They were grieving…terrified…paralyzed. After three years of learning from Jesus, watching him heal people, witnessing his courageous stands against injustice…after three years of experiencing God through their brother and rabbi, he’d been executed. Crucified. Like a common criminal. What was next? Or the more urgent question: Who was next?
Best to lie low…then get out of town, head back home, back to the fishing boats for most of them. Yes, Jesus’ mission was important…the whole thing about standing in solidarity with the poor, of loving God and neighbour–and their enemies–of doing unto others and all that. Important. Very important. But what good would they be to Jesus’ movement if they all got killed? Best simply to let it die. Grieve the teacher and thank God for all they had learned from him while he’d been with them.
Fear. Fear had killed Jesus—the Jewish leaders’ fear that they would lose what little political power they had….the Roman-appointed governors’ fear of a Jewish uprising…Jesus’ followers’ fear that they would be destroyed by the Jewish and/or Roman leaders…Fear had killed Jesus…and it was about to kill the God-movement, too.
So, Jesus showed up. “Peace be with you,” he said…to calm them down. Didn’t work. They were still terrified; they thought he was a ghost. “Look at me, touch me, if you need to. Ghosts don’t have flesh and bone,” he said. That didn’t work either. They were still terrified.
Finally, Jesus pulls out all the stops—he asks for something to eat. Third time’s the charm! He pops a piece of fish into his mouth, and Voila! the disciples awaken out of their lethargy and believe…and receive Jesus’ message: If the God movement is to continue, you’re going to have to do the work. Tell people about me, give witness to all I taught, all the healing I effected, all the injustice I revealed and preached against. I was happy to do that work while I was among you…but now it’s your turn.
The disciples must have convinced Jesus that they finally got what he was saying, because he immediately takes them out to a hill and leaves the scene for good.
It’s a good story, isn’t it? Jesus comes, embodies God’s love and justice in the world, gets killed for his efforts…the disciples follow Jesus faithfully, then cower in fear after his execution…a resurrected Jesus shows up, convinces them he’s still alive AND that they are the ones who now will have to carry on his work. Because of this appearance, the disciples awaken from their fearful paralysis and get on with the work of witnessing to the good news. Because of their courage and passion and determination, the Christian message takes off and spreads throughout the world. Yes, a very good story.
But what does it have to do with us? It’s 2012. Christianity is one of the world’s major religions now, right? Except for a few who live in totalitarian societies, Christians have no need to cower in fear. After 2,000 years, the Christian message probably has enough momentum to keep going for a while. So, what does this story of 1st century cowering Christians have to do with us 21st century comfortable Christians?
Here at Pilgrimage, we talk a lot about our little church on the hill. Nearly every Sunday we hear someone mention how safe this place is for them, how loved they feel here, how different this church is from any other they’ve ever experienced.
I don’t want to knock any of that—at all. Lad people have those experiences here. This church is a wonderful place, a place where people try as hard as they can to live God’s love with as much authenticity as they can. Lives—some lives in this room– have been changed by being part of this community. That is absolutely nothing to dismiss or downplay.
But…I wonder sometimes if we find this place SO safe and SO comfortable, that we are reluctant to share the good news down off this hill? I wonder sometimes if we, too, are stuck….not by fear or grief, like those first century disciples, but by a happy complacency? We—at last!—have found a place—a church, even!—where we feel safe and loved and appreciated and affirmed. Because the search for a safe, loving, and affirming church can be so arduous these days, sometimes—once we find such a place–we just want to sit back and enjoy it for a while…which is understandable.
But I don’t think that’s what Jesus had in mind. If it was, I don’t think he would have shown up—however he did it—in that locked room with the disciples three days after the crucifixion. Those people were stuck. Jesus needed them to get unstuck and to get to work…because the work of establishing God’s kindom on earth was too important for them to stay nestled in the safety of their own company. People outside that room desperately needed to hear the good news of God’s love for them….and if the people in that room didn’t do it, it wasn’t going to get done.
