On that first Easter day the women went to the tomb and were greeted not by death but by life. They were directed not to weeping but called to not be afraid. After this, in Luke’s Gospel we find a radically different account of something that transpires and only he records it for us. It is something which happens not with the 11 disciples in the upper room but to two previously unknown, at least to us, disciples.
I have a difficult time viewing safety as a virtue. Resilience perhaps, fortitude to be sure, but not just safety. I want my kids to be safe, of course. I want them to take reasonable precautions when doing dangerous or risky things. Safety serves the risk; it serves a life marked by danger. It is calculated and reasonably weighed out. But danger, why, danger is the stuff that makes life worth living. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “As soon as there is life, there is danger.” To elevate safety above engagement is a cowardly and timid way to engage this world.
Every year on the Sunday after Easter, we read from John chapter 20 and hear again the appearance of our resurrected Lord to His disciples. Every year, whether it is in the midst of a pandemic and you are watching church from your living room or you are sitting in church with your family, we get caught up in the story of doubting Thomas and his desire to poke around in the holes of Jesus’ hands. It is a powerful text, from which we get perhaps the greatest confession of faith ever spoken.
Many have lamented the fact that Easter has fallen during this global pandemic. Plans have been ruined, celebrations are cancelled, and reunions get pushed off to a later date. I do not get to preach to your faces and miss seeing the reactions, the smiles, the tears, and the confusion at times, as I proclaim the Word of God.
For years the call of the pastor has had an element that always plays out behind the scenes, something most people assume a pastor does but never really know what it is about. It is wrapped-up in one of the vows he makes on ordination, the one where he promises to, “Minister faithfully to the sick and dying and demonstrate to the Church a constant and ready ministry centered in the Gospel.”
The people of God were not a people who stood head and shoulders above everyone else. Their title as His chosen ones did not mean they had the best of everything, that they were safe and secure and lived a fat and happy life free from concern, worry and fear. Rather, their history was marked by slavery, oppression, and nomadic wandering with no place to call their home. They were well acquainted with the horrors of war, disease and struggle.
They said it was for our best interest. They said that it was how we demonstrated love for our neighbor, especially those weaker than us. Not to mention, it was the law of the land, it was what was expected, it ought to be obeyed for the general welfare of all. So with a particular American piety and sense of righteousness, the 18th Amendment banned the manufacture, transportation and sale of intoxicating liquors. It brought to this great country the long-forgotten era known as prohibition.
My childhood home had one of those rooms with nice draperies, inviting end tables, lamps and a large couch in which no one to my memory ever sat. It was not for regular family use. Christmas morning, sure, parties, yes, but on a normal day to day basis no one sat in that large front room of the home. There was no TV there, no table to gather around but on one of the side tables there was a large Bible. It was one of those ridiculously large family Bibles that no one ever used.
Locked in, shut down, confined to our homes, consuming too much TV while eating comfort food and longing for fresh air and time away from the children. It is enough to make us crazy and finally understand what “cabin fever” is really like. But then again, this is not exactly how its playing out. People go out. They may not go down to the bar or out to eat at a restaurant, but people still go out. They go out for what are deemed essential services, places that stay open amid a pandemic.
“Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (Ephesians 5:14). Most scholars believe this line used by St. Paul is part of an ancient baptismal hymn. You can imagine it being sung out by a gathering of the people of God as the newly baptized rises from the water. Its poetic words form a call to a new life, a life free from the terrors of the grave, free from futility and aimless wandering. Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead,