They were hunkered down, frightened, sheltered-in-place. Their world had changed overnight. They couldn’t imagine what the next days would hold.
All they knew was that Jesus was gone. In their grief, their uncertainty, their fear, they drew together. These were their people. If they were going to make it through whatever was coming next, the best chance they had was being with these people.
Are you feeling any resonance with this story from the Bible? “What?” you say. “That’s a story from the Bible? It sounds like a report from where we are RIGHT NOW!”
When this pandemic began, I was deeply annoyed that my plans for Lent were upended.
As we journeyed with Jesus last week, though, it seemed like Lent and Holy Week were exactly the stories we needed to hear as we adjust to our new pandemic reality.
Today’s story resonates, too. We, too, are experiencing something traumatic. We too are isolated as we try to deal with that trauma.
We’re also cut off from most of what helps us connect to Jesus–our sanctuary and our church community. In many ways, we are as lost as the disciples the day after Jesus’ resurrection. Some days, we, too, might feel like Jesus is gone. *******
Someone else is gone from that first meeting of the disciples with Jesus: Thomas.
Thomas had been with Jesus for three years. He’d lived with him, ministered with him, learned from him, and had come to believe in him, to the point that he was ready to die with him.
When Jesus did die, though, Thomas’ belief wavered.
Maybe that’s why Thomas skipped the gathering. Maybe the events of Good Friday tipped him over into un-belief. Maybe he was just done with his community.
But, as we see, his community isn’t yet done with Thomas. When they see him later, the disciples say, “Thomas! We’ve seen Jesus!” That’s when he says the words he’s known for, why he’s called “Doubting Thomas:” “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.”
The scene cuts immediately to a week later. The disciples–including Thomas–have gathered again. Jesus appears. And it’s almost like Jesus heard Thomas’ words from the week before. “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt, but believe.” Thomas touches Jesus’ wounds, and believes. *********
Do you ever struggle to believe? Poet Kathleen Norris has written several books about her struggle to believe. In her book, Amazing Grace, Norris writes of disappointment with some monks she knew. Thinking her doubts to be “spectacular obstacles” to her faith, the monks were unimpressed.
They saw her doubts simply as the seeds of faith, a sign that her faith was alive and ready to
grow. “They also seemed to believe,” she said, “that if I just kept coming back to worship, kept coming home, things would eventually fall in place” (63).
Her community helped Norris believe. Their reaching out to her, sitting with her, listening to her doubts…and welcoming her back every time she returned “home”…all of that made it possible for Kathleen to continue in faith. Her community made the difference for her.
Thomas’ community makes the difference for him, too. Thomas wasn’t there when Jesus appeared the first time, but was there for Jesus’ second visit. What happened between the two visits? What happened is Thomas’ community went out and found him. They invited him to come home. And he did. Despite his doubts, despite his struggles, still, Thomas returned home. And there, gathered among his friends, he encountered Jesus and came to believe.
But how do you return home to your faith community when you’re sheltering-in-place? That’s been the question for us the past four weeks. So much of our life together is about meeting in person–worship, Sunday School, serving others… “Where two or three are gathered,” right?
We’ve made good progress on gathering online with Zoom. And after a couple of missteps live-streaming worship, we’ve finally settled on a process that seems to be working more effectively. Thanks be to God!
That said, everyone hasn’t found their way to gathering online. The learning curve remains steep for many of us.
Now that we’re settling into this new way of gathering, our next task is to continue gathering folks in…to call folks we haven’t seen since the pandemic began…to reach out to folks who might be struggling with technology and talk them through how to connect…to invite them to join us for Sunday School or some other online discussion…or to direct them to our YouTube channel, where many recordings of worship are archived…
Now that we’re settling into our new way of being and doing church, it’s time to go out and find the folks who haven’t yet gathered and bring them in, invite them to come home. And if they need help, to show them the way. ******
I’m coming to you today from Friendship Hall. What happens upstairs in the sanctuary is vital to our community’s life. Worship is at the heart of who we are. But this is the room where we really connect with each other. This is the place we break bread together. This is the place we check in with each other. This is the place we play together, and learn together, and celebrate together, and grieve together. This room, Friendship Hall, is home for us.
And we can’t be here during this pandemic season.
It’s true that we can’t have Coffee Hour in Friendship Hall right now, but we are going to attempt to have Coffee Hour today! At noon, we invite you to check in to the Coffee Hour Zoom meeting. (You received the Zoom link in this morning’s email.) This week, Marika and I will lead Coffee Hour. If it goes well, we’ll try to do it every week, perhaps with a variety of people leading. We’ll have large-group conversations. We’ll also have break-out sessions, where we’ll be randomly put into small groups by Zoom for a different kind of conversation. All of it will be just like Coffee Hour in Friendship Hall, just on Zoom.
None of us knows what life’s going to look like after the pandemic. Rest assured, everything—including church—will look different.
Despite the differences, one thing isn’t going to change. Whatever the future holds, our community will give us strength to face it. Whatever the future holds, our community will help us hold onto our faith. Whatever the future holds, our community will still be a place to find and encounter Jesus.
Whatever the future holds, we’re going to need each other…which is why it’s so important right now to make sure everyone is gathered. So, go out and fetch them! Bring everybody home. Because in this season, we need each other–all of our community— more than ever before. So, let’s go out and bring them home!
In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.