Happy Easter, my friends! Before I speak today, I am going to invite you to pray with your ears, your hearts, your voices, your bodies. The first prayer is a prayer that our youth group wrote together and asked if me if I could lead us in- I’ll lead us in a prayer co-written by some of the teen and pre-teen members of our youth group and then with our bodies if you’re willing.
who is COMPASSIONATE and KIND, who LOVES US NO MATTER WHAT
God, you will BRING HOPE and JUSTICE for us.
God, you will PROVIDE JOY for our world.
Give us KINDNESS and HOPE
Grant us STRENGTH / THE EYES TO SEE THE BROKEN AND DEPRESSED
Through the power of the spirit of God, breathing and within each of us,
I pray for these things. May they be. Amen
And now let’s do one other kind of prayer, one that will use our voices and our bodies. There’s this old, old Easter tradition where the pastor, priest or worship leader says:
Christ is risen.
And the whole congregation responds with jubilation:
Christ is risen indeed.
You do it three times.
I’m going to ask you to imagine wherever you are- whether you’re with one or two other people or by yourself that you are surrounded by what the scriptures call a great cloud of witnesses – like many other people seeking to share with you the journey that you’re on.
This takes me back a couple of years where we first trying to figure out how to do this online space and I was sitting in a corner of my bedroom with my then 17-year old daughter dressed in an Easter bunny suit and we called out these words in response and sort of throwing our hands up and standing up as we were saying them. So, however chill you feel or wherever you’re at, if you’re able, I invite you when say
Christ is risen indeed
to throw your hands up like you’re at a Red Sox game or Patriots game or NBA playoffs – you get the idea.
Now Reservoir is a space not just for confident Christian faith, but also for doubt, for wonder, for exploration, for people of other faiths and no faith at all so no one ever has to say anything. But if you believe this, or if you don’t or aren’t sure but are just willing to play along, we’re going to do this together, and we’re going to throw our bodies into it a bit. If you stay seated or don’t say the words, that’s cool too. No judgment. But if you’re willing, here we go.
Christ is risen
Christ is risen
Christ is risen
All right, we’ve got people in the studio here shaking their hands a little.
For some people those words have been a way to connect to their roots, to a tradition from which they come.
For others, they’ve been a shout of joy, of determination. Along with God, we will not be defeated.
And for others they’ve been across centuries a whisper of hope. Like Jesus, God’s not done with me yet. There’s more life left in me still. God’s not done with us.
What we do on Easter Sunday is simple. Really we just try to find our way into these words:
Christ is risen.
What does that mean? For us today, why does that matter?
Each of the Bible’s four memoirs of the life of Jesus, what we call the four gospels, tells the Easter story in a different way, with different themes, different directions it takes us. The one that is speaking to me this year is part of the end of the gospel of John.
It starts with a woman named Mary grieving. This is not Jesus’ mom, but a friend of his named Mary. And then we’ll pick up the reading as it takes us into a household where a bunch of people are holed up behind closed doors in fear, and then it ends with Jesus inviting them out again beyond those closed doors, out into a life of purpose and power.
Let me read it for us.
John 20:19-23 (Common English Bible)
19 It was still the first day of the week. That evening, while the disciples were behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.”
20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. When the disciples saw the Lord, they were filled with joy.
21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.”
22 Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.
23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you don’t forgive them, they aren’t forgiven.”
So this whole bit has been speaking to me, maybe you can see why already.
Just before this, one of Jesus’ friends comes and visits the rest of them, and she’s like:
I’ve seen our friend, I’ve seen our teacher, Jesus, the one who was killed. But he’s alive again. He’s alive! Things are going to be OK!
And they’re like… uh… probably not. And that door they’d cracked open to see Mary, they close it again, and hole back up in fear.
We know what that’s like, don’t we? To be stuck inside, doors closed, scared of what’s happening out there, not knowing when or if it’ll get any better.
