St. Michaels Litchfield
The Second Sunday after Pentecost E. Bevan Stanley
June 14, 2020
Proper 6, Year A, RCL Track 1
Genesis 18:1-15, (21:1-7)
Matthew 9:35-10:8, (9-23)
These are the names of the twelve apostles . . . In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.
Names. They are important. They tell us who someone is. They tell us who we are. The keep a person alive after they die. We are haunted by the names. Here are the names of the Greeks who sailed to Troy. First the Boeotians, led by Peneleos, Leitus, Arcesilaus, Prothoenor and Clonius. And the list goes on for a thousand ships in Book II or the Iliad. I don’t know who they are, but they have been remembered for three thousand years.
Here names from the Bible: Adam and Eve. Cain and Abel and Seth. Abraham and Sarah. Isaac which means laughter, Jacob that means supplanter. Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. Samuel, David, Hesekiah, Josiah, Isaiah, Jeremiah. We know these, but what about Enosh Kenan, HMahalalel, Jared, Enoch, Methuseleah, Lamech. Their names are written as well.
Then we know Jesus, Mary, Mary and Martha, Mary Magdalen. Peter and Paul. Here are the names of some who came after. Irenaeus, Athanasius, Augustine, Patrick, Columba, Cuthbert, and Bede.
This week in our church calendar we remembered: Roland Allen missionary to China 1947, Columba, founder and abbot of Iona, 597, Ephrem of Edessa 373, Enmegoahboweh Ottowa native, 1902, and Gilbert Keith Chesterton 1936.
In the reading from the Hebrew scriptures, the ninety-nine year old Abraham is told that his eighty-nine year old wife, Sarah, will have a baby. Sarah laughs at this ridiculous idea. When the baby is born, they call him Laugh ter, Isaac.
In the Gospel, we are given the list of the names of the twelve apostles. We Remember some of them but we know almost nothing about others such as James, son of Alphaeus. Yet when papyrus sheets were expensive and every word a labor on the part of scribe, it was important to write all these names down. Why? So we don’t forget them. Every one of these is precious. Precious to their families and friends. Precious to God. Every one of these lived and died. Everyone was a person, a life.
We all could maker our own list of names that are important to us. Mine would include Peter Gardner who taught me how to carry a canoe, Heb Evans who led through 400 miles of Canadian wilderness to Hudson’s Bay, David Bolton, who taught me about grace. And on and on.
There are names on our own private lists, and there are names on lists we share.
These are the names of the last few months: Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. They call us to action to reclaim our country for justice and equality.
These are the names of this week: Thomas Graveline and Matthew Rousseau. And Jud Wells. They remind us of how short our lives are to love and be loved.
There is Tracy Griswold, who reminds us of the power of long friendships.
And then there is us. Whose lists are we on? Whose lists should we be on? What will we be remembered for?
And then there are those with no name. The three men who come to Abraham out of the desert. They are strangers, and they are God. The text oscillates between calling them three or one. Perhaps the most famous icon ever written is of these three eating at Abraham’s table, and it is called “the Trinity.” They are God. And how many strangers would be on our lists, with no name, but blessing us with a laughable truth?
Jesus send out the twelve telling them, “As you go, proclaim the good news, `The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.” He also tells them of all the resistance they will meet. “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles . . . Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”
This week has piled one concern on top of another. COVID19, then the killing of George Floyd, the tragic death of two teenagers, the passing of Jud Wells. And our job is to tell everyone that the Kingdom of Heaven has come near. We are messengers of hope and judgment. We speak the truth of what is real here and now. And we proclaim the possibility of a new and better world for which God yearns. And we dedicate ourselves to helping to build that new world. A world of justice, where authority and power are used to protect the weak from the strong, the poor from the rich, and the minority from the majority. A world in which every person is of value and treated with respect. A world where wealth and resources are shared so that no child goes hungry, and everyone’s work is compensated fairly. A world where love is valued about money, and one’s humanity above one’s utility.
