Today is the first day of our Season of Stewardship. This is a time we set aside each year as a parish family to each say our prayers, to remember God’s goodness and blessings for us in our very own lives, and to discover that I have a desire to say ‘thank you, God’, and to express that – in this case – by offering a pledge to our parish church. I think it’s really important to pray about this. My own prayer often includes my fears and worries and cares along with my hopes and the desires of my heart. In my prayer, I seem to need to unwind myself from myself enough to find myself in a place where I can be still, finally, and side by side with God discover that God’s finger prints are all over our lives even if we don’t exactly remember God putting them there. A few weeks ago, sitting outside the church here, after unwinding enough with God I began to remember so many gifts given. And then something more. It was the sudden realization that God was there in the gift, and I thought: ‘Oh! It was you, Lord, you were there, and I didn’t know it. Not an idea of you, or a thought about you, but you.’ Two things in particular were remembered for me that day.
First, you know that way back at the end of March, 35 women came to stay with us through the Caritas program. One day, months later, after being away from the church working from our homes, I found a hand-written note from one of those women stuck up onto a bulletin board in the church. It had been there, all those months. I’d never seen it. What she wrote was her prayer of thanksgiving and a prayer for the hands which were preparing meals for her and the other women. But when I saw it, it was God – reminding me that God is with us even if we don’t always know it.
And a second thing remembered. It’s from a few days after we said good-bye to our dear brother Gersain. I found a balloon left from that celebration outside. It had lost its helium lift and had drifted away. I found it stuck up in a bush. It wasn’t a red balloon like fire, but the effect was the same – like when Moses saw a bush burning and heard God calling to him. God was in that place, beside us even if we didn’t quite know it.
It amazes me how quickly the big advertising agencies switched gears in the middle of March and started making commercial reflecting how our world had changed on a dime. I think I saw the first one maybe a week after we all started staying put. It was a commercial for a big mobile phone company reminding us that they were there for us to keep us all connected. The commercial was a series of employees assuring us that they were there and I remember I got a little choked up at their sincerity. Since then, most commercials take into account this different world we’re living in. But not all of them. There are still a few pre-Coronavirus commercials mixed in. When I see one of them, with crowds of people in a ball park or big groups of people in a window replacement store, happily mixing and mingling and shaking hands or hugging, it’s jarring – I feel like I’m looking at a world I remember, sort of. It’s disorienting because it’s only really a couple of months ago. But it might as well be an age ago.
So just a little time watching television these days gives us a glimpse of who we were and who we are now. When I see those pre-quarantine commercials, I wonder how can we ever get back there? Or even, can we get back there? I don’t know. Maybe we can’t. But even if we can’t, we will go forward.
My first reaction after reading this morning’s story from Luke was to wonder if the two men walking on the road to Emmaus were observing proper social distancing! That’s the kind of world we live in right now.
My next reaction was to wonder about who these two men were making the 7- mile trek from Jerusalem to Emmaus; and why we only know the name of one of them. Why did the risen Lord choose to appear to these two particular people? And why did it take them so long to recognize who he was?
I’m not so sure I would have been as hospitable to the stranger who appeared out of nowhere as these two men were. He interrupted their conversation, called them foolish after they unloaded the burden of their hearts to him and then overwhelmed them with a lengthy interpretation of Scripture. I’m pretty sure I would have been put off by him and happy to see him go his own way; but those two men weren’t.
They were intrigued by the stranger. Luke told us that these two traveling companions were sad as they recounted with each other the awful events of the last couple of days. Their hopes for a Messiah had died on the cross with Jesus. But something the stranger said made their hearts burn within them, exposing a deep hunger that began to be filled by what Jesus was teaching.
Jesus offered them a broad brush of biblical history. It was a history of human life, suffering, death and most importantly, rebirth. It was a story of order created from chaos, of freedom from slavery, of desert times becoming fruitful times, of destruction becoming construction. Maybe Jesus was trying to put his own story into a context that would help the two men focus less on the current events and more on how God has been with all who suffer – throughout history.
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.
Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
I have a file folder that I carry around with a label on it where I’ve written the word ‘Now’. I have paper copies of email, lists of things to be done, notes from meetings, and other things in there. They’re in the ‘Now’ folder because I need to pay attention to them and follow through on them now. It’s also labelled ‘Now’ because I used to have a file folder labelled ‘Later’. I put things in there which maybe could wait til later. I’m not exactly sure what happened to that folder. I could have lost it or just realized that ‘later’ sometimes actually meant ‘never’ and so it just sort of went away.
Anyway, I was looking through my ‘Now’ folder yesterday and I came across some notes from our program staff meeting at the beginning of March. The notes were about a meeting where we were thinking through Palm Sunday and Holy Week and Easter services. The first note reads “For procession of palms on Palm Sunday – DM and crucifer, go slower!” Exclamation point. Apparently, last year, the crucifer and I marched off and left the big procession behind. There’s also a note about dimming the lights for the stripping of the altar on Maundy Thursday and an interesting note that reads: “Don’t forget treats for after Vigil!” Exclamation point.
But then I came to notes from a staff meeting maybe a week or so later that reads: “What is livestreaming? How does it work?” And then from a few days later a note reads “Decision about Caritas – can we do two weeks?” And finally on a sheet of paper from a few days later: “We have to stay connected – how?”