Recently I’ve been doing a little reminiscing about 2020. It’s a year we mostly want to forget but I keep hearing it coming to mind these days. I’m remembering what it was like just to go and buy food. I’d go out to the grocery store, double masked, rubber gloves on my hands. And I would just fill the shopping cart to the brim, hundreds of dollars worth of stuff, so my family would be set for food for weeks. All of us were home, all the time, and we wanted to keep it that way.
Out in the market we’d walk down the one aisle aisle the right way, following the big arrows on the ground. And the other shoppers and me, we’d hear the reminders over the store’s intercom to stay two shopping carts apart, but apparently all of us thought that lady in the speakers was a little reckless, because we’d see someone like five shopping carts away and sort of stare each other down, waiting to see who would move out of the way first.
There was never any flour or toilet paper. Because all of us were suddenly wanting to learn how to bake bread and at the same time worried we’d have to wipe our rears silly or something. I remember buying ridiculous quantities of ice cream, because what else are you going to do when you’re stuck at home every single night.
And then we’d get home, and we had this system. My family and I set up a kind of assembly line, where I’d lug in bag after bag, and people would line up around the groceries with antibacterial wipes in both hands and scrub down all the packaging, trying to wipe down the surface of the bag of potato chips without breaking what was inside.
And we’d get everything put away, and I’d sit down and take a deep breath like I had just survived another big, bold foray out into the wilderness to bring food home for my family.
That was a scary time, when we were holed up in fear behind closed doors.
And it’s been a weird ride ever since, hasn’t it?
In some of our workplaces, it’s been like nobody can come on site and then one day we’ll hear everybody come on back, you have to be here, and then later, people aren’t so sure again, and they’ll be like: I don’t know, you all figure it out.
And kids, kids of all ages, we are seeing what you have gone through.
Told to never leave your houses because it’s scary out there. And then being told, actually, now you have to leave your houses and go to school but stay apart from each other, don’t talk during lunch, don’t touch, and don’t you dare take that mask off. Until this winter all of a sudden, it’s like I don’t know, wear your masks if you want to, or don’t. All good, either way, whatever.
I mean, it’s great in some ways. I know there are kids who have had a crush on someone without ever seeing what their nose or mouth look like. I mean: how can you be sure? It’s like the big reveal was happening recently. But I know for some of us, we haven’t been so sure if we want to take our masks off either. Or if we should.
Most of us lost a lot these past couple of years, and we’ve been scared more often and longer than people are really meant to be scared, which is tiring. And there is an awful lot to legitimately be scared of in this world. So when that becomes a habit, just a way of being – our flight, flight, freeze systems on long-term overdrive, it is not easy finding our groove again. It has not been easy.
Look at the disciples in the resurrection story. They are holed up in fear, fear of forever grief, fear of lost dreams, fear of failed reputations, fear of state violence, fear of no future or life worth living. So much fear.
And I love how Jesus gets what they’re going through.
He told them his death wouldn’t be the end of the story.
And Mary has seen him already and told the students that he’s alive. But they’re still holed up behind those closed doors. The fears and the what-if-it’s-not-trues they’re facing are too strong.
So Jesus doesn’t wait around for them to find their courage and come look for him. Jesus doesn’t send them a note saying: what’s wrong with you all? Why are you so afraid?
No calmly, tenderly, Jesus comes to them to give them peace, and to help them find their way out again.
And this is the first message of resurrection. That the question is not whether God will show up, but how will God show up – the question is not,
“Will God show up?”
“How will God show up?”
I used to picture the scene like this, like Jesus crawls through the window, or he kind of magically ports himself through the locked door or something but all of a sudden he’s just there, and the disciples are all nervously standing around in a circle like they’re at a middle school dance, not knowing what to say or do, because it’s hella awkward to see your friend you denied and abandoned at his worst moment just here again, saying HI!, especially after you thought he was dead.
But Jesus, like maybe wanting to laugh, I don’t know. I think Jesus had to be laughing inside. But he holds it together and looks at them and puts his hands up to them all and says:
Peace to you. Peace to you. Spirit of God, Spirit of Peace come to you all.