A world where everyone’s name is written down and remembered.
The Day of Pentecost E. Bevan Stanley
May 31, 2020
1 Corinthians 12:3b-13
Jesus said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” In the Name of God. Amen.
I am angry. I am angry and ashamed. Once again, those responsibility for maintaining peace and security and the rule of law have subverted the rule of law, and committed murder. I am, of course speaking of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Four policemen in arresting an unarmed man, killed him after they already had him under control. The incident was captured in a number of different videos. It is some comfort that the officers were immediately fired and that the mayor is calling for criminal charges to be brought against them. These will not bring George Floyd back to life. That Mr. Floyd was alleged to be a forger and that the apprehension of him was part of the policemen’s job is beside the point. Here is what matters:
- Deadly force was used to arrest an unarmed man. The policemen’s lives were never in danger.
- The alleged crime was a non-violent one.
- The incident lasted several minutes as one of the police put pressure with his knee to the back Mr. Floyd’s neck.
- Several times Mr. Floyd informed his captors that he could not breathe.
- Then he stopped breathing and died.
- Floyd was black.
This should not happen to any citizen. Not ever. That four trained professional peace officers could not control a single unarmed person without killing him is not credible. That’s bad enough. The thing that makes it even worse is that too often encounters white police officers and black men end in unnecessary deaths. Every mother of a black man in this country worries about whether her son will survive another day or whether some encounter with a police officer will leave him dead. There is no excuse for this in our country which claims to be committed to the principle that all people are created equal and have equal rights under the law. The fact is that in this country people with privilege and power are treated better by our legal institutions than those who are poor or black or brown. And white people have more privilege than black people. This must stop.
It is also important to thank the huge majority of police officers that put their lives at risk every day to protect and serve all of us and who are very careful about their use of force and are respectful all human beings in every encounter.
Today is the Day of Pentecost. Today we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit to the followers of Jesus. God gives us divine power to participate with God in the building of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. In that kingdom everyone equally is an image of the divine, everyone equally is a child of God. Today, we are called by the death of George Floyd to rededicate ourselves to battling for the rights of the oppressed. We commit ourselves to holding our government and legal institutions accountable for maintaining the rule of law. No one is above the law. I have made myself a promise that whenever there is a case of an unarmed black man being killed by the police, I will not let it pass without comment. That is why I am speakin g this way today. Even if, as in this case, the event occurs in another state, we all have an obligation to speak out and insist that the United States as a country, as our country, will not tolerate such actions and will labor to eradicate the legacies of slavery and racism from our land. Last Monday we celebrated those who gave their lives so that this country could continue to be an example of liberty and justice for all. Let us not let their sacrifices be in vain.
This is the day when the Holy Spirit comes upon in flames of fire. In the Gospel of John when Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit into the disciples, he tells us that we are to forgive sins. Thus, despite my anger at what happened to George Floyd, I am still called to forgive the men that killed him. I have to forgive those whose anger and frustration has expressed itself in violence and vandalism. I have to forgive those who do not see the problem or acquiesce to it as unsolvable. I have to forgive those who are bigoted or believe that black and brown people are less valuable than white people. I have to pray for their healing, conversion, and redemption. And we as a society have to hold them accountable to the principles which define our country and our common life.
This service is the Eucharist. We give thanks to God for all the blessings that God has showered upon us. We give thanks that God has called us out of error into truth, out of sin into righteousness, out of death into life. We give thanks that God has poured out the Holy Spirit upon us to make a difference in our world. Let us take this tragedy as an invitation to make our society a little more like the Kingdom of God, whose proximity Jesus so insistently proclaimed.
Here is an excerpt from our bishops’ communication to us on this event:
The injustice against people of color we have seen in recent weeks is not tolerable. It is contrary to the will of God and our Christian witness. We must speak up. We must work for change. And we must repent for the ways we are complicit in the ongoing violence in our society. We do this work together. We do this work for God. And we do this work so that all God’s people may know safety, hope, and love.
