Rev. Katherine Todd
At that time, says the Lord, I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people.
Thus says the Lord:
The people who survived the sword
found grace in the wilderness;
when Israel sought for rest,
the Lord appeared to him from far away.
I have loved you with an everlasting love;
therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.
Again I will build you, and you shall be built,
O virgin Israel!
Again you shall take your tambourines,
and go forth in the dance of the merrymakers.
Again you shall plant vineyards
on the mountains of Samaria;
the planters shall plant,
and shall enjoy the fruit.
For there shall be a day when sentinels will call
in the hill country of Ephraim:
“Come, let us go up to Zion,
to the Lord our God.”
After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
Even more-so than we did not see Covid-19 coming, the Disciples and all of Israel and Judea couldn’t see Jesus’ resurrection coming.
Now they foresaw his death. In the weeks before his death, when Jesus resolved to return to Judea despite his disciples’ warnings not to return to a land so recently hostile to him, we hear Thomas resigning himself to death with Jesus: “Let us return with him, that we may also die with him.” The tension is rising. The conflict is mounting. Discomfort with Jesus’ identity and power and authority have reached their natural boiling point, and the disciples want to keep Jesus miles and miles away from it. But Jesus returned.
And he would not be safe. Not at all.
But despite the fact that Jesus had been alluding to his resurrection… despite the fact that many truly believed him to be the Messiah… despite the fact that Jesus had just raised Lazarus from the dead… no one could begin to imagine what God had in store next.
Death was to be avoided at all cost.
Death marked the end.
Death had finality.
Death was the end of the movement.
And so when Jesus is crucified on a cross, for all to see, many of the disciples hide in fear. They have given the last years of their lives following Jesus, and now Jesus has gone and gotten himself killed. Will they be next?
And so, in classic moves of survival, they turn their gaze inward. They hunker down and button the hatchets. They tighten their inner circle. They spend their days in a dark room. They look back upon their former careers and wonder if there’s still a place for them there. They start to worry about their next meal. The fishing begins again…
Do you know what it is like to hunker down in fear?
And no one – no one – saw a future past that cross.
How could they?
How could they imagine a future never before seen in all the world?!
That Jesus would arise from death’s strong grip?
Flesh and blood?
Asking for a bite to eat??
Now the Israelites were a nation occupied. They had been colonized by Rome. They paid the emperor taxes. They had known victory and defeat, power and exile. But most common to their experience was uncertainty, change. They ever faced threats of annihilation. They built and others tore down. Nothing seemed sure. And the people were antsy. Some were ready to bring on a bloody war with Rome, a war they surely would not have won. Others played the system, buying their power with purchased Roman citizenship. And others still tried to exercise their religious power and authority while ignoring the occupying forces (until they found ways the occupiers could carry out their will…such as in the condemnation of Jesus). Herod had razed the holy city in order to rebuilt it, bigger and better and mightier, with Roman architecture and Roman authority.
It seemed like everyone else was pulling the strings of this nation. And the people of Israel yearned for independence and autonomy. They yearned for liberation and power.
But at the very least, couldn’t they just plant a fruit tree and own it long enough to eat of its fruit? At the very least, couldn’t they reap what they sowed?
Could they have control over their lives enough
To know the reward of their labors, their energies, their affections?
To build a house and live in it?
To this nation who has known plenty and known want… to this nation who has known both power and powerlessness… to this people who yearn for something to place their hope in, comes this prophetic word:
“Again you shall plant vineyards
on the mountains of Samaria;
the planters shall plant,
and shall enjoy the fruit.”
What this describes is hope.
And isn’t that what we’re grasping for now?
Will our mortgage companies allow us to defer payments?
Will our jobs hold out?
Will all those we love, still be here when all this passes?
Will this pass?
We are grasping for hope.
Are the efforts I’m taking enough?
Can my body overcome the virus if I catch it?
Can my family overcome it, if I spread it to them?
Will there be enough beds and staff and masks and ventilators if I need medical intervention?
And what is the world becoming?
So many are rediscovering simple joys –
writing letters and postcards,
taking long walks,
sitting on porches,
reading and writing poetry,
calling friends and family,
taking advantage of online tools we’ve had for years yet seldom used.
We are more aware than ever that each one affects us all, for better and for worse. We are more aware than ever that our life and healing is bound up in our working together, whatever our differences. We are more open to outcomes we wouldn’t have before considered.
Is this the world we want to live in, bound up, each in our own house?
How long can we sustain?
Will new and even designer viruses hijack life, over and over again?
Will we again know the touch of a grandchild’s hand in ours,
the loving embrace of a true friend,
the gathering of the body of Christ?
We need hope… hope that we will eat of the fruit trees we’ve planted… hope that we will continue to dwell in the homes in which we’ve labored and loved… hope that our diligent service will be remembered as company’s consider cuts…
Hope that our children will once again gather together to learn and to play… hope that love for neighbor won’t be eclipsed by fear of neighbor… hope that we may once again gather to worship and serve in the community of Forest Hill…
It is easy to see our fears. We practically manifest them as we ruminate on all the ways we might meet our demise or experience loss and pain. It is easy to worry. There are way too many things out of our control right now. It is easy to despair….when we cannot see a path forward.
The people of Israel who have followed Jesus from shore to shore, see their hope dying on the cross with Jesus that day.
The disciples who have seen Jesus speaking with Moses and Elijah, now fear their own deaths.
Mary, the Mother of Jesus, breathes her last goodbye to her beloved son.
But JESUS returns.
Jesus comes back.
When we could not see any hope, our Lord overcame the grizzly bonds of death and blew us all away, in life after death!
Friends, I do not know your particular fears in this time. I do not know your particular worries. I do not know how the waters rage around you.
But I do feel the waters rising. I know the gravity of fear. I have known the sting of loss.
But JESUS returns. Our Lord God popped the top clear off of our greatest imaginings and made hope where there was no hope, made life where there was death, made a future of hope where there was once despair.
Let us leave room for the unexpected.
Let us open ourselves to the unimaginable.
Is there room in your mind for a new uncovering of Truth?
Is there room in your heart for God’s expansive love of neighbor…and stranger?
Is there room in your day for meeting someone new.
A gift of this dreadful pandemic is the shaking up of our days. Because it gives us all a chance to re-evaluate and to decide WHAT is important.
We can miss God’s resurrection power,
God’s word of HOPE spoken over our lives, and all creation.
We serve the crucified, yet Risen Christ,
the Christ who returned.
Whatever your despair, make room for the resurrection power of God.
Make room for hope.