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Easter 2- 4/19/2020 – St. Paul’s

Is it just me, or does the transition from Lent to Holy Week to Easter feel harder this year?  Harder to grasp? Harder to celebrate? Yes, I believe the tomb is empty.  Christ is risen, death has been defeated, our sins are forgiven, and love wins.  I believe all of this.

And yet.

If you want to stay out of the rain, you need to invest in an umbrella. So the saying might go. Or in our world right now, if you want to stay clear of the cloud, you need to wear your mask. For what you can’t see, CAN hurt you!

We can’t see it.

We can’t feel it.

We can’t hear it.

We can’t touch it.

And yet, we cower in our homes for fear of the viral invader we call COVID-19.

This invisible force is changing the world, changing the way we do life, changing people. But not necessarily all for the worse.

Since the coronavirus crashed onto our shores, we’ve lost normal. We’ve lost most of the simple, habitual patterns of life. Now we’re planning and strategizing and organizing everything. Every. Stinking. Day. It’s exhausting.

I’ve heard it over and over: I’m ready for things to get back to normal.

But if we’ve learned anything from the pandemic’s disruption of daily life, it’s that we’ve cruised through much of our lives without really thinking about it. Sometimes normal stands in the way of a new way of living. A way that is truer to who we really are.

Don’t get me wrong. We need to lament…something we will be talking about in the newsletter next Thursday. It is human to mourn the loss of normal. There is much to be grateful for in the lives that we inhabited before COVID-19 swept across the globe.

And yet, while the old normal is suspended, we have the opportunity to discern what about that old normal is not worth going back to. And we who follow Christ have a holy invitation to let that go.

Followers of Jesus are resurrection people. We’ve staked our lives on the promise that, as Paul puts it, those who are in Christ are a New Creation. (2 Corinthians 5:17) And to be a new creation means that we not only accept but look for a new normal.

Jesus does more than repair what’s broken, merely putting things back the way they used to be. The resurrection brings a New Heaven and a New Earth. The former things pass away. The old normal passes away. And God brings into being a New Normal in Christ.

Each individual life consists of habits. Habits of thinking, feeling, and acting. It’s our normal. And some of that normal—even good and beloved parts of it—must be left behind to allow something more to emerge. An old self must die so that a truer, more loving self can emerge.

Our communities have social, cultural, economic, and political patterns. Justice and peace are the ideals of community life. And the patterns we have established provide that for some of us. But not for all of us.To achieve the justice and peace we all desire, an old normal must give way to a new normal. As we tell our own history, the American Revolution sought to do precisely that. To displace tyranny with the ideal of freedom and equality for all.

The Apostle Thomas understood that Jesus was talking about a New Normal.

In comparison to his friends, he was quick to see that the new normal would emerge from the grave of the old normal. That to be a person of the resurrection meant that he would have to let go of the comforts of the old normal. (John 20:1-31)

What Thomas saw in Jesus’ hands and feet were not disfiguring scars. Instead, he saw that Jesus’ wounds had been transformed into breath-taking icons of the divine love.

Jesus’ agony had not been left in the past. Jesus himself had been transformed. Transformed into a truer Jesus. The Jesus that Peter, James, and John had once glimpsed on the Mount of the Transfiguration.

In other words, Thomas wanted reassurance from Jesus himself before he let go of the old normal. Reassurance that letting go is the way to the new normal.

In our scripture for today in the gospel of John, Jesus’ disciples are sitting shiva for their lost leader. They are locked in and hidden away from the dangers outside, for their lives had just been turned upside down. Fearing arrest, or even worse death by those who had killed their leader, they feared being recognized or associated with the movement that had led to this travesty. They couldn’t trust their Temple colleagues. They didn’t know who would turn them in and who would guard their secrets. They couldn’t trust their friends, for even one of their own inner circle had betrayed Jesus, had taken a bribe and had turned him in. They barely trusted each other. They were disillusioned with the mission they thought Jesus had been preparing them for. With their rabbi gone, the air had gone out of their balloon, and they sat defeated, paralyzed, not sure what to do next.