What can we do? We can pray for ourselves, for Mr. Floyd, for his killers, for those who will investigate and hold wrongdoers accountable. We will pray for our country, for our elected officials, and for guidance in how we will vote when we have the chance to do so. We will pray for the courage to proclaim God’s love for all people and God’s desire that we treat each other with respect and love at all times and in all situations. And we will use our voices and our votes to insist that our country live up to its principles. We will use our accounts on Facebook, Twitter, messaging, email, and so on to proclaim God’s hunger for justice and mercy. We will insist on the biblical principle that the purpose of government is to protect the week, poor and oppressed from abuse from the strong, the wealthy, and the powerful.
This is Pentecost, the feast of the first fruits. What will we offer to God this day? Will we offer ourselves to God to be used for God’s purposes? This is Pentecost, and we celebrate God’s gift of holy power. What will do with this holy power that burns in our hearts like a flame and blows through our lives like a mighty wind?
The Seventh Sunday of Easter E. Bevan Stanley
May 24, 2020
“Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” In the Name of the one, holy, and undivided Trinity. Amen.
Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel? Is this the time when we can come out of our houses and eat at a restaurant? Is this the time when we can visit our friends and relatives? Is this the time we can plan travel again? Is this the time when we can go back to our places of work? Is this the time when our hopes and desires will be fulfilled?
Jesus says, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.” We do not know what the future holds. Even that phrase is misleading. The future does not hold anything. There are multiple possibilities of what events may come next. Some may be more likely than others. And our actions may change what is more or less likely. But we don’t know. As a result of this uncertainty, we are all thinking about what risks to take. Is it okay to eat at a restaurant if the dining is outdoors? Is it okay to gather with friends if we stay outside in the yard six feet apart? What about work? What about church?
In these decisions we are weighing risks and benefits. What are the risks to ourselves? What risks may we be imposing on others? How might my actions support others in terms of getting businesses going again? We weigh our good and others’ goods and the good of our society at large.
A year ago, we did not foresee this pandemic. Now the future is equally unknown. Certainly, the people in Michigan did not foresee the failure of the Edenville and Sanford dams in the middle of this pandemic. What we do now is this: We will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon us; and we will be witnesses to Jesus in Litchfield, in all Connecticut, and to the ends of the earth.
Here is the story from our faith tradition. Last Thursday, forty days after the Resurrection, Jesus ascends into heaven. This is, of course, a metaphor, since heaven is not up in any astronomical sense. The second person of the Trinity returns to the place where he, she, or it has been for all eternity, in the presence of the first and third members of the Trinity. Or, in our traditional metaphor of the creeds, Jesus ascends into heaven and sits down at the right hand of God the Father. Today we are between that event and whatever comes next. What we are promised is that the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, will come to us and empower us to be apostles of Jesus, people sent out by God to tell the whole world about the coming of the Kingdom of God, and how we have been reconciled to God and each other by the coming of God in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.
After Jesus has left the apostles, two angels appear who ask them, “Why do you stand looking up toward heaven?” The implication is that they should be doing something else. They should return their attention to this world. They were not clear what they were supposed to be doing, so the text goes on to say, “All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer.” This is always a good thing to do, when we don’t know what to do. So, too, many of us in this time of uncertainty have found that one of the gifts of the physical distancing caused by the pandemic is the opportunity to spend more time in prayer, more time reflecting on God’s presence in our lives, and more time considering the purposes of our lives.
The short version of the Ascension is that Jesus goes to heaven so that he can always be with us in every place and time. That is, before Jesus died, he could only be in a small area of Palestine and with the few people he encountered. After his resurrection and ascension, Jesus is no longer constrained by space and time. He can be with every person on the planet simultaneously and throughout all time.
