christ is with us, today and always.

Reader: It was still the first day of the week. That evening, while the disciples were behind closed doors because they were afraid… Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. When the disciples saw the Lord, they were filled with joy. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As [Abba, God] sent me, so I am sending you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” – John 20: 19-22

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. This man, Jesus, their teacher and friend, was killed. Perhaps they feared their own lives, that they might be next.  Their fear was compounded by the grief that they felt by the death of their friend.

Like the disciples in the reading today, while behind the closed doors of our own homes, over the last several weeks there have been many things in the news and in our daily lives that certainly can stir up feelings of fear in us.  Will I get the virus?  Will someone I love get it?  Do I have it and not know?  Is it safe to leave my house at all? Or on the flip side of that – for those who live in homes filled with violence – is it safe to be IN my house right now? Will I be able to get the surgery I need for my diagnosis… and when?  What if someone coughs on me at the grocery store? My children are essential workers – will they remain safe?  Take a moment and think about what causes you fear in these days.

Our fears are compounded by our grief… When will I be able to see my friends again?  When can I see my elderly mother again, not just through the window of her care home?  When will it be safe to hug my grandchildren? When will I be able to gather to celebrate the life of my loved one who died?  The question for my daughter, Angela and her friends right now is “will my graduation ceremony happen?” Other unexpected news in our family was hearing this week that several of the scholarships that she has applied for are being discontinued for this year due to cut backs and lack of funds.  There’s the grief of being in the most exciting times in life and wondering how or if the celebrations will happen…  having a baby 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 time.  What are some unexpected effects of this time of isolation that you are grieving the loss.

We don’t know how much longer this will go on – 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.  I find some of those shifts happening already.  I like to listen to audiobooks on my commute from Burnaby to North Vancouver – it has been a great way to pass the time and the drive when I’m stopped in rush hour traffic on the highway or at the tunnel or on the bridge. Last week when I was driving over to the church one day, I had my audio book on, and as I was listening, the characters were doing activities that we just would not be able to do these days, and I kept catching myself thinking in judgment of these fictional characters – hey you shouldn’t be that close to each other – or wait, don’t walk into that crowd of people!  Yes – it is just a fictional book – but my mind and my thinking had already had a significant shift in what is now acceptable behaviour. And makes me wonder what life will look like once some of the restrictions are lifted.

Last Sunday at 11 at our virtual coffee hour via Zoom, one of the check-in questions that we offered for people to think about was what they hoped would come out of this time of distancing, personally or for the world, and it was really meaningful to hear all of the thoughtful responses about cherishing what is important, about greater compassion, about personal connections.

This week when I saw a quote from Sonya Renee Taylor it made me think of our coffee hour conversations.  She says:  We will not go back to normal.  Normal never was.  Our pre-corona existence was not normal other than we normalized greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate and lack.  We should not long to return, my friends.  We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment.  One that fits all of humanity and nature.

So what will that new garment we are stitching look like? What will be the blessings that come from this time?

Our Easter series, Heart of the Matter has a focus scripture for the entire series that says, “they ate their food with glad and generous hearts.” One way we can be glad and generous is to share about how we are finding strength, hope, love and peace in these days. This is part of “breaking bread” with each other as we break open our hearts to one another as well.

Last Sunday at our Easter dinner table, it was a smaller crowd than we were used to for Easter – just the ones who live in my house – me and my two daughters and my two homestay students.  Me and my four teenage girls around the Easter table.  We broke open our hearts to one another by going around the table and sharing what it was that has been an unexpected blessing during this time of isolation and what feels somewhat like an extended Spring Break.  The conversation instead mostly turned to what brought them comfort.  One said it was the group chats with her friends, another said it was keeping to a routine each day of things that she would normally do – but all inside the house (except for a walk each day outside).  Another said how blessed she felt to be able to spend Easter with her family in Brazil via video – because she figured that if they had all been able to get together in person, she would have been the only one missing, and she just would have been missed – but because they were all gathering on video, she was able to be part of it as well and join with her family in Brazil for Easter via video.

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.

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 listening to Dr. Bonnie Henry and Adrian Dix’s daily briefings.  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 (I wish that was me!) and some through working in the garden.  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.  A few weeks ago when we were still in the middle of Lent, I saw a meme that really resonated with me – it said: This is the Lentiest Lent I ever Lented. I really wondered what Easter would feel like amid this time of isolation and physical disconnection.  But Easter did not wait for social isolation to be over – 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 our days ahead. May it be so for you today and always. Thanks be to God.  Amen.