Revised Common Lectionary Reflection, Second Sunday of Easter, Year A
April 19, 2020
Lessons: Acts 2:14a, 22-32; Psalm 16; 1 Peter 1:3-9 John 20:19-31
Theme: Like Thomas, God’s faithful and generous people are willing to enter with Jesus into the deep suffering and pain of the world.
Key Scripture: Jesus said to [Thomas], “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” John 20:29
When it was evening on that Easter Sunday, when normally we would have all been together in worship, and the doors of our respective homes were locked for fear of the Coronavirus, Jesus was already there, whispering and breathing a word of peace. From Thirteenth Street in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to Manger Street in Bethlehem, to Avenida Norte in Antigua Guatemala, Guatemala, there is nowhere that the Christ isn’t already present and doing new things.
Even so, because our sight is so limited, we still said via Twitter and Instagram, “We won’t believe anything is truly different unless you show us your wounds.”
And Jesus is right there, sitting beside us as we balance and allocate dwindling resources, riding with us as we wear our masks and venture to the market in search of more toilet paper, comforting and protecting those on the front lines—medical personnel, first responders, police, grocery clerks, delivery drivers, nursing home aides and more.
“We are the wounded, Jesus,” we cry. “We are bored. We are angry. We are inconvenienced. We are broke. Our kids are missing out on so much. We want to go back to normal. We are…afraid.”
And, weeping, Jesus shows us wounds to his Body:
- The weary ER doctor slumped against a wall after losing her third COVID-19 patient of the day,
- The restaurant owner struggling to make enough through takeout orders to keep the kitchen working,
- The single mother quarantined at home with eight children and wondering how to make do with more month than money,
- The family who’s just lost their patriarch (who died alone from COIVID-19 complications) and can’t plan a funeral because of social distancing restrictions,
- The prisoner fearing for his life while more men on his cellblock are diagnosed with the virus.
Again, Jesus says to us, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you. You have received the Holy Spirit, so open your eyes, listen, pay attention, see the world through my eyes. And then go out and do something about it—please!”
And the 21st century disciples paused and prayed and pondered as they checked their social media channels and digital news. The Jesus sightings continued, complete with the blessing of peace and holy breath. It was all so confusing and unsettling, for they were still afraid, their voices silent.
So Jesus, in his wisdom, offered them a word of hope (and challenge): “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
Okay, I know that wasn’t exactly a faithful paraphrase of certain verses from John 20, but scripture speaks to every age, and one of the ways I find it helpful to reflect on scripture and contextualize it for a contemporary audience is to prayerfully and meditatively complete a writing exercise like the one above.
We will soon be one week out from our digital Easter, and most of us are still locked behind our doors for fear of the Coronavirus. Thank you to all pastors, deacons, musicians, tech gurus, and others who have selflessly kept ministry going in difficult and challenging times! I hope you are taking a little well-deserved Holy Spirit breathing space in this post-Easter week, even as you continue to plan digital worship and gathering opportunities for your faith communities. We’re still smack dab in the Coronavirus crucible, between the way things were and the hope for what life might be like when we emerge from our sheltering.
I, for one, am glad for this opportunity. Growth comes through pain. Suffering stretches us. Inconvenience? Well, at least it invites us to pay attention and think about the lives we lead without constant busyness and stress.
Already state and national leaders are champing at the bit to get back to “normal,” to the getting and spending that marks our consumer culture. In my own state of Pennsylvania, legislators have just sent a bill to the governor to reopen businesses, even thought our State Secretary of Health has warned against taking such action just yet. We also seem, as a people, to be lapsing back into comfortable and familiar partisan camps. We humans just don’t do well sitting with suffering, pain, or even inconvenience. We begin to chafe at restrictions and allow the cold fingers of fear to strangle reason, compassion, and mercy.
Our message of hope tells people to not be discouraged, to realize that even those who walked, talked, and studied with Jesus were temporarily “stuck” in an in-between time and place. We know they didn’t stay there. By the end of May we’ll be celebrating Pentecost and the church being on fire for the gospel, burning with love, sharing with others, and living radically different kinds of lives. We won’t stay cooped up forever either.
Pay attention this year to what Thomas needs. He needs more than a resurrection sighting report. He wants to see the evidence of Jesus’ suffering as he wrestles with the suffering, confusion, pain, and fear in his own life. He actually wants to connect with Christ’s suffering by putting his hands into his wounded side, by running the pads of his fingers across the broken and scarred hands. Thomas, of all the disciples in that room, wants to go deeper in his encounter of resurrection.