The First Letter of Peter makes a slightly different point, which is also helpful to us in this pandemic. “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed.” Peter was writing in a time of persecution, but the response to difficult and potentially deadly circumstances applies to us now. Suffering is common, indeed universal. Do not be surprised when it comes. Just remember that suffering makes us one with all the other seven billion people on the planet. Some suffer more than we do, some less, but we are all in the same boat. As we pray for others in their suffering, we find that our own becomes easier to bear. And we recall that Jesus understood and experienced suffering as well. When we suffer, we share in Jesus’ suffering, and that suffering is redemptive. Tomorrow we will celebrate and remember those who gave their lives for our country. They suffered for our sakes. We do not know how, but somehow, suffering is part of reuniting humanity to God, and reuniting human beings to one another. Peter says, “Cast all your anxiety on him [Jesus], because he cares for you . . . you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you.”
So, Jesus is no longer constrained by space and time. Our future is unclear. We pray and find that Jesus is closer to us than ever. As we all suffer in this pandemic, we are closer than ever to everyone else on the planet. When we make choices about our behavior we do not think only of our own comfort or desires. Like those we remember tomorrow, we give up our comfort for the good of our community and nation. We have been given the Holy Spirit to guide us and empower us. And in all this, Jesus restores, supports, strengthens, and establishes us.
The Fifth Sunday of Easter E. Bevan Stanley
May 10, 2020
1 Peter 2:2-10
Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” In the Name of the one, holy, and undivided Trinity. Amen.
This homily is going to have three sections that at first will seem disconnected. We will see if they come together in the end
We start with the Gospel. Jesus says we should not let our hearts be troubled. In this time of the COVID19 pandemic, many of us may find it difficult not to let our hearts be troubled. How are we to find peace in our hearts when thousands are dying around us? Jesus says, “Believe in God, believe also in me.” Believing in God is pretty easy. God is kind of an abstract idea. Sure God is out there; God made everything. And God made this virus. Why did God do that? What does that say about how trustworthy God is? Now we are asked to go a step further and believe in Jesus.
Philip said to Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?” To put it in our vernacular, when Philip asks to see God, Jesus says, “You’re looking at him.” Jesus is God. Jesus is right here with us. Jesus is God sharing our human life. In Jesus God risks catching the corona virus.
That’s the first part. For the second part we turn to the first letter of Peter. He writes, “Like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” This pandemic with its accompanying discipline of keeping physical distances has robbed of us of our usual ways of worshiping together. Her I am in an empty church building and you are participating remotely in your homes. It gives us the opportunity to think about what do we mean by “church.” Clearly, it is not the building. The church existed long before special structures were built for worship. Now, when we cannot meet together in the building, we are still the Church. Peter reminds us that we are living stones built into a spiritual house. The Church is we the people of God. Nevertheless, this physical structure is a sacrament of our unity and mission as a gathered community of Christians. It is important though not necessary, that the Eucharist be celebrated in this space rather than my study at home. Peter goes on to say, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. When he says that all of us together are a “royal priesthood,” he is saying that collectively, as the Church, we perform the functions of priest. The function of a priest is to stand between the world and God. This works in two directions. First from the world to God, we stand before God on behalf of the world in intercession. We offer sacrifice to God on behalf of the whole world. That sacrifice is the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving and it is the oblation of our lives in service to the world. Second, as a priesthood, we speak and act on behalf of God to the world. We proclaim the good news of God’s love and we work with God to build the kingdom of God on this planet. This is what is means to be a royal priesthood.
This brings us to the third part of this sermon. I cannot let another Sunday go by without saying something about another epidemic in our land. That is the epidemic of racism and the unwarranted killing of African-Americans. I am referring to the murder of
Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia in February. Here is an unarmed black man out jogging when two white men accost him and shoot him. The two white men said they thought he fit the description of a suspected burglar. The white men were not police officers, though one was a retired law enforcement officer. Their lives were in no way at risk. There was absolutely no reason for them to fire on this man. Then these two were not arrested for two months because of their relationship to the local District Attorney’s office.
