April 19, 2020 – 2nd Sunday of Easter, 6th Sunday of Pandemic
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor
Rush United Methodist Church
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 for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “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.”
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”
Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”
Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
This detestable pandemic has allowed me to engage
the Gospel in new and creative ways.
Perhaps this Gospel passage of Jesus’ resurrection appearance
Isn’t about Thomas and his understandable doubts?
A week ago, Saturday, Ross Douthat wrote an article in the New York Times titled “The Pandemic and the Will of God”.
He observed “the purpose of suffering may be mysterious,
but the search for meaning is obligatory.”
This got me thinking.
Let’s take a look at the timeline.
The last 7 days had been an emotional roller coaster.
After spending 3 years supporting Jesus
It had all come to a head.
His disciples knew he was a decent guy,
Reached out to all the right people,
Shunned power and the spotlight.
He even appeared blessed by God,
For he had done many miraculous things.
Jesus entered Jerusalem like the king he was meant to be.
The crowd was whipped up in Messianic expectation,
Throwing him a parade.
Revolution was in the air.
A coup de grâce was all but a done deal,
Returning Israel to its Davidic glory.
Make Israel great again.
Then, Jesus freely surrendered;
Just raised the white flag and gave up the ship.
He didn’t even put up a struggle.
He didn’t defend himself when tried or questioned.
When Jesus gave up,
The crowds gave up on him.
They humiliated him,
Tortured and killed him by public crucifixion.
As the disciples watched his corpse laid into a tomb
No sane member of the remaining 11 couldn’t help but think,
“Next, they’ll come for us.”
Jesus rose from the dead,
Leaving the tomb empty.
Peter and John had confronted the risen Jesus,
Along with Mary Magdalene,
But Peter and John weren’t talking.
They returned home and sat on their hands and kept their mouths shut,
“For as yet they did not understand the scripture that he must rise from the dead.” (20:9)
Certainly, they were just as afraid as everyone else.
As Jesus suffered,
Now his disciples suffered.
Judas took his own life.
Peter was smothered in guilt.
The rest are in shock and grief.
The trauma of crucifixion would give way to anger.
Anger, in time, would give way acceptance,
Would eventually lead to a search for meaning.
Between his burial
And that evening being locked away together,
It must have been an emotionally charged, exhausting day for the disciples.
Suffering is a meal best shared among friends.
The mystery of suffering is unanswerable.
There are no answers to the question:
Why are we suffering this Coronavirus pandemic?
Why do the poor suffer unequally as the rich?
Why do people of different races, religions, or gender suffer more than others.
Why do bad things happen to good people and
Why do good things happen to horrible people?
Why did Jesus suffer and die and disappoint the world?
The mystery of suffering is unanswerable.
But, there is hope.
Instead of going round and round and
Being sucked into an infinite wormhole
That only leads to dis-belief,
Our God and our faith tradition show us another path.
In place of a pointless search for answers
The Biblical tradition points us in a different direction.
The Hebrew book of Lamentations is all about suffering.
Likewise, 28% of the Psalms address suffering.
42 of 150 Psalms are laments,
30 of which are individual,
12 are communal.
Turn to the complaint.
Complain on your own.
Amplify complaints by combining complaints together.
Turn to the complaint into a prayer,
Shape it just right,
And you’ve got yourself a lament.
Human unrighteousness and rebellion suffered the Lord
Such that punishment was swift and violent.
Jerusalem fell in 586 BCE, Israel was defeated, survivors sent to prison camps.
As the Lord had suffered, now it was Israel’s turn to suffer.
Israel in exile suffered terribly.
Look at what was lost!
Prosperity. Hope. A promising future.
Look at what the Lord lost!
Faithful followers. An eternal partnership. The love of Creation.
At the heart of the lament is solidarity;
Solidarity with each other and solidarity with God.
We share the same complaint.
We share the same crushing burden.
We share the same loss with each other and with our God.
And God dwells among us.
A lament is a prayer,
Directed to God,
Organized by the Psalmist and Prophets
Into a common form:
1) Invocation; or calling upon the Lord.
2) Complaint; getting the anger out.
3) Request; for God to help deliver, to persuade God to act.
4) Expression of Confidence, that God will continue to act according to creation’s benefit.
5) Praise; to express happiness that God is true to promises made, for God’s presence, and for God’s love.
This past week, I’ve been thinking about the lament
The shocked, mourning, disappointing disciples might have been praying.
Perhaps it sounded like this:
1) Invocation: “O God of creation,
who delivered us from Egyptian slavery and Babylonian exile,
who sent us your Son, Jesus … “
2) Complaint: “you sent us Jesus only to have him killed?
You wanted us to follow him just to die?
We gave up everything: family, jobs, everything to follow him?
Three years of our lives are wasted; down the drain.
Now, they’re coming for us
and a locked door is all that exists
between us and our own crucifixion.
Why have you, O Lord, betrayed us unto death?”
3) Request: “Grant us your peace.”
“Send us as you were sent, to forgive the sins of the world.”
“Give us the power of your Spirit.”
“Strengthen our faith, especially those who didn’t see.”
4) Confidence: “You’ve saved us before;
You can save us again.”
5) Praise: Like we read in Lamentations
Your love never ceases,
Your mercy never ends.
Your grace is new every morning.
Great is your faithfulness!
(from Lamentations 3:21-23)
Pay attention to the request:
Grant us your peace.
Jesus came and stood before them, saying “Peace be with you.
As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
God came and dwelt among them.
Pay attention to the lament’s request:
Give us the power of your Spirit.
“… he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
The resurrected Christ came in solidarity.
Pay attention to the lament’s request:
Strengthen our faith, especially those who didn’t see.
“Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
When there are no answers
Turn to the lament.
Our Old Testament God grieves human infidelity.
Jesus wept for Lazarus.
Explanation isn’t required.
Lament instead, expresses the loss,
Petitions God to help, and
Attempts to persuade God to act.
God comes and dwells among us.
The New York Times Op-Ed author rightly observed
That a healing Christ and a loving God
Dwells among the people of creation,
Caring for the grieving, dying, sick, and suffering.
Jesus comes and stands before them, saying “Peace be with you.”
With presence, there is solidarity.
We are one with each other, and
One with our God.
This detestable pandemic
Has thrust upon us a new world order,
An unfamiliar environment for mission and ministry,
For Church and faith,
For relationships and meaning.
There is no answer to “why?”
In its place, God gives us permission to lament.
Your homework for this upcoming week is this:
Write out your prayer of lament.
Let it out!
Shout it out in all CAPS, if that makes you happy!
Get out a piece of paper and write it down.
Edit and add to it every day for the next 6 days.
Follow the path of Prophets and Psalmists.
Keep to the traditional recipe.
1) Invoke! Name our God!
2) Complain! About everything!
3) Request! Ask for the moon, and more!
4) Show Confidence! List what God can do!
5) Praise! List newly found happiness!
Better, beloved, than cheap and superficial answers
Is to lament loud and proud.
Stand firm in the swirl of this hurricane.
We are with one another.
Lo, the risen Christ comes.
The Lord is with us, now and always.
Wth one another, and
With our God.