As they hid away mourning and grieving both friend and purpose, Jesus appeared among them within the locked room. And their lives suddenly changed. Like a virtual kick in the pants, Jesus’ appearance seemed to energize the disciples, to restore their understanding in what he meant them to do, to revitalize their hope for the future, to reassure their belief in God’s mission and meaning. Jesus’ death forced them to look at Jesus’ mission finally in the way he meant them to see. It forced them into action proclaiming that Messiah meant Resurrection! And that resurrection meant salvation. It taught them the value of faith, not in themselves, not in their world, but in something beyond themselves –in God, and in the risen Jesus. It made them realize that they had power they never imagined they possessed. And when Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit upon them, they rose up, they went out, and they began to heal, and prophesy, and teach, and proclaim God’s victory. Just read the Acts of the Apostles.

Often, we don’t invest in change until change is forced upon us. Today, a virus is changing the world as we know it with what we might call forced innovation. Right now, people all over the world are engaging in social media, communications, relationships, heroism, philanthropy to a degree nearly unprecedented. The human spirit rises to the occasion when threatened or trampled. Human creativity soars by growing new wings the moment our wings are clipped. And God’s Spirit infuses us with life, hope, love, and compassion, even peace at the times when we most grieve.

Today, as in the days of the first apostles, our greatest and most valuable commodity is not gold, or money, or equipment, or even a cure, but faith –in God and in ourselves, in our future and in our human propensity for compassion and sacrificial love.

Jesus did not promise his disciples that things would go back to the way they were before. Bad things DID happen. Nothing was going to change that. But Jesus assured them that even better things would happen now–a new normal was going to happen if only they would go forward and proclaim Him risen!

Jesus sent His disciples out in the most scurrilous of times to heal those afflicted with doubt and grief, to encourage those who felt all was lost, to lift up those who felt dismayed, to give hope to the dying, to proclaim victory to those whose faith was faltering.They would be guarded by God’s power, fueled by their faith. But first, they would need to enter boldly into a brave new world, a different world, a changed world, to be stability in a culture in flux.

Peter, one of the most creative leaders of the new movement we now call the early church, recorded in the Acts of the Apostles and his letters to those hiding in their homes:You have a pure and enduring inheritance that cannot perish –an inheritance that is presently kept safe in heaven for you. Through his faithfulness, you are guarded by God’s power so that you can receive the salvation he is ready to reveal in the last time. You now rejoice in this hope, even if it’s necessary for you to be distressed for a short time by various trials…..Even though you don’t see him now, you trust him and so rejoice with a glorious joy that is too much for words. You are receiving the goals of your faith: your salvation. (1 Peter 1)

We may not see God around us.

We may not see the wounds in Jesus’ hands and side the way Thomas needed to see.

We may not hear Jesus’ voice in real time.

We may not see Him face to face in the way His disciples did when he walked this earth so long ago.

But that doesn’t mean His power isn’t there.

Like our invisible viral foe, Jesus’ power is there. Jesus appears to us in our locked homes and in our distress in the most astonishing, loving, healing, creative ways we can possibly imagine, filling us with hope, placing words of wisdom and proclamation into our mouths, and bolstering us up, so that we can create peace and joy even in the midst of a changing world.

Jesus did many signs John tells us, signs that were never even recorded in the gospels. But what was recorded, was done so, so you will believe that Jesus is Messiah, God’s Son, so you may have life in His name. (John 20:30-31)

Jesus is still doing miracles all around you. Just look at the energy of every first responder. Just look at the vitality of your online churches. Just look at the inspiration of your celebrities and heroes stepping up. Just look at the unity of a world united against a common foe.God’s Spirit is alive and kicking. And so are we.

In this time of Easter, may you continue to be uplifted, engaged, energized, and sent. I wish you creativity, joy, hope, and impetus to make your faith count, to invest in your future and in others.

For in a world when monetary investments are lost and material things are scarce, relationships are everything. Human life, eternal life means everything.

Gold is for hoarding. Faith is for sharing.

During this Week After Resurrection Sunday, during these hard times, may we find our solace, hope, and courage in the wounded, risen Christ.

May God’s blessings be upon you. Or as Jesus said to His disciples in that locked room: “Peace be with you.”