Easter 2020

John 20:19-31

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “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.”

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “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.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

We pray.

Oh God, just as Jesus made his resurrection known to the disciples by gathering together with them, touching and being touched, sharing a meal, and extending the peace, so let us share our love for each other by protecting them from harm until it is once again safe to touch, embrace, and sit together at the dinner table. Open our eyes to know your love in our actions and thoughts as we wait for this time to pass. Amen.

Welcome to Easter Season 2020-Style

This has been an Easter unlike any we have ever experienced. We are in the midst of a pandemic and there is no escaping its impact.   It has affected our community, state, country, and planet, altering the way we live, shop, share, and work, if we are lucky enough still to have a job.  It has affected how we educate our children, socialize with friends and family, conduct business meetings, plan weddings, funerals, graduations, honeymoons and vacations.  It has affected us medically, financially, professionally, socially, and psychologically.  No one is unscathed by Covid-19. In its invisible stealth, it spreads through our community until most of us know at least one person who has been afflicted.  While one friend tagged the mandate to shelter in place as the introvert’s dream come true, the rest of us are getting a little tired of hovering in solitude under the threat of infection. 

One group in particular that comes to mind includes folks like me, who anchor their week in corporate worship. We gather in church sanctuaries every Sunday, singing together, praying together, listening together to scripture read aloud and preached.  For us, much has changed.  For the past five Sundays, we are not attending church surrounded by people, music, and liturgy. Instead, my husband and I sit at the dining room table in front of a laptop transported to a quiet sanctuary holding empty pews, two priests, an organist, and a camera guy.

I remember the Sunday before shelter in place was mandated.  It was March 8, 2020.  Our priest announced before the service began, that in light of the novel coronavirus, we should not touch anyone during the Exchange of Peace.  For those unfamiliar with the Exchange of Peace, let me explain.  It is a short break in the middle of the service when we stand and turn to each other to shake hands, hug friends and family, and say something like, Peace be with you, or God bless you, or Good morning, God’s peace.  It is when the quiet style of worship we Episcopalians love breaks into a cacophony of noise, voices, laughter, and affection until we are called to quiet down and return to our seats, or as one priest put it, “All right!  Enough!  With all this hugging and shaking, we’ll never get outa here!” 

On March 8, 2020 at 10:30 a.m., we were told to extend God’s peace to our neighbor with our eyes, with our smile, and with our words but, “Do not touch!”  I could feel myself stiffen.  I had not realized how much I valued that brief ritual until then.

I know we Episcopalians have a reputation.  All churches do and we are no different.  I’ve been told that people think of us as an elite group with roots to the royal family in England.  It was after all our Bishop Curry who preached at the wedding of Kate and Harry.   I don’t know about the elite business, but it is true that we love our ceremony filled with rituals, music, and liturgy. Our priests and acolytes wear robes; we are traditional and formal –   and we are physical.  In our services, we stand up.  We sit down.  We kneel.  We pray out loud together.  We read prayers and psalms responsively.  We stand and turn to our neighbors to Exchange the Peace with handshakes and hugs. Every Sunday we share a common meal of bread and wine kneeling side by side at the altar. We are not a passive audience.  We are active worshipers.

We get our hands dirty building homes for Habitat for Humanity; then we clean them up to deliver food to the homeless. We take care of babies and toddlers and educate pre-schoolers.  We grow gardens and invite our neighbors to harvest and enjoy the fresh food.   Episcopalian priests, chaplains, lay eucharistic ministers and lay preachers are in hospitals, nursing homes, assisted and independent living facilities and Hospice.  Holding the hands of the sick and dying, the lonely and discouraged, we pray with them.  And suddenly we are not allowed to touch?  

As alarming as it sounded at the time, it has become our new reality.  In response, I see churches everywhere reaching out to touch without touching.  On-line streaming of church services.  Small groups meeting online throughout the week, study groups, support groups, meditation and prayer groups; all finding ways to do God’s work and maintain connection with each other and with Jesus.

It is from Jesus we learn that worship is an active and physical business.  Jesus didn’t sit around passively in his ministry.  He stood up in the Temple.  He knelt to pray in the Garden. He squatted on the floor to wash the feet of his disciples.  He walked from village to village touching, comforting, feeding and healing the hungry, diseased, tormented, and blind. He ate with pharisees and sinners.  His was a physical, hands on, dusty feet ministry, culminating in bloody wounded torture and death on the cross.  And then he came back in a physical resurrection with the scars to show for it 

Today, Jesus is no longer in our midst.  We cannot reach out to touch the scars that Thomas was invited to touch.  We can’t touch his robe in a crowd and be healed.  We can’t invite him for dinner and sit at table side by side, inches apart.  We can’t sit at his feet, and wash them with our tears, dry them with our hair, and anoint them with essential oils.  Instead, we are left with a virtual relationship that we call Faith.  It is a connection more powerful even than the internet. It is spiritual and profound, and it will be good enough until we too share in our own resurrection to join him in heaven.

And it will be good enough for us now in our communication with each other.  Until we see the resurrection of life as we once knew it, we will attend church at our dining room tables, seated in front of a laptop.  We will use our phones to call loved ones.  We will write letters and emails; and employ every online technology available.  We will use our eyes and words and smiles.  Our salutations will be waves or a hand on our chest. We will maintain a six-foot safety distance; and wear a mask whenever we enter a space with others.  We will hold all those impacted by this virus in our prayers and outreach.  And we will wait, until it is once again safe to gather with friends and families in our homes and restaurants and coffee shops and happy hours, . . .and in our churches.

Till then, take care and be safe.