St. Paul’s Congregational Church
April 19, 2020 – Easter 2A
John 20: 19 – 31
Our Easter story today continues on Easter Sunday evening with the disciples gathered fearfully behind locked doors – in some ways this is our story too, isn’t it. It looks like we’re facing another month of this “new normal” – and we can’t help but being afraid, frustrated, depressed – but the promise of Eastertide is still with us: an opportunity for transformation, of new life, of regrowth and it’s so good to be together on this journey, to be reminded that we’re never alone, that we’re all in this together and we will get through it together.
For some reason Thomas isn’t with the disciples that night when the disciples have been told by Mary Magdalene that she has seen Jesus but they don’t seem to understand. He wasn’t there when Jesus appears in their midst, he shows them his hands and side – there can be no mistake. The Risen Christ is standing with them and they are filled with joy. Jesus greets them with a blessing of peace and then commissions them to go and teach and heal others as he has done. He breathes on them and they receive the Holy Spirit to help and strengthen them, he gives them the power to become agents of forgiveness in the world.
Thomas returns later and he doubts the news that Jesus is alive. It’s a week later when the scene is repeated – this time Thomas is there. Jesus tells him, do not doubt but believe – touch my side, see my hands – and Thomas responds, “My Lord and my God!”
Jesus isn’t angry or disappointed at Thomas’ questioning, his doubt – he gives Thomas what he needs to be able to trust and believe. And Jesus does that for us too. All of the disciples come to experience and believe in the risen Christ in their own way – as do we. How do you experience the transforming power of the risen Christ today?
Jesus says to Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Maren Tirabassi has written a poem that may help us experience that power, especially in today’s context:
Blessed are the ones, says Thomas, to those who listen to him this eastertide, who don’t need a sanctuary to worship God.
Blessed are those who don’t need a choir to hear holy music, and who don’t need to sit in a pew to open their hearts in prayer, and who don’t need a stained glass window, or a preacher or even bread and cup to find the good news.
Blessed are those who really touch even with gloves on, who really smile with a mask, who can be kind on Facetime or Zoom, who follow a livestream to find Jesus alive.
But also blessed is the Thomas in every one of us who acknowledges our longing to hold someone’s real warm hand not just the story of a hand that reaches out to someone else,
and who wants to feel not Jesus long-ago bleeding side (we congratulate ourselves about that) but at least to feel side by side with other Christians in order to be side by side with Christ.
Blessed is the Thomas in all of us who lives with doubts and hopes,
and learns to let go of all expectations when waiting to meet God. – Maren Tirabassi
This is so true for us as church too, isn’t it. Another article I read this week says, Jesus was Resurrected. He wasn’t resuscitated. Jesus came out of the tomb different – he warns the disciples not to cling to him – that’s our natural tendency for resuscitation, isn’t it – to cling to what we feared and grieved what we lost; to hold onto it so it can’t go away again. But resurrection moves us forward, not backward.
Remember the Easter metaphor of metamorphosis – caterpillar to butterfly? As the caterpillar enters the chrysalis it liquifies itself internally as new cells emerge for the formation of a new creature – what goes into the chrysalis is not the same as what comes out, is it.
The week that follows Easter shifts us. It always has. And this year we’ve had a month of self-quarantining in our homes. We are tired. We are so ready to shift. Debate rages about how soon we can get back to normal – that phrase again, “back to normal” – that strong tendency to resuscitate, isn’t it.
The question for us is, are we going to resuscitate our church or resurrect it? We’ve seen a lot in this time of quarantine – photos from space show a cleaner earth. Photos from earth show a cleaner sky – hasn’t the blue in the sky these days been more intense? We are learning new ways to connect in worship and community. We see stories of the impact churches are having from making masks to meal sharing to grocery shopping for those who need the church to be church.
We are learning lessons about what is possible. About adaptation and creativity. About new ways to connect folks with sacred community. Lessons about ways God moves among and within us. Lessons learned about partnerships and networks within our neighborhoods. Now, there’s a lot of good in what was for sure – worship held in sacred space and moments where we experience God. Working together to bring the love and justice of God into the world.
But we’ve also learned there have been limitations – limitations that kept us from being all that God knows is possible. Limitations that may have confirmed the view of many that the church is neither effective or relevant. Limitations we do not want to resuscitate. This is the choice we will all face in the coming weeks: do we go back to normal or do we take what we have learned into a new normal.
Christ is alive and well. Let’s shake away the doubt that traps us in a world of fear and celebrate the hope that our Risen Lord has given us as we hear Christ’s words: Peace be with you. Receive the presence of the Risen Christ – God is with us in the happiest times and the darkest moments. Let’s celebrate that as we continue to observe Eastertide!
I share with you the devotion that opened our New Jersey Association Council meeting this week:
A Grinchy Easter Poem~ How the Virus Stole Easter By Kristi Bothur With a nod to Dr. Seuss Twas late in ‘19 when the virus began Bringing chaos and fear to all people, each land. People were sick, hospitals full, Doctors overwhelmed, no one in school. As winter gave way to the promise of spring, The virus raged on, touching peasant and king. People hid in their homes from the enemy unseen. They YouTubed and Zoomed, social-distanced, and cleaned. April approached and churches were closed. “There won’t be an Easter,” the world supposed. “There won’t be church services, and egg hunts are out. No reason for new dresses when we can’t go about.” Holy Week started, as bleak as the rest. The world was focused on masks and on tests. “Easter can’t happen this year,” it proclaimed. “Online and at home, it just won’t be the same.” Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, the days came and went. The virus pressed on; it just would not relent. The world woke Sunday and nothing had changed. The virus still menaced, the people, estranged. “Pooh pooh to the saints,” the world was grumbling. “They’re finding out now that no Easter is coming. “They’re just waking up! We know just what they’ll do! Their mouths will hang open a minute or two, And then all the saints will all cry boo-hoo. “That noise,” said the world, “will be something to hear.” So it paused and the world put a hand to its ear. And it did hear a sound coming through all the skies. It started down low, then it started to rise. But the sound wasn’t depressed. Why, this sound was triumphant! It couldn’t be so! But it grew with abundance! The world stared around, popping its eyes. Then it shook! What it saw was a shocking surprise! Every saint in every nation, the tall and the small, Was celebrating Jesus in spite of it all! It hadn’t stopped Easter from coming! It came! Somehow or other, it came just the same! And the world with its life quite stuck in quarantine Stood puzzling and puzzling. “Just how can it be?” “It came without bonnets, it came without bunnies, It came without egg hunts, cantatas, or money.” Then the world thought of something it hadn’t before. “Maybe Easter,” it thought, “doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Easter, perhaps, means a little bit more.” And what happened then? Well....the story’s not done. What will YOU do? Will you share with that one Or two or more people needing hope in this night? Will you share the source of your life in this fight? The churches are empty - but so is the tomb, And Jesus is victor over death, doom, and gloom. So this year at Easter, let this be our prayer, As the virus still rages all around, everywhere. May the world see hope when it looks at God’s people. May the world see the church is not a building or steeple. May the world find Faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection, May the world find Joy in a time of dejection. May 2020 be known as the year of survival, But not only that - Let it start a revival. AMEN!!