Deacon Sue Nebel
Alleluia. Christ is risen. (People respond: The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.) It has been a full week since we first made that joyful proclamation. A week since we heard the story of the discovery of the empty tomb. The first hint that something remarkable had happened. A week since the first post-Resurrection appearance of Jesus. Recognized by Mary Magdalene in the garden near the tomb. In the days since then, in churches with weekday celebrations of the Eucharist, people have heard the stories of more post-Resurrection appearances. Jesus appears to some followers on their way from Jerusalem to the nearby town of Emmaus. He also appears to the disciples. Gradually the light of hope grows in the darkness of despair. The realization that the political powers of oppression, the powers of darkness, have been defeated. God has done something remarkable. God has raised Jesus from the dead into new life. In this morning’s Gospel, we hear the story of the first appearance of Jesus to the disciples. A week later, he appears again. Thomas, who had not been present with the other disciples when they encountered Jesus, needs to be convinced of this new reality. Struggling to believe the impossible, Thomas wants to see the marks of the wounds on Jesus’s body. Responding to Jesus’s invitation to touch him, Thomas bursts out: “My Lord and my God.” Recognition and belief.
This morning, we hear not only the story of Thomas’s affirmation of Jesus. We also get a glimpse of the impact of the Resurrection on the disciples. In the first reading from the Book of Acts, Peter and the disciples, now called apostles, have been brought before the authorities. Peter, who after the arrest of Jesus denied any connection to him, is now a voice of affirmation. With the others, he boldly affirms loyalty to God rather than any human authority. Emboldened and strengthened, Peter and the others are moving forward to continue the story of Jesus. They will spread the good news. They will tell the story of Jesus: his life and death, his deeds of healing and teaching. His message of a God that loves all of God’s children. Fully and completely, without regard to their status in society. A God that dreams of a world in which all are honored and respected, where all human life thrives.
Easter. Resurrection. Inside the walls of our churches, we celebrate and rejoice in new hope. Outside it is a very different story. This has been a difficult week. On a global level there were the bombings in Sri Lanka. As the day wore on, we learned the magnitude of the tragedy: 250+ people killed, many more injured. Christians targeted by religious extremists. Then yesterday, news of another shooting in a place of worship. This time a synagogue in San Diego. The target: Jews. Closer to home, the initials A.J. were etched on our hearts. We heard the news of a five year old missing in Crystal Lake. We waited anxiously, hoping for his safe return home. Then came the news we had been dreading: A.J. had been found. He was dead, murdered. The details of his short, difficult life emerged: abusive parents, drug usage, the failure of a system that is supposed to protect at risk children. Easter. Resurrection. Good news. How do we find good news in the face all of this? Where do we find hope?
Surrounded by all this bad news, I did what I often do. Like Native Americans and people in many cultures, I turned to the elders. My go-to sources for wisdom. I turned first to Steven Charleston. You may have heard his name. I have mentioned him before. Steven Charleston is the retired Bishop of Alaska and currently works with the Native American/Indigenous Peoples Ministries of the Episcopal Church. I subscribe to his posts on the Internet. He said this about the bombings in Sri Lanka:
I will remember Sri Lanka. I am sure you will too. . .We have seen it before, but the bombing of places of worship still has the power to startle us because its cruelty is so calculating. It reminds us that our job as people of faith is far from over. In many ways, we have just begun. The task ahead is both dangerous and difficult, but we will not back down from the cause of peace between all people of all religions. We will never be bullied by religious terrorism. Why? Because we remember Sri Lanka.
Our job as people of faith is far from over. In many ways, we have just begun. That sounds like Thomas, ready to move forward into a new, unknown future. That sounds like Peter and the disciples. Refusing to back down. Ready to carry on the work that Jesus started. That sounds like Resurrection.
After drawing from Steven Charleston’s wisdom, I turned to another of my go-to people: Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. I discovered that he too had turned to an elder, a source of wisdom. For him it was Barbara Harris. Barbara Harris, an African American, was the first woman ordained and consecrated a bishop in The Episcopal Church. She has written a memoir titled Hallelujah, Anyhow! The title comes from an old Gospel hymn:
Never let your troubles get you down.
When your troubles come your way
Hold your hands up high and say
Michael Curry makes that phrase “Hallelujah anyhow!” the theme for his Easter message. He retells the story of Mary Magdalene. Standing at the foot of the Cross, faithful to the end. Hallelujah anyhow! Mary and the women going to the tomb in the early morning darkness. In the midst of grief and lost hope, going to perform a final act of love: preparing the body for burial. Hallelujah anyhow! Mary seeing Jesus in the garden, experiencing the impossible. Hallelujah anyhow!
As we moved through this past week, we began to hear more about Sri Lanka. Muslims opening their mosques to the Christian faith communities that had been attacked. Offering them space for their worship services. Hallelujah, anyhow! People bringing toys, stuffed animals, and messages of love to the memorial at A.J. Freund’s home. People gathering for a vigil, lighting candles in the darkness. An outpouring of generosity and love that A.J. did not experience in his short, sad life. Hallelujah anyhow! A community activist moving through the crowd. Handing out information sheets on how to report suspected abuse. She said: “I want this community to be a place where children are safe.” Hallelujah anyhow!
Allelulia, Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia. We begin our services throughout the Easter season, the Great Fifty Days of Easter, with those words. We end with an Easter Dismissal: Let us go forth in the name of the Risen Christ. Alleluia. Alleluia. We go out from this place into the world. A hurting world. A world in need of good news. In need of love. In need of hope. Let us go forth from this place, committed to our role as modern-day disciples of Jesus. Resolved to bring, in our words and actions, God’s love to those whom we meet. It will not always be easy. Jesus never promised anyone that. But do it we will. Hallelujah anyhow!
Second Sunday of Easter; Year C
Acts 5:27-32; Psalm 150; Revelation 1:4-8; John 20:19-31