And it works, they feel the peace, they know God is with them again. And then Jesus is like alright:
I’m heading out now, but you all go get ’em, do your thing now.
And he’s gone.
But here’s what I think now. I think it’s slower than that. I think it’s more personal and more physical too.
After all, Jesus knows that when he comes upon his friends behind closed doors, he’s walking into a scene of trauma. Pain and trouble that we didn’t know what to do with and just froze us. And trauma is not just stored in our minds as a rational memory. Trauma is stored in our bodies. We learn trauma like we learn how to drive or play an instrument. It gets into our muscle memory, and it’s hard to just shake off.
Folks, if you’ve got pains and bad memories – big ones, little ones; hard stuff from these years of pandemic and unrest or old stuff from a long time ago that you can’t just forget about, can’t just shake off and move on, you are not alone. It takes time and touch and love and the help of God and friends and it is not an instant change kind of thing.
But the God of Easter, the Christ of resurrection has the power and presence and patience to stick in there with you and see you through it, to come to you behind your closed doors and help you find your way out again. It’ll come, my friends. It’ll come.
So now here’s how I picture this scene. I think Jesus knocks on that door. I know that’s not exactly how John tells the story, but our memories aren’t perfect and I don’t think his was either. I think Jesus knocks on that door, and he waits. He’s not going anywhere. He takes his time. He knocks once or twice, and they think it’s the authorities and they won’t open it up.
And after a few minutes, he knocks again, and somebody peeks out the window and says:
Hey, weird thing, that kind of looks like Jesus, maybe we should open up.
But the rest of them say:
That’s impossible, no way, don’t open the door.
But eventually, a few minutes or a few hours or if it was me or you maybe a few years later, and Jesus keeps knocking now and then, and eventually they open the door, and one by one Jesus, knowing trauma is stored in the body, comes close.
And he says:
Peace to you. I’m here again. Peace.
And he sees that’s not good enough. So he asks:
Can I touch you?
And when they say OK, he does this thing. When my oldest was young and got anxious sometimes, I’d do this thing I saw on a TV show once. I’d take their face in my hands, and I’d look into their eyes and just breathe with them real slow, and I’d say:
It’s OK now. We’re here together. It’s going to be OK.
And sometimes we’d even hug for a while, and I’d breathe nice and deep and slow, helping their breath slow down too. And we’d try to find our peace so we could move forward.
And I think that’s what Jesus is doing here. I think he looks his friends in the eyes, one by one, taking the time to touch them, to breathe with them, to be with them, as long as it takes, until they know they’re not dreaming, until they can slow their breath down, and cry it out a little, and shake off their stress before they move forward.
The last six weeks, our church has been marking the pre-Easter season called Lent with the theme Waters of Life. We’ve taken Jesus’ metaphor – living waters – for the rejuvenating power of the Spirit of God and tried that on in different ways of thinking and feeling and praying, seeing if it would take hold for us.
And last Sunday, in our in-person service, we held one of our experimental participatory services where we don’t have a sermon but we get to move around and use art and symbol and music and silence to pray and see how God moves us, how God teaches us.
If you were part of that, you would have heard three voices again and again. One was Ruby Sales, child of the Civil Rights movement and now an elder pastor and theologian. Amazing human being.
And another voice was Psalm 23.
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. God makes me lie down in green pastures, leads me to still waters and all that.
And the third voice was the 15th century mystic we know as Julian of Norwich. I call her Julianna of Norwich to remind us that she was a woman, not a man, since too many women’s voices about God – from Mary in today’s text on throughout the centuries – have been ignored or silenced. And we are not having that any more.
But truth is, with this mystic, we don’t even know her birth name. From around age 30 until her death, she prayed with people and taught them about God, living in a church in England called St. Julian, taking on the name of the church as her new name.
Anyway, her words we heard again and again last week in multiple languages were:
All will be well. All will be well, and all manner of things will be well.
What did she mean by that? How could she think this? That in the face of life’s traumas and losses and anxieties, it’s all going to be OK?
It wasn’t because she wasn’t in touch with pain and or just lived the easy life. After all, Julian lived through outbreaks of the plague we sometimes call the Black Death.
Horrible as COVID has been, Black Death plague makes COVID look like a joke. I mean, there were times and places where 1 in 4, 1 in 3, 1 in 2 people died of this. And it took us like a year to figure out what COVID was, how it was spread, how to make a vaccine and all.
Back then in Europe, after a century or two of this coming and going – generations of plague, folks – people were still seeing rats running around, and eating with their hands after touching everything dirty, and pretty much never washing anything, and wondering why everybody was getting sick and dying. They didn’t know.
Different times, hard times.
One Julian scholar believes that Julianna of Norwich entered the convent when she did around 30 because her husband and children all died of the plague. She herself almost died at one point. One of her visions of the risen Jesus, alive with us still, happened while she was sick and delirious with fever.
So with this life, in these times, how in the world could she go around saying:
All will be well, all will be well?
Well, it’s because of three things.
One, she knew that Jesus understood. In her visions and imagination of Jesus, he was always bleeding. She saw Jesus on the cross, and to her that meant that God suffers with us, that there is no pain God does not feel, no hurt God does bear with us, no anxiety or loss that doesn’t touch the heart of God. Julianna knew God as the fellow sufferer who understands.
And the other thing is that she believes Jesus said these words to her:
All will be well.
That Bloody Jesus, nicknamed Man of Sorrow, the most sympathetic, empathetic friend, was also the bravest and kindest human who has ever lived. That this brave, kind face of Jesus is the face of God to us. That this Jesus said to her:
No matter the pain, no matter the loss, all will be well again. All will be well.
And the third reason was that she had a message to share with her little world. She lived in a time when the church interpreted all this plague as the judgment of God and looked for scapegoats to blame. She lived in a time of enormous fear – fear of death, and fear of the wrath of God.
But Julianna was compelled to share that God is love and that God could empower people to live with less fear and more hope, more faith right in the middle of desperate times. So as she met with person after person, and as she wrote for posterity, she believed that the Spirit of Jesus whispered to us:
All will be well. All will be well.
In dark times, Julianna of Norwich became the voice of the fierce optimism of the faith of Christ.
God will always come to us. The only question is how will God come this time.
Every Easter story is a story of hope and peace. It’s a story of Jesus finding his way to us, wherever we’ve shut ourselves in or shut ourselves down this time, and taking our face in his hands and breathing peace to us.
And every Easter story is a story of calling. It’s a story of Jesus, just like with the disciples, saying: you can come out again. Come out of the house now. Come out of your closets. Come out of your hiding places. Come out of your homes. Come out from behind the shut down, closed doors of your heart.
Because you have gifts for the world. We’ve got some work to do. We’ve got a life to live. And we have a message of grace, of mercy, of freedom to share. The last words Jesus says are kind of confusing. Where he’s like:
If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; but if you don’t, they are not forgiven.
But here’s what I think this line is getting at. Jesus is telling them:
Beyond those closed doors of your fear, beyond those closed doors of your home, beyond those closed doors of your heart, is a whole creation that needs the good news of love and grace, of freedom and mercy and kindness. There’s a whole world of hurt and fear that needs some love and some second chances. So get out there and show that, do that, be that.
And Jesus is saying:
I need you. This doesn’t happen without you. Henceforth, you are my hands and feet and body and voice.
We’ll talk more about this over the next few weeks as we explore this topic of How to heal the world. How to get out and join Jesus is making things whole again. It’s so important, friends. So I hope you’ll be there for this, or tune in for this.
But this Easter day, this Resurrection Sunday, let’s ask:
How can we receive the body and voice of Christ who says to us: I’m here. My peace I give you. All will be well.
And this Easter day, this Resurrection Sunday, how will we be released beyond our closed doors?
Where will we open up and get out again?
Where is Jesus welcoming us to be people of grace and mercy and love and good news to this world?