Alleluia, Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed, alleluia!
So what are we afraid of, even in the midst of this great rejoicing? For most of the world, fear rarely takes a holiday. The current threats in Eastern Europe are raising the fear of war in a world that is deeply weary of it. Bishop Garang, who was here for the consecration yesterday, told us about ongoing atrocities in South Sudan – the result of political coup that’s being hyped as a tribal conflict. There are dire predictions about the fate of Middle East peace talks in the face of reconciliation between the two main Palestinian factions (PLO and Hamas). Israel has felt more control in the face of that long-standing division, and now seems to assume that reconciliation doesn’t bode well for peace. Our own government seems to agree. They may be right, but it is a very odd response to overt and evident peacemaking – that my enemies’ peace means threat and violence to me. I doubt very much that’s what Jesus had in mind when he said, “peace be with you.”
His disciples are holed up in their own fear fortress after his execution. They have pooh-poohed reports of his resurrection, assuming that mere women can’t be reliable witnesses. That is, after all, what the law insists. Jesus had something to say about that, as well. Well, there they are, walled in and trembling, and in walks Jesus. They have hidden out from the authorities, both political and religious ones. In spite of what the gospel says about “the Jews,” the Romans are the far greater threat. The Roman Empire was the only body that used crucifixion, and only against enemies of the state – people who were politically dangerous, and a threat to civic order. The Jewish religious authorities may have been collaborators at times, but they were as much in thrall to Rome as anybody else. The disciples knew their own lives were in danger, and afraid they were likely to be found guilty by association. Remember what Peter does when he’s accused of being a Galilean, like Jesus? Oh, no, not me! The problem for the disciples is very much like that old evangelical challenge, “if you were charged with being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”
Imagine that day: they’re locked in, consumed by fear, unable to show their faces outside the door. The tomb begins to sound more attractive than living like that. Jesus turns up to remind and remember them – to put them back together – in peace. He brings the continuing divine reminder that love is the antidote to fear. He shows them the signs of his crucifixion – his bona fides, his references, if you will – gives them the breath of new life and sends them out, telling them to let go of their fear. He reminds them that when they forgive the folks who frighten them the most they will be unbound as well. The way out of the tomb is through love – it is the key to the door, the ability to roll the stone away, the casting off of grave-clothes. Let go of fear and its cousin, hate, and you will be free for life.
So what fear keeps us locked up? Economic woes? The other political party? The violence in the world around us? Congress in recent months has been a pretty good example of one locked room set up over against another – with both groups too afraid of the other to do much of anything life-giving. The church itself is no stranger to behavior like that, and the bad behavior we exhibit is usually rooted in fear, whether it’s fear that another person or group will have power over me, or take away something I value, or direct my community in a new direction I don’t want to explore. Sometimes our bad behavior is a substitute for grief over something or someone we have lost – like the mid-life crisis that pines for the supposed loss of youthful freedom, or the family fight that erupts when a parent dies.
Jesus’ challenge is to remember and practice peace – it’s out there, and in our hearts and in here, if we’re willing to remember that we are loved beyond imagining, that the universe was created with abundance in mind for all, and that we will discover that if we can hit the pause button. I had a couple of days this last week to watch our new grandson practice. He’s just 4 months old, and discovering how to calm himself down when he’s anxious about being hungry or wet or bored. He’s learning that because his parents respond to his fear. He can suck his fingers, or see familiar faces, hear his father’s teasing voice or his mother’s heartbeat and be reminded – peace be with you, you’re safe, and you will be OK, even if you can’t remember it for more than a few minutes at a time.
We gain more resources for coping with our fears as we grow up, but the message is basically the same. Fear not, God is with you, and life abundant lies all around if you’re willing to leave the tomb, whether it is the tomb of hunger or fear of an enemy.
So, what are the fearmongers here? What needs to be reconciled, forgiven, or healed? When we let go of our anxiety about a threat or trespass, we set ourselves free as well. When we hang on to fear or offense at an invasion of our security zone, we stay in the tomb. When Jesus tells Thomas to believe, that’s what he’s talking about – see my scars, and yet know that they have not taken away what matters about my life; I AM who I AM, and I cannot be destroyed by fear and hate. That’s what Peter means when he says in his letter, ‘your faith may be tested by fire, but love and believe, and receive the outcome of your faith, the salvation – the setting free – of your souls.’
I understand that this congregation is unlocking the door, and walking outside to see who is there and what pain and suffering there might be around you. I gather you have experience of what’s possible when you do – like your foodbasket ingathering somehow going from 200 lbs to more than 3000 lbs. That’s what Jesus sends his friends for – to let go of our anxieties so that we can be free to love the world around us. When we leave that locked room, we, too, receive the outcome of our faith, and we pass it on to others. Freedom from fear can be contagious – peace be with you, pass it on! It is the secret of nonviolent protest – peace be with you, the world cannot stand forever fearful, pass it on! May it spread from here to the neighbors, to all of Oshkosh, and to our siblings in the Middle East, Russia, Ukraine, Sudan, and maybe even Green Bay!
Christ is risen, alleluia! The body of Christ is risen as well – peace be with you, go out there and pass it on!