How about you? Are you ready to go deeper? Are you willing to encounter the suffering Christ? Where do you see him today? What is he calling you to do? Perhaps he says, “Check your social media here, and see my wounded hands in the hands of essential workers who are trying to protect nursing home residents, or who are delivering food and groceries, who are responding to emergency calls at homes, who are tending the sick and dying in hospitals all around the world.” Maybe Jesus says, “Stay inside a little longer to help prevent more sickness and death. See what you can share with others who need it more. Explore the root issues that COVID-19 has brought to the surface: living wages, the first month without a school shooting since 2002, why there’s no basic healthcare for all citizens. Be my Body on earth. Let them know about me by your love, by your choices, by your very life.”
The only way we’ll know what Jesus is saying to us right now is to pay attention, to really listen. COVID-19 is giving us that rare opportunity. Let’s be sure we take full advantage of the gifts and possibilities before us, even as we do lament what is lost or no longer viable. After all, resurrection continues all around us. Thanks be to God!
If you have access to ZOOM, this is a great Sunday to use it as a sort of “upper room” in which you all find yourself locked. If you have someone tech savvy around, they might even create a “Christ” account for him to Zoom in! (Note: Not an original idea. I heard about this being done for a Passover Seder with an account for Elijah—props for wonderful creativity and humor.)
Invite worshipers to share where they have seen Jesus at work around them. You might also invite them to share their fears and longings. What do they need to see about Jesus in order to really believe and live like it? What are they longing for when this time of quarantining and social distancing is over?
Or, for something entirely different: Some folks may be celebrating this as Holy Humor Sunday. If you go that route, invite worshipers to dress silly for worship and to share their favorite jokes or puns.
If it looks as if you will need to continue meeting digitally for several more weeks, consider a themed study to dip deeper during these strange times. Having safe avenues for creativity is especially important in times of anxiety and fear. Consider how you might curate any digital projects (art, writing, multimedia, video) that emerge from your study and share them with your faith community. What a powerful witness it could be!
This week’s focus verse is 1 Peter 1:8 – Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy…
Did the Easter Bunny pass by your house last Sunday? Did that Bunny fill your basket—with appropriate social distancing practices—with some good things? Were you excited?
Have you ever seen a bunny hop? Have you ever seen a bunny “binky”? If you haven’t heard of this, it’s when two or more rabbits are playing and express pure joy by jumping straight up in the air and then chasing one another. You can see in this video some bunnies “binkying.” Doesn’t it make you feel happier just watching them?
Do you remember what else we celebrated last Sunday? That’s right! We celebrated that Jesus rose from the dead. That’s the big point of our Easter as Christians. And this good news keeps us going, and we want to share it with others.
Our focus verse this week reminds us that even though we have not seen Jesus in the flesh, we love him. And even though we don’t see him right here in front of us, we believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy.
That sounds hopeful and happy to me! The next time you see a bunny “binkying” in absolute joy, think of how wonderful it is that Jesus loves us and that God made bunnies and ducks and chickens and humans—and all this amazing world.
Finish with a simple echo prayer and blessing.
Dear God (Dear God),
Thank you for loving us (thank you for loving us). Thank you for Jesus (Thank you for Jesus). Thank you for never leaving us (Thank you for never leaving us) and for guiding us (and for guiding us) wherever we go (wherever we go). Please keep doctors, nurses, first responders, fire and police (Please keep doctors, nurses, first responders, fire and police) and other critical workers safe (and other critical workers safe). Keep us from fear (Keep us from fear). Keep us hopeful (Keep us hopeful). Make us helpful (Make us helpful). Give us peace (Give us peace). Amen (Amen).
Stewardship Bulletin Insert
Stewardship is part of all aspects of our lives. How are you stewarding in these strange and challenging times? What really matters? How are you like those first disciples locked away in fear? What do you need to see from Jesus to experience resurrection afresh? Taking time to ask and ponder big questions is good stewardship, too!
Stewardship at Home
If your sheltering-in-place affords you the luxury of time to pray and ponder deeply, consider these words by John Brady, MD, Chair, American Board of Family Medicine, in a recent email to colleagues: “Every flaw of our health care system and our society seems to be accentuated” by COVID-19 in the USA.
What flaws do you see in our health care system and society? What positive points do you see? How might we work on the flaws while still affirming the positives? What one aspect might you be committed to working on once we are removed from sheltering and quarantine orders? How will incorporate this into your prayers?
If you are at home with young children, draw a “prayer map” of your neighborhood. First take a walk around the block and pay careful attention to what you see. When you get home, draw your map on a big sheet of paper. Fill in as many details as possible. Who are your neighbors? Do you know their names? What might be some of their prayer concerns? Now mark specific prayer “stops” around the map. At each stop pray for those living nearby and any concerns or gratitudes that arise. Repeat this walk at least once a week, more if you have time and watch how much more you all begin to notice about your neighborhood.
2014 Reflection: https://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2014/04/life-in-his-name/
Images: Kenny Uh and Johann Larsson, Creative Commons usage license.© Sychugina_Elena – Fotolia.com Thanks!
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