Well friends, we are now in Week 6 of our program of physical — but not social — distance. Right now, staying home is how we love our neighbor and keep the most vulnerable among us safe. We have learned new skills! We now excel at handwashing, and we’ve got the Zoom thing down. How many of you have learned to make face masks this week? Me!! I still love to make up Easter baskets for our grown-up children and their significant others, and this year, the Easter baskets included Mom-made face masks along with the M&Ms, chocolate eggs, and peeps.
We Miss Our Church
So. This is a lot, right? We’ve come a long way from where we were at the start of Lent, when we talked in the church about just staying calm and washing our hands. We have learned that we are adaptable people, and we know that we are making a difference in keeping the infection rate down so that we don’t overwhelm our healthcare system. But all the same, this is disorienting. We miss our beloved church, our pew mates, our organ, our choir, our coffee hour, and our traditions — the way we always do things.
Especially for the great celebration of Easter — the very holiest day of the the year. Our Lent was probably the most authentic Lent we have experienced in our lifetimes — more set apart, like Jesus’ time in the wilderness — than any Lent we remember. And this Eastertide we walk in now is just as different from any other Eastertide in our lives. And yet — even though none of us would have predicted back on Shrove Tuesday when we were eating pancakes and burning last year’s palms that we would all be sitting here like this today, there is a great gift in our dis-comfort and dis-location. The strangeness of our new setting gives us some important insights. We have an opportunity to understand the disciples’ and the apostles’ experiences much more clearly and personally.
Acts of the Apostles
Eastertide is the only time of the liturgical year that we read the Acts of the Apostles instead of the Old Testament or Hebrew Scriptures. And Acts is all about the place where we find ourselves right now. Remember, Acts and Luke are companion books, written down by the same author, and Acts picks right up where Luke’s gospel ends. Jesus does signs and wonders for 40 days after the resurrection, tells the apostles to wait in Jerusalem for baptism by the Holy Spirit and then ascends to heaven with two angels standing by.
Our reading today from Acts picks up in the middle of Chapter 2. You’ll notice we skip right over Pentecost with today’s reading. We get to Pentecost in our readings in June, but in the Book of Acts, it happens JUST BEFORE our reading today. The Holy Spirit rushes from heaven like a violent wind into a house where the apostles are gathered, and divided tongues that looked like flames appeared among them — one tongue resting on each — filling them with the Holy Spirit. Each apostle began to speak, and all the people gathered from 16 separately named nations/peoples could each understand them, even though all of those watching spoke different languages, and the apostles — the ones speaking in the many different languages — were all Galilean.
Now, this has to have been a wild, unexpected, and even chaotic scene, because Peter has to tell everyone there that the apostles are not drunk, as it’s only 9:00 in the morning. Why would this detail be part of the story? Why? Because this was some crazy stuff going down here. This is our signal to stop and look. This was not normal for them — this was just nuts!!
Peter tells the crowd what’s going on. He’s thinking fast and learning as he goes, kind of like Governor Raimondo and all of our government and medical leaders now as we basically build this pandemic plane while we’re flying in it. The hometown boy Galileans are suddenly speaking in all languages at once — Peter explains — as a sign that God’s plan has been fulfilled. You know the plan, right? The missionary expansion of the church beyond the Israelites to the Gentiles and people of all languages and nations.
OK, well I don’t think that Peter and the rest of them really knew it either just then, even though God had been talking about it through the prophets for thousands of years. Peter and the others knew about it just like we kind of knew that a pandemic could come. It wasn’t on the front burner. It wasn’t now.
Let’s pause here.
Not Business As Usual
Do all of these events sound like business as usual to you? Like the way people have always done things? The familiar way — the tradition? Were the disciples and all of Jesus’ followers comfortable with all of this? Well, I’ll jump in and answer that one: NO, THEY WERE NOT!
These guys were running around with their hair on fire. The times they find themselves in are far beyond strange to them, and they are trying to figure out who they are as followers of Jesus — and what kind of people they will be. How will they live into their discipleship?
Remember where we left off in our gospel Easter Sunday. After political conflict and confrontation, Jesus is arrested, tried, imprisoned, tortured, crucified, and laid in the tomb. He was executed unjustly at the hands of government. Leaving the whole Son of God thing aside for a moment, can you imagine an unjust political execution — or any public execution — happening in Newport last week? This was not normal at all. The disciples flee, fearing for their own lives and the future of the movement. The Marys weep at Jesus’ rock-cut tomb until an angel, sitting on the rolling stone door of the tomb, tells them that the tomb is empty — Jesus has risen from the dead and is not there. The angel gives the Marys a message for the disciples: Meet up with Jesus in a few days to get more instructions.
Fast forward to our reading today — where Peter reminds us that Jesus is descended from King David. Why does Peter connect Jesus to the beloved King David of scripture? Peter needs to remind the apostles of this link to the past, because everything around them is so new and strange. The apostles are discouraged, and disoriented. They probably miss their beloved synagogue, their friends from home, their meals together, their traditions — the way they always do things. Everything is changing fast, and there are new facts every hour. This is a breathless time for them — they don’t even have time to process one new thing before the next one comes along.
Everything is Changing Fast
It’s the same in our gospel reading from John today. Jesus makes an appearance to the disciples, right after he walks out of the tomb, leaving his grave clothes folded inside. There’s a lot of detail packed into just a few sentences:
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, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”
This is Easter night — the same day that the Marys talked to the angel at the empty tomb. And now Jesus has just showed up as the disciples were gathered — inside a locked house. They were probably meeting to talk all these new details through, and re-live and process all the unexpected and new things that had happened. And then Jesus shows up inside a locked house. The new information and new experience just keeps coming at them. Can we even imagine how fast this story is unfolding? I think that this year we can. We can BECAUSE everything is different and changing fast.
We can because this is an uncomfortably authentic Easter. The fact is, as much as we love our traditions — our beautiful church, our organ, our choir, our coffee hour, our pew mates, our Easter brunches, and our grandchildren’s Easter outfits, Easter is just not about tradition. Easter is about resurrection and new life. That seems a lot like where we are right now. Our story is unfolding fast. We are in strange and unanticipated times, and new facts come at us every minute. This is an authentic Eastertide — not unlike the one described in our reading from Acts and our reading from John’s gospel — when new facts are coming at us like water blasting out of a fire hose.
This Eastertide is our opportunity to decide who we will be when we emerge from this experience and come out of lockdown — whenever that time comes around. How will we live into our discipleship? What have we learned is really important? What have we learned that we need? What have we learned that we can live without?
This Eastertide is different from all others in our past. And no matter what we feel about how we’re spending our time — reading, talking with friends and family on Zoom, doing jigsaw puzzles, making masks, hatching chickens, or planting a Virus Victory Garden — we have to admit that we’ve had some time to think. This is a gospel moment for us. We may not like it. I’d be willing to bet that the disciples weren’t all that comfortable with the gift of resurrection and new life either. But this is what resurrection is all about in this uncomfortably authentic Eastertide.
Let’s lean in close to find the new life.
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia