By: David H. May, Rector
In those first days following the death and resurrection of Jesus, it looks like his first followers – Peter and James and John and Andrew and the rest – spent a lot of time indoors. The very first witness to the resurrection, Mary Magdalene, went to where they were holed up on that very first Easter day. One of them cracked open the door just enough see her as she told them, ‘I have seen the Lord!’ But her words don’t seem to make much difference. They stayed put where they were. Then Jesus himself comes to them (except for Thomas who we hear from today). And still they stay put.
Today, a week after Mary has come to them, Thomas is with them. But we hear that the door where they were staying is still locked. Whether that was to keep them in, or the world out is unclear. They’re homebound. And for a pretty good reason it seems. They’re afraid, frozen in place – they can’t go back, and they don’t understand how to go forward yet.
Human fear – as we’re all getting a new dose of these days – is strange and powerful thing. It changes us. When it’s powerful enough, we lose a sense of who we are; we lose ourselves. I heard a Jesuit priest in a radio interview recently talking about fear. Being a Jesuit, he was incredibly thoughtful, so he began by first clarifying terms. Fear as a general proposition is a gift of our Creator to warn us away from and raise caution flags about things that may harm us. So that’s a good thing, even if the experience of fear isn’t. This kind of fear is ultimately directed towards our well-being. Ok, fine. He said that the problem comes when fear flips into panic. Then it becomes destructive; something else takes over and we lose touch with who we are.
Whether you call it fear or panic, I’ve felt it, for sure. Maybe it’s all the uncertainty, all the blank spaces that none of us can fill yet. Maybe it’s the fearful nature of the virus. Maybe it’s watching just a little bit too much of the news at night. Whatever. I’ve felt it. Call it moments of panic or plain old fear, I’m can’t remember feeling anything like it before.
When we’re confronted with something threatening, we’ve long been told that we have a ‘fight’ or ‘flight’ response. But some years ago I spent time with the Mennonites Eastern Mennonite University studying conflict transformation who taught me that there’s actually a third response. Fight, flight, or freeze. This third option, freezing, is the one that has surprised me. It’s the ‘deer caught in the headlights’ reaction: you can’t go back, and you can’t go forward. Maybe that’s the kind of fear that was keeping those first disciples locked up on their room.
Like a lot of us, I’m trying to minimize the times I leave the house. We’ve been trying to buy enough groceries when we go to the store to last for a while. A couple of weeks ago we were running a little low and I hadn’t been for a while so I went. I had my gloves and mask and hand-sanitizer. It’s all so weird but we’re all trying to back each other up so that’s what you do. So I went into the grocery store and began to do my shopping. It was my first time out with everyone wearing a mask. It was so strange. Nearly everyone had on a mask. We saw each other. Sort of. But also didn’t really see each other. No one spoke. Everyone stayed away from each other. I don’t even remember hearing that grocery store music playing in the background. I don’t remember one announcement of the loudspeaker system call for check-out help up front. I normally love grocery shopping. I think it’s the primitive ‘hunter gatherer’ in my and the satisfaction of stocking up the panty. But this was just awful. It felt like time was suspended, like everyone was holding their breath. I didn’t feel like myself. No one there was themselves. I don’t know who we were.
Finally, I finished and pushed my cart loaded with groceries out to my car. As I was unloading my groceries a young woman all gloved up and with a mask on came hurrying towards me. You could see her observing the right distance away from me and she was saying something to me but I couldn’t understand her beneath her mask. She had the look of a young mom, exhausted, afraid, strong, resilient, frantic, all at the same time.
She finally pulled her mask down and said, ‘hi!’ in a really bright cheery way, and then said, ‘excuse me, but can I have your cart? I’m in a hurry and last time I couldn’t find a cart.’ And then made this exasperated sound. I said, ‘sure, of course’ and then ‘sorry’ and pulled my mask down. I finished loading my groceries into me car and then turned it around to push it towards her.
She took the cart and then she got still and looked at me and asked, ‘are you ok?’
And it was like some spell had been broken. I said, ‘gosh, thank you. Yes, I am. I hope you are.’ She said rolling her eyes, ‘well you know, with all this, but yes, I’m ok too. Thanks for asking’. She started rolling off her cart towards the store but then shouted over her shoulder, ‘this is so weird! Bye!’
And it was like I had myself back again; like I’d been given back myself again.
The words to one of my favorite collects from the Prayer Book floated up from my spirit. The words are: O God, who wonderfully created and yet more wonderfully restored the dignity of human nature…
The resurrection of Jesus does this and gives us back to ourselves, even if he has to pass through locked doors to reach us.
We have all been through so much, all of us – people near and far – all of us are going through ups and downs, and joys and heartaches, and little death and resurrections, ready to fight or flee and be frozen and locked in a room, and all before lunchtime somedays.
And we live in the light of the Lord’s resurrection. Jesus is still passing through locked doors to find us, and give us back to ourselves.
It’s what he does, so we find ourselves again, in him, and learn how to go forward again. Amen.