This is has to stop. It is wrong. We cannot honestly hold ourselves out to the rest of the world as the land of freedom and equality when, our citizens can be killed simply because of their skin color. One of the ways we can be a royal priesthood, that we can act on God’s behalf, that we can help in building God’s kingdom is to use our voices and our votes to insist that every time an unarmed person is shot, especially by people connected with law enforcement, that the perpetrators be held accountable.
As you know, it is not my normal practice to talk about such things in a sermon. I do so today because I truly believe that as Christians, as members of the Body of Christ, as a royal priesthood, we must offer ourselves to God to be used for the building of God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. And if we find the way confusing or difficult, we have Jesus present with us, who is the way, the truth, and the life. We have God in us and among us as the Holy Spirit. We live in the compassion of God for ourselves in this pandemic, for Ahmaud Arbery and his family in their suffering, and for the two perpetrators whose fear and insecurity drove them to a terrible act.
In a few minutes as we offer the bread and wine to God at this altar, we will also be offering up ourselves to be transformed by God’s love and power into sacraments of God’s compassion and wholeness for our families, neighbors, and nation. In this we need never fear. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. We have no better friend or guide.
The Third Sunday of Easter E. bevan Stanley
April 26, 2020/ Year A
1 Peter 1:17-23
They stood still, looking sad. In the name of the one, holy, and undivided Trinity. Amen.
Two men are walking down South Street, talking about the news. More people are dying. People are out of work. If we let people return to work, the pandemic will last longer and more people will get sick and die. If we continue strict policies of isolation and quarantine, people may lose their homes, or their savings, or their jobs. Suddenly, a third guy is walking with them, keeping six feet apart.
“What are you talking about,” he asks.
“Are you the only one around who doesn’t know what’s going on? Do you have your head buried in the sand? We’re talking about all this bad news.”
“Where is your faith? Where is your hope? Yes, this pandemic is horrible. And it is killing a lot of people. But what does the Bible say? No matter how hard it gets, God is with us. What seems like and end is always the beginning of something new. Every experience is an opportunity to give and receive love.” And he told them story after story from the Bible about God being with people and new beginnings.
Then the stranger stopped and did a strange thing. He pulled plastic bag out of his pocket. From it he took a slice of bread. He looked to the sky and said, “Thank you, Father.” Then he broke it. It was then that the two men noticed the wounds in his hands. He vanished. The two men gaped at each other. “Holy, moly. Did you see that? That was Jesus!”
And what did they do then?
We are all in the middle of a lot of bad news. Life is harder for some than others. Even spring seems to be having a hard time getting here. And Jesus is here with us. God is here. The Holy Spirit is here. Sometimes we see them briefly; mostly we don’t. We are not alone.
Here’s a story I read somewhere: Some women in a Bible study came across Malachi 3:3 which says: “He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver.” This verse puzzled the women, and they wondered what this statement meant about the character and nature of God. One of the women offered to find out about the process of refining silver and get back to the group at their next Bible Study.
That week, the woman called a silversmith and made an appointment to watch him at work. She didn’t mention anything about the reason for her interest beyond her curiosity about the process of refining silver. As she watched the silversmith, he held a piece of silver over the fire and let it heat up. He explained that in refining silver, one needed to hold the silver in the middle of the fire where the flames were hottest as to burn away all the impurities.
The woman thought about God holding us in such a hot spot then she thought again about the verse that says: “He sits as a refiner and purifier of silver.” She asked the silversmith if it was true that he had to sit there in front of the fire the whole time the silver was being refined. The man answered that yes, he not only had to sit there holding the silver, but he had to keep his eyes on the silver the entire time it was in the fire. If the silver was left a moment too long in the flames, it would be destroyed.
The woman was silent for a moment. Then she asked the silversmith, “How do you know when the silver is fully refined?” He smiled at her and answered, “Oh, that’s easy – when I see my image in it.”
If today you are feeling the heat of the fire, remember that God has His eye on you and will keep watching you until He sees His image in you.
Which brings us to the words in the first letter of Peter: Through Jesus you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God. Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart. You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.
