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St. Paul’s – Easter 2 – 4/24/2022

When you hear the word church, what picture comes to your mind? Just close your eyes and think church? What did you see? A large neo-gothic cathedral? A picture-perfect white frame building with arched windows and a high steeple? Perhaps a sturdy brick building with a bell tower? Maybe something more modern; with soaring glass walls and sharp angles vaulting toward the sky? Maybe a community gathered around Word and Sacrament, sitting in folding chairs in a rented room used for something else most of the time?  Perhaps a stage with people playing drums and guitars and people with closed eyes and upraised arms singing words of praise? What do you see when you hear the word church?

I’d almost be willing to bet none you saw fifteen or twenty scared and lonely people, huddled behind closed and locked doors, whispering among themselves, jumping out of their skins at every noise from the outside. Whatever our image of church is, it usually doesn’t include locked doors and frightened people. Yet that is the picture John paints of the very first church.

First Church, Jerusalem: gathered together on that first Sunday after Jesus’ death; huddled and hiding, trembling and terrified, lonely and loveless. They’re not much of a church; no organ, no pews, no pulpit, no stained-glass windows, no joy, no praise, no word, no sacrament. Nothing but a room to meet in and memories to talk about.

What was it he said at Supper the other night? Something about the bread being his body and the wine his blood? Peter, what did he mean by that? 

Did you hear what Mary Magdalene and the other women said? They said they went to the tomb this morning and Jesus’ body was missing, the stone was rolled away and the body was missing. And Mary Magdalene said she saw the Lord?

Well, sure, did anybody check her breath to see what she’d been drinking? She saw Jesus alive this morning? Right! 

And so on. They talked, they fretted; they worried themselves sick about what it all meant and what the Roman soldiers or the Chief Priests might be up to. And maybe, just maybe, somebody in the room was praying, but it’s not likely. Doesn’t sound like much of a church does it?

Preaching professor Tom Long says they are a picture of the church at its worst, scarred and scared, disheartened and defensive. Long wonders what sort of advertisement might this church put in the Saturday paper to attract members?

THE FRIENDLY CHURCH WHERE ALL ARE WELCOME?  Hardly. Locked doors are not a sign of hospitality.

THE CHURCH WITH A WARM HEART AND A BOLD MISSION? Forget it. This is the church of sweaty palms and shaky knees and a firmly bolted front door.

Here is a church that has almost nothing going for it, has practically no claim to being church except….except that when they gathered, the Risen Christ pushed through the locked door and stood among them. That is what turned that little group of scarred and scared people into the church. It wasn’t anything they did or didn’t do, it wasn’t anything they said or didn’t say – – the Presence of the Risen Christ in the room.

Church happens when the gathered community pays attention to the presence of the Risen Christ in the room. And, when that presence is ignored, nothing of any consequence can or does happen. It was the disciples’ awareness of and attention to the presence of the Risen Christ that made the difference then; and it is our awareness of and attention to the Presence of the Risen Christ that makes the difference now.

An anonymous author wrote: You THINK you have this death thing right.  You think that life is a small pebble in the dark river of death.  You are wrong.  Death is a small pebble in the raging river of life.  You are going from earthly life to a better life, and death doesn’t consume very much of that journey.  Celebrate the victory, don’t be afraid of death, and pour a little out for death….say goodbye–because it isn’t YOUR worry anymore.  Jesus took care of it!

We tried to murder God, we tried to bury God in a tomb, we put him on a tree and lynched him in front of his mother….

It is understandable that Thomas had difficulties accepting the fact that Jesus had risen after all that happened to him… and it is unbelievable that God would gently get up out of the grave…..say Good try…see my hands….see all of this….I’m back
Look around and pay attention! The Risen Christ is in the room!

Let us pray:

Come, Lord Jesus,

Startle us

with your presence, life-sustaining as air,

To open our hearts

to praise you,

To open our minds,

to attend you,

To open our spirits

to worship you,

To open us

to live our lives

as authentically and boldly

as you lived yours.

Come, Lord Jesus

Be with us

in our longing

Come stay with us,

In our needing

Come go with us,

in our doing,

Come, struggle with us

in our searching;

Come, rejoice with us

in our loving.

Come, Lord Jesus,

Make us aware of your presence

That wonder may have its way with us,

our passions released

our confidence renewed in the depths of your holiness

Until, for a moment,

Our longing for you be fulfilled

And we know we are really free

to share bread and intimacy

    to laugh and exchange mercy,

          to be at ease in our struggles

              bold in our loving

        brave in facing down our terror

            hopeful in the rising music of your kingdom

                                    Joyful in our living

          and graceful in our life becoming

              a song of praise ever sung to you.