April 3, 2016
Second Sunday of Easter
Anthem: Creation Will Be at PeaceSenior Choir
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
So the disciples have gathered together and have locked the door. Their Jesus, their leader, their hope, their Messiah, has been killed by the Romans, at the request of the religious authorities who feared empire more than they trusted God. That is what is meant by “for fear of the Jews” in John’s Gospel. This is not worry about the people in the synagogue. This is about knowing that the ones in power in the Temple will keep their power by collaborating with Rome and helping them get rid of troublemakers and instigators and upstarts and people with protest signs.
And Jesus shows up. In their midst. Not caring how locked the door is or how afraid they are. Jesus shows up and says, “Peace be with you.” Not once, but twice, “Peace be with you.”
And when Thomas shows up and they tell him what has happened, he is as doubtful and as fearful as they had been before they had seen him. In fact, he wants proof. Show me his wounds, let me see the evidence of his death, and I will believe it is him, Thomas says.
And Jesus shows up again. And again, now for a third time, as if to say, “Do you get it now?” Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”
We cannot discount the locked door and the fear. It was a rational fear. They had an accurate view of reality. The Romans had no problem with crucifixions. They performed thousands of them. And if getting the leader was not enough, they would go after the followers. And the religious authorities were caught between the people who were expecting a Messiah and Rome who would not hesitate to change from crucifixions to marching in a Legion of soldiers if need be. So the disciples cannot be entirely dismissed for locking the door and fearing for their lives. Jesus was dead.
But into this rational understanding of how the world works, into this locked room, comes a new reality, a resurrection reality: Jesus shows up. And both for Thomas and the other disciples before him, it is when they see the evidence of his death that they recognize him as the risen Jesus. Their reality is still that of death and not of resurrection, still of despair and not of hope, still of the reality of the powers that be not the new reality of the risen Christ.
Into this old reality, this despair, this time of grief, that Jesus comes and says, “Peace be with you.” And again, “Peace be with you.” And a third time, “Peace be with you.”
When has God shown up for us? When, in the midst of our fear, our distress, our despair, our grief, our understanding of reality with all of its problems and difficulties, has Jesus somehow gotten past all our locked doors and all our fears and said, “Peace be with you”?
Holy Week is a special time in the life of the church, and I appreciate each of the special days and services that we have. One of our newer practices I find particularly inspiring is the shared reading of the Gospel of Mark out loud on the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
But if I had to pick, my favorite is Maundy Thursday. We read and relive the story of the Upper Room, the Last Supper, the Passover Seder at which Jesus began what is now our sacrament of Holy Communion. I love the new commandment given,
…that [we] love one another. Just as [Jesus has] loved [us], [we] also should love one another. By this everyone will know that [we] are [his] disciples, if [we] have love for one another. (John 13:34b-35, adapted)
And we have added to this service the practice of foot washing. It is humbling, in the best possible sense of the word, to kneel and pour water over the feet of people and to dry them. It is a moment of grace to be a part of this service.
But Holy Week is also a busy week. Lots of church stuff, an ecumenical Good Friday service, which sometimes means prepping for stuff that is not always well in hand, preparations for Easter Dinner, and all the other things that are a part of getting through our days. It is the reality of our lives that even the holy days of the church are also filled with shopping for toilet paper and cat food and picking the kid up after school.
But this year, as Dawn and I were washing feet, God showed up. I had invited people to come forward who wanted their feet washed. And there was some hesitation. This is still not that regular in the life of our church. But some people came up.
One of those whose feet I washed was Sandra Field. And as I am holding her foot and pouring water over it, I have a powerful memory of the fourth grade. Now, in the strange way of the world, her daughter and I went to school together in Tennessee in the fourth grade. But that is not the memory I had.
Fourth grade was one of the years when we learned about our state. So we had a program that we put on, singing the Tennessee Waltz and Rocky Top and the Chattanooga Choo-Choo.
I was the kid in the suit, playing the part of the traveler on the Chattanooga Choo-Choo. And I had my foot up on a shoe shine box. My classmate who was picked to be the shoeshine guy was African American. And in our fourth grade voices we sang
Pardon me boy, is that the Chattanooga Choo-Choo? Track 29. Boy won’t you give me a shine.
I do not remember being uncomfortable with the casting at the time. I was 9. But looking back, the white kid wears the suit and gets his shoes shined and we call the black kid who does it “boy.”
Remembering this while I am washing Sandra’s feet, something in me broke a little bit. Not broke as in was broken, but in the sense of was broken open.
I told this story that night, after the service. And I said, we have a long way to go in our world where the reality is that race still means such casting is done without irony, but in Sandra coming up and letting me wash her feet, a part of my soul was healed.
Let us not discount our understanding of reality. We do not simply dismiss our concerns, our worries, our fears.
But in this season of Easter, how is Jesus showing up behind our defenses and our worries and saying, “Peace be with you”?
And how shall we live into this resurrection reality together? For this is the new life that Jesus brings, more powerful than the locked doors, more real than the fears, more trustworthy than the strength of our own efforts.
How have you witnessed the resurrection in your life?
Thanks be to God.