By The Rev. Sherry Deets
3 Easter – April 22, 2012
Last week, we heard about Thomas, his doubts, his questions about the risen Jesus. That was John’s account. This week we hear this story from a slightly different angle, from the writer of Luke. In his story, Jesus also suddenly appears among the disciples, but according to Luke, all of the disciples were fearful and unbelieving.
The disciples huddle together behind locked doors, afraid that the authorities will come after them. They struggle to take in these strange reports of “Jesus sightings” and wonder what it all means. Then, suddenly Jesus is there is their midst, “opening their minds”, and in so doing, sets them free from their fears. Today, we need such transformation.
Note the threefold progression of emotions. Those gathered in the room are already on edge. When Jesus appears in their midst, they are “startled and terrified.” They think they are “seeing a ghost”. Earlier them women have talked about the empty tomb, relaying the news that Jesus has arisen, and the two from Emmaus have told of Jesus being revealed to them as they broke bread. Still, the followers are not prepared when Jesus suddenly materializes.
Fear is the natural human response. It would be our response. Jesus responds to their fear in two ways. His first words are, “peace be with you”. Jesus both understands and challenges their fears. “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts”? Jesus meets the disciples where they are. Then by inviting the disciples to touch and see, and by eating some fish, he encourages them to move beyond where they are. For in Jesus, death is transcended.
Fear turns to joy, but they are still disbelieving and still wondering. Again, we can relate. Our hearts would thrill to see Jesus alive, but it is too much for our feeble minds to reason through to a logical conclusion. Yes, we are glad, but how can this be so? Jesus moves them to the next level. He uses familiar words of scripture to remind them of the prophecy. Jesus opens their minds to begin to see that death is not the final word. Set free from those bonds, they are commissioned to become witnesses. The seeds are planted that will come to fruition on Pentecost.
We cannot escape our fears. So, behind what locked doors are each of us hiding? Our fear may be very personal, such as the fear of hearing that dreaded word, “cancer”. Other fears are unemployment, loneliness, and loss. Often those fears get played out on a national level. We fear terrorist attacks. Underlying our fears is the one that we cannot seem to talk about easily – the fear of death, our own of that of someone we love. Our fears can hold us captive. It becomes difficult to give witness to the great joy that is ours—that the bonds of death could not hold Jesus. Jesus is alive. The power of the resurrection is the power to plant the seeds of transformation. The hope of the resurrection is grounded in the experience of those first followers. Closed minds can be opened. The potential is for a release in a prophetic way. The word of God calls us to peace rather than security.
Hiding behind locked doors may help us feel more secure, but we are still left with our fears and mistrust. The passage from Luke asks the question of us today, “how are we to be released from those fears in order to be a proper witness?”
Dorothy Soelle, born in Germany, in 1929, grew up during the years of Hitler and the Nazi regime. Her writings are theological reflections on coming to grip with the horrors of the concentration camps and life after World War II, realizing that her heritage of Protestant liberalism had failed to stop the war. She challenges the human propensity for wanting to feel safe, to feel secure from any threat, by seeking that from God. In her essay, “Peace, Not Security,” in Essential Writings, she notes that “change happens at the level of action that contains risk.” Later, in the essay, “Jesus’ Death,” Soelle goes on to write that “because you are strong [in Christ], you can put the neurotic need for security behind you. You do not need to defend your life like a lunatic. For the love of the poor, Jesus says, you can give your life away and spread it around.” (Dorothy Soelle, Essential Writings)
Jesus suddenly appeared in the midst of his early followers. He brought change to their lives as they moved from fright to alarm; to joy mixed with disbelief and puzzlement; to open and understanding minds and hearts. That marked shift in the core of their beings led them forth to take great risks, witnessing to the risen Christ. Jesus did not bring the security. Rather, they risked all in following his call. For they had come to understand that Jesus had conquered the ultimate threat, death itself, and their fears were groundless. Jesus’ words, “Peace be with you!” came to fruition in their hearts.
The challenge to twenty-first century Christians is great. Are we able to let go of our desire to be secure, whatever that may look like? Consider the signs of hope. A televised news report told of two women who were 9/11 widows. Grateful for the outpouring of support they received, they started thinking about the women in Afghanistan who, when widowed, lose status in that society and therefore find their already difficult lives even harder. They raised money and formed a foundation called Beyond the 11th to support Afghani widows, and even made visits to Afghanistan to meet the widows they were helping. For them, these connections have
helped to make sense of the world. The non-profit is still very active and their mission is to reach beyond differences of culture and geography to embrace the most essential of connections: humanity.
Reclaiming the ancient practice of hospitality for the stranger may lead us to our true home where all can be at peace. They model for us the gift of open and understanding minds and hearts.
Jesus tells his disciples in this morning’s gospel to spread the word, to take the message to all people and every nation. He stands among them that day as resurrected, on the other side of the chaos. He stands as a new creation and by his living presence declares — “There is life, and there is hope.” “Peace be with you”. Amen (Based on the notes of Nancy R. Blakely in Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 2 Third Sunday)
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