Hope and trust are things we choose. Its not just that we feel hopeful some days and not others. It is not that we feel trusting some days and not others. No. In the midst of this danger and disruption, we choose hope. We choose trust. We choose love. That is our work for now. And as we hope and trust and love, God will be seeing more and more of the divine in our characters.
So as we endure this time of disease and death, into what new thing is God refining us?
The Second Sunday of Easter E. Bevan Stanley
April 19, 2020
Acts 2:14a, 22-32
1 Peter 1:3-9
John 20: 19-31
Jesus said to Thomas, “Do not doubt, but believe.” In thee Name of the one, holy, and undivided Trinity. Amen.
Here we are in the midst of a pandemic. Most of us are doing our best to keep a safe distance from others and to avoid any possibility of encountering the COVID19 virus. Fear is all around. There is the real possibility of being infected by the highly contagious disease. If one is infected, there is the real possibility of dying from it. Nevertheless, medical and emergency personnel continue to go into work in places where the virus is all around. They risk their lives for others. And since we can never know where others have been or how careful they been, anyone who is still working with the public is risking themselves for their neighbors. Everyone of them is a hero. And then there are those who are laid off and cannot work and are facing financial hardship or disaster. And the rest of us, even if we have luxury of avoiding contact with others still can’t be sure that a loved one, a relative, a friend may not catch the disease. As a species we are hard-wired to come together in a crisis, to help each other. This distancing is counter-intuitive to us and increases our anxiety and our psychic discomfort. This is a hard, frightening, and dangerous time. It does no good to deny it; indeed, it can be dangerous for ourselves and our neighbors.
Despite modern communication technology, we can feel disconnected and isolated. And time! Time has slowed down. I can’t believe it has only been a week since Easter. The snow yesterday makes it feel like mid-March, not mid-April. It appears we have at least another month before we can think about easing the restrictions that are hindering the spread of the virus. I feel like the kid in the car who, after only five minutes into a two hour trip, says, “Are we there yet?”
One of the advantages of slowed time is that it gives us the opportunity to slow ourselves and pay more attention to all that fate or God offers to our consciousness. Many of us are enjoying walking outside. Others are taking time to cook or bake more. Others are taking more time to read or pray or write in their journals. Time also helps us absorb new truths. What seems impossible when we first hear of it becomes real over time. Like the COVID19 virus. In January it seemed far fetched that a flue in China would so disrupt our lives here.
The reading from the Gospel of John contains several of these elements. The story begins on the evening of Easter Day. The disciples have locked themselves in a house “for fear of the Jews.” They were afraid that the authorities might come and kill them Just as they had their leader. Jesus “came and stood among them.” It’s not clear if he passed through the door like a ghost or materialized in their midst as if tele-transported in Star Trek. He says, “Peace be with you.” They need not be afraid any longer. He shows them his wounds as a means of identification, as if they wouldn’t recognize him with them. The disciple rejoice when they see the Lord. Jesus repeats his message and adds to it: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Then he breathes on the disciples and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit is the breath of Jesus. It is the gift of the Spirit that allows us disciples to be sent in the same way that God sent Jesus in to the world. Then he continues, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” This implies that the primary task of followers of Jesus is to forgive sins, to reconcile people, to overcome estrangement and alienation. We are putter-togetherers. Which makes it all the more frustrating that we cannot pass the peace. That we must keep our distance from one another.
Then the story switches to Thomas. He missed the whole scene on the day of the Resurrection. When he heard about it, he said, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
He is an empiricist. I think he is say, “I’m not calling you guys liars; I’m just saying I got to see for myself. This is too good to be true.” Then a week later, which would be today, They are gathered again in the same house, and Jesus comes and stands among them again, just as he had a week earlier. Again, he sayd, “Peace be with you.” Ever since that day for nearly two thousand years we disciples have gathered together on the day of the Resurrection so that Jesus can come and stand among us, and give us his peace, and breathe the Holy Spirit into us, and send us out just as God sent him into the world. This time Thomas was there. Jesus invites him to put his finger in the wounds and his hand in his side. “Do not doubt, but believe,” he says. Actually, a more literal translation would be, “Do not become untrusting but trusting.” Thomas is convinced. Indeed, the text does not say that Thomas did put his fingers in the wounds; he just says, “My lord and my God.” As far as we know he is the first to make this affirmation. So it’s a little unfair to call him “Doubting Thomas,” when he is the first to acknowledge Jesus as God. Then Jesus says, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” This is a word to the rest of us. Seeing is not necessary to faith, at least not in this physical way.
The next couple of lines make it clear that this was the original ending of the Gospel. So this Jesus’ last word to us. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.
Maybe in this time of having time, we can see what we have not seen before. Or we can see with our inner sight as well as with our outer. We may practice seeing with our heart. In this time of peril, we can practice trusting our Lord. In this time of not breathing on each other we can practice breathing the breath of God. In this time of anxiety we can practice receiving the peace of God. In this time of separation from one another we can practice reconnecting by phone, Zoom, or letter. In this time when we are all in this together we can help our neighbors who may be experience financial hardship with generosity in supporting the various efforts to help them. And we can express our appreciation for those who continue to work in jobs that keep our food, utilities, medical care, and other necessities coming to us.
In the end we practice hope, courage, and love. It’s the Christian thing to do.
Easter Sunday E. Bevan Stanley
April 12, 2020
The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised.” In the name of the one, holy, and undivided Trinity. Amen.
Alleluia! He is risen! The Lord is risen, indeed. Alleluia! This is the proclamation of Easter. After the betrayal, after the sham trial, the beatings, the shaming, and finally the gruesome death. After this total defeat and destruction, after the loss of all things, Jesus lives. Not just in our hearts. Not just in that his ideas live on. But as a total human being with a body and soul. He is risen. And he stays risen. Jesus is alive. Now and always. As has often been said, the message of Easter is that the worst thing is never the last thing. No matter how bad things get, there is always a new page, a new chapter. After sin comes forgiveness. After estrangement comes reconciliation, after bondage comes freedom, after injury comes healing. After death, comes life. The message of Easter is that God’s love conquers all. Not even death can separate us from the love of God.
Now we are in the midst of a world wide pandemic. To protect as many people as possible we are staying home. We are avoiding contact with others. Many have lost jobs or are furloughed. Many who must continue working are risking their health. Hospitals are filling with COVID19 patients so that other medical needs are not being addressed. Many will die from this disease. The enemy is invisible. We never know who might be a risk to us.
In the midst of this, we hear once again the announcement of Easter. Jesus has defeated death. Jesus has reunited God and humanity. Jesus is healing the world. The Kingdom of Heaven has begun. Love and hope. These are the gifts God gives. Love and hope are the choices we make. Love and hope are the results of our practice. Love and hope will see us through this time of illness and death. The earth itself provides a picture, metaphor, and icon of this message. From the dead ground of winter, the daffodils, the hyacinths and the tulips spring forth and reach for the sky. Forsythia explodes with exuberant joy. But these are mere metaphors and pictures of the reality. Resurrection is not merely a nice idea or are a theological abstraction. The Resurrection is a fact as real as gravity. Listen to John Updike’s poem, “Seven Stanzas at Easter”:
Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.
It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.
The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that-pierced-died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.
Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.
The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.
And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.
Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.
That is to say, the resurrection is more real than this crummy little virus. The resurrection is mightier than our fears. Weeping may spend the night, but joy comes in the morning. Jesus is going before us and we are just trying to catch up. It feels as though this year we need Easter more than usual. That is not true. We need Easter all the time—Every year, every month, every day, every minute. We need the new life, the eternal life. We need the joy that overcomes every fear. We need the life the defeats every death. We need the love of God that truly conquers every enemy.
Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen, indeed! Alleluia! Amen.
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