Has the urgency of sharing the good news of God’s love for all people lessened in 2,000 years? Look at the world and tell me what you think. Do wars still rage? Are people still hungry? Is the earth thriving? Has poverty been eradicated? Are children no longer being exploited? Does every person—even in our own country—enjoy basic human rights? Does every person—every child, every teenager, every adult—know down to the core of who they are that he or she is a magnificent creation of the divine? Has the urgency of sharing the good news of God’s love abated in 2000 years? I don’t think so.
I’ve told you before and it’s still true: you all are a hard lot to preach to. You’re so good! Even as I’m telling you to get out and share the good news of God’s love outside this place, I know that many of you are doing just that. You support the programs and people at MUST Ministries, you actively help those in need by participating in Mission trips, you advocate for girls affected by sex trafficking, you welcome every person into this congregation regardless of their race, age, sexual orientation, or gender identity, no matter who they are or where they are on life’s journey. You all don’t need convincing that the work Jesus began is nowhere near done…and that we’re the ones who need to be doing that work.
I don’t know. I guess I’m just inviting us to be clearer about the relationship between what we do up here on this hill and the work for God’s kindom we’re doing down below. It’s all of a piece, right? We come here to worship, to rest, to draw strength from our friends, to get reoriented to the world from God’s perspective….then we go back out into the world to work, to witness, to share the good news of God’s love with others. I’m inviting us to see Pilgrimage not so much as our destination, but as a way station— a place to rest and get supplies before we get back to work.
The third group of Women Touched by Grace is at the monastery right now for their first session. For those who are new to our community, Women Touched by Grace is a three year program of spiritual renewal for Protestant clergywomen sponsored in part by a Benedictine monastery just outside of Indianapolis. I had the privilege of participating in the program from 2008 – 2010.
It’s taken every bit of self-discipline I have not to hop in the car and drive toIndianato join this new group. I want to be there sooooo badly! For nearly all the women in the first two groups of Women Touched by Grace, the monastery is a safe place for us. The sisters treat us so well. They pray for us, they feed us, they love us. It’s wonderful to draw strength from our sister clergywomen, too. To pray with people who really know you, who know what your life is like? It’s an amazing, affirming, energizing thing. You’d be crazy to leave, right?
But—as restful and rejuvenating as being at the monastery is—I’m not called to live there (a fact Allen finds reassuring). My calling—the calling of all the Women Touched by Grace—is to serve congregations. We’re called to work establishing God’s kindom outside the safety of the monastery. Some of that work for me has involved sharing the good news of Women Touched by Grace with some of my friends. I know four of the new Women Touched by Grace. Two of those four have thanked me—several times—for nagging them to participate. “That’s your number one spiritual gift,” one friend said. “Nagging.”
Women Touched by Grace was a wonderful experience for me. Sharing the good news of the program with my friends has been important. Even so, my WTBG sisters and I aren’t done with the monastery…not by a long-shot. Thus far, my group has had two reunions. There will be another one in May. Now, we gather to remember, to pray, to play, and to let the sisters love on us a little…so that we can find strength to go back to our ministries, replenished and ready to continue the important work of establishing God’s kindom here on earth.
I wonder sometimes if the disciples ever returned to that borrowed room for a reunion of their own? I’ll bet they did. After all, that’s where they grieved, that’s where they healed, that’s where they met Jesus, that’s where they were commissioned for the work they had been given to do. I’ll bet they did have reunions in that room—and I’ll bet those visits were brief. Because the real work waited for them outside that safe place.
As it does for us.
In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.
Kimberleigh Buchanan © 2012
While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”37They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost.38He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?39Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”40And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.41While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?”42They gave him a piece of broiled fish,43and he took it and ate in their presence.44Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.”45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures,46and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day,47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.48You are witnesses of these things.