You Shall Not Be Overcome
Apr 19, 2020
I am blessed! That’s true for many reasons, but one of them is that I’m able to come here to the church on Sunday morning before any of our small “production” crew arrives and wander in the silence. I pause in the Welcome Center and look forward to our reuniting again to savor Jeanne Gardner’s amazing sugar cookies or Deb Rose’s luscious cream puffs. I stop in the Fellowship Hall and think about the children who rush up for the Children’s Message. I pause in the SJ/SP Foyer and say “hello” to Jesus, the Good Shepherd, in the beautiful stained glass window. I walk in circles in the sanctuary, admiring the light brightening the windows and singing some of my favorite hymns (which only happens if I’m absolutely sure I’m alone). And, in the midst of it all, I miss you - the sharing of your gifts and your presence, in our worship together.
I’m blessed to be able to be here and do these things for many reasons, but one of them is … that’s how I know it’s Sunday! If not for that, during this pandemic, every day would be “what day is it?” Here it is, the Sunday after Easter and, more so than most years, we can say that not much has changed – we are still washing our hands, standing at least six feet from one another and staying home – while we wonder when life will get back to normal.
It’s rather interesting, I think, to consider if the followers of Jesus were thinking and doing the same things one week after Easter. As the Gospel lesson begins, it’s still THAT day, what we call Easter Sunday, and the “doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews.” In spite of reports that Jesus is alive, even from those who are among them. The frightened group is not celebrating but hiding.
They are afraid of the Jewish leaders who were behind the plot to kill Jesus. They likely are afraid for their own lives and afraid of their uncertain futures. But, the resurrected Jesus is not stopped by locked doors, nor put off by their fear. He does not confront them with their failures, but offers them peace, and, finally, they rejoice. Thomas missed out on all this, and when he hears the account of Jesus’ visit, he is insistent about what it will take for him to believe.
As the Gospel reading continues, it’s one week later…one week since “He is risen” was first proclaimed, just as is the case for us today. It’s one week since we rejoiced – in a bit more subdued manner, and yet, we rejoiced - at the resurrection of Jesus. What has changed? We read that seven days have passed, but the disciples are still in the house – no doubt the door is still locked and, probably, they are still afraid even though they, except for Thomas, have seen the Risen Lord.
We might ask, why are they still there? What difference has the empty tomb made in their lives? How has seeing Jesus, and receiving his peace, changed them? And what about us? One week after Easter, how have we been changed by Jesus’ resurrection and our celebration of it? Do we see our lives and the world in a different light?
It’s true; our world has changed significantly since we first heard terms like Corona Virus, or Covid 19, or physical distancing or stay at home order. Some people have been impacted more than others. The changes for a 26-year-old who usually works from home and connects with friends on social media probably pale in comparison with a two-parent, two-elementary age-children, one-dog household who are all at home, all day, trying to work and learn and enjoy afternoon-long naps and a rawhide bone. It’s easy for that household, or the ones that have battled Covid 19, to say how their lives are different because of the pandemic, but how about because of the resurrection of Jesus?
Well, the good news, according to the Episcopalian priest, Father Michael Marsh, is that resurrection takes time; understanding how we are changed by the resurrection of Jesus is not instant. “It is not a one-time event. It’s something that we grow into. It’s a process. It’s a way of being and a life to be lived. By the grace of God, we evolve into resurrected people through relationships and the circumstances of our lives. God wastes nothing. Every day we are stepping into the resurrected life. It’s not always easy and some days are just plain hard.” (1)
The resurrected life means that when fear and anxiety lock us in – pandemic or not – Jesus cannot be stopped by locked doors, writes commentator Elisabeth Johnson. “He comes to us just as he came to his first disciples, right in the midst of our fear, pain, doubt and confusion. He comes speaking peace, breathing into our anxious lives the breath of the Holy Spirit. What is more, he keeps showing up.” (2)
That’s good to know since our lives and our world did not transform instantly, at least not in visible ways, just because Jesus was raised from the dead. But, because Jesus was raised from the dead, as I said last Sunday, he is with us and for us now and in eternity.
In the most recent edition of Christian Century, Pastor Richard Lischer reflected on Holy Saturday, the day after Jesus’ crucifixion. He describes that day as one of waiting. Most days feel like a day of waiting now, don’t you think?
For what are we waiting, Pastor Lischer asks, “For it to be over. For those who are sick to recover. For a magically resurrected economy? For school to start and the multiplex to open. For baseball. For a paycheck once again. Waiting to get back to where we were - which for many of us was not a good place to begin with.” (3)
Maybe, to add to his list, we are waiting to know what day of the week it is. BUT, we are not waiting for Jesus, because he has been, is, and will be with us. Pastor Lischer ends his reflection on Holy Saturday by referring to mystic Julian of Norwich, who lived during a plague in the mid-1300s.
While her best-known quote is, “But all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well,” Pastor Lischer notes that his favorite line from her writing is when she quotes the Lord as saying, “You shall not be overcome.” (4)
You shall not be overcome. That’s what has changed by the resurrection of Jesus. AMEN