WORSHIP THIS WEEK: “It’s not fair!” We’ve all said it. We’ve all heard it. This Sunday, September 24, we hear a story that reminds us how incredibly unfair God’s grace is – and how we depend on that unfairness every day. Join us for worship at 10:00 on Sunday, either at 300 Shunpike Road or in our digital sanctuary here: https://www.youtube.com/live/pyQW0rXruqM?si=4Y9usDoGoO4q87Bv
April 16, 2023
I got a text from a friend this weekend who is attending the big annual conference of educational researchers. I used to have to go every year, and now many of my graduate school comrades attend in their roles as professors. It ranks as one of the most stressful experiences of my professional life. My friend’s message said this: “I am at that point [in the conference] where my bones hurt and not even caffeine will counter the exhaustion.”
You know that feeling, I suspect – when you’re so exhausted that your bones hurt.
Another friend, who lives in Washington State, shared this week that her young son Jack had spent spring break down in California with his grandparents. His little sister was so glad to see him when Jack and Mom picked her up from preschool that she held Jack’s hand on the entire walk home.
You know that feeling too – when you have missed someone you love, and you’re so happy to see them again that you just want to hold on tight and never let go.
Yesterday I attended an ordination service for my friend and new colleague Psomi. There’s a part during the service where all the pastors are invited to come up and lay their hands on the newly ordained person in a sign of blessing and solidarity. I remember that moment from my own ordination ten years ago – the weight of all those hands, the support that they represented, the body of Christ all around me in all of those bodies.
Sometimes you need to know that you are not alone, even if you’re not yet even sure what there is to be anxious about.
One of the things that we will encounter throughout the fifty days of Easter is that scripture is not interested in resurrection only as an abstraction. It’s not merely a supernatural phenomenon. Resurrection in scripture is embodied. We hear about the ways various followers of Jesus encounter his risen body, and we hear about how they are then prepared to go out into the world as witnesses of what they have seen and heard and touched and felt and tasted. This is about resurrection in the flesh.
Let me pause and clarify a little bit of chronology. Our gospel today is from John. Of the four gospels that tell us about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, John was the last one to be written down – somewhere between the years 90 and 100. What we read today happens in the immediate aftermath of the resurrection. The book of Acts, from which our first readings in this Easter season will come, is a sequel to the Gospel of Luke. Acts shows us the early days of the church, how a ragtag group of followers built on what Jesus had shown them and taught them to build a movement that we are a part of today as we gather this morning to worship. So the events we will read in Acts take place not just after the resurrection, but also after Jesus has ascended to heaven.
The particular part of Acts that we hear this morning is a continuation of the story we read on Pentecost Sunday, when the disciples are somehow able to communicate in ways that all of the crowds of people can hear in their native languages. That’s an embodied experience right there, isn’t it? To hear a powerful message in the language of your birth – it’s like being wrapped in a lullaby.
Today’s text from Acts is part of a long sermon that Peter delivers to the crowd, and in it he quotes from Psalm 16, which we read together a moment ago. Peter understands Psalm 16 to be speaking about Jesus. The psalmist describes what it means to see the Lord: “My heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; moreover my flesh will live in hope.” I love how this describes an embodied response – not just gladness and joy and hope in the abstract, but a glad heart, a rejoicing tongue, a hopeful flesh. We feel the most powerful responses in our flesh and blood and bones – our hearts racing, our hands shaking so much that we need to hold on to someone else’s steadier hands, our breathing faster. Sometimes faith feels exactly like that. That combination of fear and great joy that we reflected on last Sunday.
We find the disciples gripped by more fear than joy in that locked room. They have no way of knowing what the political and religious leaders are conspiring to do now, and it would be logical to assume that the disciples are the next on the hit list. I imagine their fear is palpable. Some of them are shaking. They are finding it hard to look at each other. Hearts racing.
Then Jesus shows up right there in the room. And there it is. Their fear turns to joy.
Jesus is not there as a ghost. He’s there in a body – a body, as we learn, that still bears the wounds of crucifixion.
Jesus is also there to get them ready for what comes next, to begin preparing them for the world we will read about in the book of Acts – a world in which, no matter how afraid they are, they will need to step up and tell the story and do the leading and the healing and the caring for those who are outcasts and all the things he’s taught them how to do.
Jesus gives them peace – and even then it is more than words. It is embodied. He breathes on them as he calms them: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” He breathes on them as he blesses and empowers them: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven.”
We know, of course, that Thomas misses this first appearance of Jesus. For all we know, Thomas is the only one who doesn’t seem terrified. He’s somewhere out there in the world while the rest of them are huddled in this room. Here’s my annual plea not to dismiss Thomas as a doubter. Thomas wants his own experience of the risen Jesus. He doesn’t want the second-hand accounts from his friends. He wants the actual encounter for himself. That’s in keeping with the Gospel of John’s understanding that faith is about being in relationship with Jesus, not just agreeing to something intellectually. This gospel is filled with stories of Jesus meeting people where they are and providing what they need – conversation, connection, community. He did it with Nicodemus, with the woman at the well, with the man born blind, with the woman caught in adultery, and with countless others who needed that relationship to know that they were loved and honored and forgiven.
It can feel harder to experience the risen Jesus all these centuries later. We, like Thomas, would prefer to have things be direct and clear. Certainly the natural world in this season shows us signs of new life. There are still the big surprises – the healing that shocks even the doctors, the new relationship that we didn’t expect, the relationship from years ago that reappears.
Those big moments are exciting. But the risen Jesus is also present in many daily and weekly ordinary moments. He’s there in the ways we love each other and feed each other and care for each other, support and forgive each other, walk with and welcome each other. He’s there in each heartbeat, each hug, each hand we hold.
There are plenty of reasons to be afraid. There are plenty of questions to ask. And that’s OK.
When you feel a bit shaky, take a deep breath. I encourage you to take one now.
And hear the words of Jesus for us too:
Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you. Receive the Holy Spirit.
S.D.G. – The Rev. Dr. Christa M. Compton, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Chatham, NJ
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Join the fun this summer as we experience the ride of a lifetime with God!
Rafters will explore how to serve God and God’s mission for their lives. Rolling River Rampage VBS is for children who will be 4 years old by October 1, 2018 with the oldest completing Grade 5 in June.
Monday through Thursday, July 16-19, 9:30 am – 12:15 pm
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