Reconnecting with Hope
sermon by Rev. Jessica McCrae
If ever there was a gospel story that speaks to the fears and suspicions of 21st century life, this is it. In a world of fake news, and false narratives, when we don’t know what is true, when facts can be fabricated and manipulating proof is as easy as spending a bit of time on photoshop, we understand the concerns of Jesus’ friends when unexpectedly, after his crucifixion, he appears to them. They begin to doubt their own experiences, they begin to doubt their own eyes. Things like this just don’t happen. This can’t be happening. And most of us, I think can relate to such doubt, such speculation. We can’t be sure what to believe anymore ourselves. Even the joyful bits. In the back of our mind we are always concerned that someone is manipulating stories, the news, our social media. It is hard to trust what is real any more.
And that suspicion, that disconnect has the effect of making us a bit numb to it all. Numb to the world, the things that are happening around us, and even sometimes, numb to hope. There is just so much bombarding us all the time, the threat of covid, the vaccine shortages, the variants, the protests, the suspicions, the mass shootings, overloaded ICUs, trade wars …. everyday there is something, and to survive these times, to survive the explosion of information coming at us all the time, we numb ourselves to it.
But the problem is, when we disconnect from the horror and the fear, we also tend to disconnect from signs of hope too. It is hard to be selective. We build up walls, we try to go about our day to day business, we keep our head down, and engage with the world a little less each day.
But then one day, if we are lucky, something happens. And we are awakened ….
And we remember that as surreal as it all may seem, this is not all there is.
We remember, we recognize, hope. Slowly at first, hesitantly, cautiously. It starts to come back to us.
I think that is how Jesus’ friends must have felt that day, huddled in that room, numb. By now they had heard the story the women told, that the body was gone, but they had no answers for that. They knew their friend had been executed and the dreams they had for their community executed with him. They were filled with fear, terrified we are told. Nothing made sense any more, and they were numb. And into that Jesus came. He came and stood among them, he talked to them, pointed out the fleshiness of his presence – he had skin and bones – he was real, not an illusion, not a ghost, not a wish. He was real. This good thing was really happening. And then to take it one step further, he asked for some food. He was hungry. And so they sat down together for a meal, giving him some broiled fish, and they talked. Just like before.
It is a very detailed account actually, right down to the menu, reinforcing the fact that Jesus had a body, that he was not a wispy figment that could be blown away by the slightest whiff of doubt. This was real. Which has some really powerful meaning for us. You see, in returning to his friends in this fully human form, with the same human weaknesses that we have – a body with bones than can break, and muscles that can ache, with real hunger – Jesus reminds us that what is being offered, this chance at transformation, and new life is truly for us; just as we are, human and vulnerable and hungry, us. We are reminded that this world, this creation, is good and what God intended, even if things seem off track, and confusing, and fearful. This life is good. And real transformation can happen here, with us, just as we are.
That is the message for this good creation, for this good creation that sometimes gets wildly off track. That is the message that Jesus had for his friends following the horror of the crucifixion and the mystery of the resurrection – real transformation, new beginnings can happen.
Let’s look again at Jesus’ friends as he came in the room. We are told that they were terrified, they were filled with fear. Not just about this whole resurrection business but about the world they were living in, a world where people with a message of new life and hope could be murdered by the powers that be, a world where the average person felt totally out of control, where people were struggling and the last would always be last. When they saw Jesus then, when they touched him, they were reminded that this was really the way the world is, this had happened, and he had suffered terribly.
But then something else began to happen. That fear began to move to joy. The solemn reminder of seeing him again – of all they had gone through, all they were worried about – gave way to joy. It gave way to a joy that yes, the world was a mess, but look, that mess, those powers didn’t have the final say, death did not have the final say.
Once that happened, once they were set free from those bonds, once they understood – remember we are told that Jesus “opened their minds” – they were then able to witness, to share the good news. They were able to share their great joy that Jesus is alive, that there is hope, that God is truly with us, in this world offering transformative hope to people just like them, just like you and me. They were able to say, with absolute conviction, that the powers we think are in control are not. There is something so much bigger than this and that love, that power, will overcome all the darkness that is encroaching on us. But they could do that only once they were released from their fear.
It gives you a real longing in your heart doesn’t it, this passage? An envy? It does in mine. Because frankly it seems like we just can’t seem to get away from our fears today. There are a lot of them – fear of this pandemic, fear of losing financial stability, fear of things never returning to normal, fear of change, fear of unrest and instability in our world. Underlying it all of course is the fear of death. And all this fear seems to overtake us, it overshadows the joy, it holds us captive. It becomes harder for us, as people of faith who are crippled by fear, to witness to the real joy that is ours – that even the bonds of death could not hold Jesus. That real change, real transformation, real new life is possible. Because Jesus is alive. And no amount of terror, real or imagined can change that fact. Jesus is alive. But we need to have our minds opened too, we need to encounter that Risen Christ again ourselves, so that we too, can begin to move from fear to joy. So that we too can see and know that new life is possible in our life, in this world.
The power of the resurrection is the power to plant the seeds of transformation and new life in a broken world, but to be open to it we must be able to really hear and experience Christ’s message of peace and hope, rather than the message of fear and self-protection that is so prevalent today. It is a real shift, not easy at all, but this passage this morning reminds us that it is possible. This passage presents us with the fear of the disciples to which we can relate, and with a Christ who, in our human form, was able to transform and overcome, and who was able to transform the disciples, overcoming their fear and revealing hope.
So how can we see beyond this troubled world to the world the way Christ envisions it? And how then can we witness to that rebirth?
These are tough questions, and they are exactly what we are called to explore this Easter season. Because Easter isn’t just about one day in the year, it is a way of living, a way of being, a way of expressing our faith. How will we live as Easter people in this world in which we find ourselves? How will we witness to the joy that Jesus in alive, in our actions and our words? The challenges facing 21st century Christians in a society infused with fear are real, but we are called to move from fear to joy, and to help others do the same.
We will invite the Christ who walks among us still, into our home, into our church, into our heart.
We will reclaim the ancient practice of hospitality for the stranger, even if it must be in a socially distanced way.
We will trust that our present reality is the place where incredible and life giving transformations can take place.
We will open our mind to believe that God’s love for us can not only move mountains, but shift hearts and minds, melt fears and empower spirits.
And in so doing we will open ourselves to rely less on our fear and more on our courageous trust in our God. We will open our minds, our hearts, our lives, and we life our lives inwitness to all these things.
This Easter, we will reconnect with hope. Thanks be to God.