Posts Tagged ‘Easter and COVID-19’

Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter


A Sermon on John 20:19-23

Sunday, April 19, 2020

In spite of Mary Magdalene’s testimony, Easter was not a day of overwhelming joy for Jesus’ first followers.  Joy was overshadowed by overwhelming fear.  The authorities had done the unthinkable to Jesus, and now anybody associated with Jesus was in danger.

To guard against people bursting in on them, Jesus’ followers hunkered down behind locked doors.  They were still too shocked to begin discerning what their next steps should be.  And if what Mary Magdalene said was true, and Jesus really was risen, what might he say to them if they did see him?  The memory of their faithlessness haunted them.  Easter evening found the church in lockdown.

A different danger has put us in lockdown.  The enemy we hope to keep out can only be seen through an electron microscope, and the best we can do is try to keep our distance from it by keeping our distance from each other.  One of the most heartbreaking things about this is that some people truly are locked in in institutional settings, and their loved ones cannot get in to see them.  People are doing their best to care and connect by phone and computer when possible.  They feel fortunate when their loved ones’ rooms are on the first floor.  I saw a photo yesterday of two brothers standing up on stools so they could see into their elderly mother’s room from the outside.

The fear is about more than the virus itself.  There are fears about finances.  How are we going to pay our bills?  What about our retirement funds?  What are we going to do when no job means no health insurance?

One of my big fears is that we won’t learn anything from this as a national family, and that we will go right back to the situation as it was before the coronavirus hit us: when millions and millions of Americans were already living just one paycheck away from disaster.  When a minimum wage job is not enough to be able to afford basic, decent housing anywhere in the country, and with many working two and three jobs and still being unable to afford insurance and basic medical and dental care.  With people at the top of the economic ladder accumulating more and more, indeed watching their bonuses and stocks and all their perks soar, at least until recently, while taking less and less civic and public and tax paying responsibility for the wellbeing of other Americans.  So critical functions like public health and critical maintenance are chronically underfunded.  As a character in a book I was reading yesterday put it, “Why is it that those who have the most want even more?”

And then there’s great uncertainty about when we will be able to relax the restrictions, and what our next steps should be so as not to unleash another wave of sickness.  What we are experiencing at Easter this year does resemble what Jesus’ first followers experienced that first Easter.

Locked doors didn’t keep Jesus out, however.  The risen Lord quietly slipped in among his followers, and the first words out of his mouth were gentle and gracious: Peace be with you.  Then, before they had a chance to respond, Jesus was already showing them his hands and his side, assuring them that he was real, not a figment of the imagination; and what’s more that he was one and the same as the Jesus they knew and loved.  That’s when joy started coming over them, John says.

Jesus then repeated the word of peace, that powerful word that was so full of love, healing, justice, and wellbeing, and he gave them a new sense of purpose.  Whatever their next steps turned out to be, they would serve the purpose of continuing Jesus’ own life and work.  “As the Father sent me, so I am sending you,” he said.  The gifts of peace and purpose were wonderful in themselves.  But Christ Jesus wasn’t finished yet.  He breathed his Holy Spirit on them.  As we’ve observed before, the word for breath and spirit are the same in both Hebrew and Greek.  Just as God breathed life into humanity in the beginning, now Christ Jesus breathed new life into his people, new life, and spirit power.

If we read on in scripture, a few chapters and a few weeks later, these same frightened followers had come out from behind locked doors and were boldly sharing the good news of Jesus any way they could.

No barriers are a match for Jesus now.  What he did for his followers that first Easter he does for us now.  Wherever crisis and pain have chased people’s peace away, Jesus slips in among them.  He speaks the word of peace, and brings the peace of his presence.  He opens his hands, those same wounded healing hands to us, encircling us with those same strong, everlasting arms.  He breathes his Spirit on, in, and among us.  Right here in my study.  Right there where you are.  He sends us to continue his life and work.

By the power of his Spirit, we will continue to be his body now, prayerfully sharing his good news any way we can even though our movements are limited right now.  And then, when next steps start to become clear, we will move out in power.  Yes, power!

We who pray over and over, “thy kingdom come, and thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” will have the opportunity to practice our king’s way.  We can be a part of the healing, of making things better in all the communities of which we are a part, from the local to the national and the world.  We know our God is the one who can change things so that we don’t have to just snap back to the same business as usual and the same injustice as before.  

May the peace of the risen Christ be with all who suffer this day, and with all who are fearful for loved ones or for themselves.  May the peace of Christ be with all who are waiting on him, all you with longing hearts, all needing comfort and strength.  May the peace of Christ be with all of you who are heavily burdened, and give you rest.

Beloved, may the peace of Christ be with you all, holding you near to the heart of God, now and always.  AMEN.

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