Let us pause for a minute.
We are back in the church. Let us just take a minute to let that sink in. This past week, I heard afresh Jesus’s “peace be with you.” It’s a heck of a thing for Jesus to say to a bunch of disciples… if you think they have been freshly traumatized and think they are staring at a ghost. I think I understand this story now on a whole different level—the peace part, not a ghost part. This is not the first time that these words have been heard new, fresh and profound. Think of people over the course of centuries gathering again after a war, or after any displacement. Things go back to a new normal—eventually. And it takes time to figure this new normal out. We may feel like we are out of the woods, but this virus is still a new player (as viruses go), and now with the onset of new variants which seem to behave differently… we just don’t know how the different variants will behave or if we will be having booster shots each year or what have you. We just don’t know.
And with that not knowing, we have a new uncertainty of life going forward as if it were ever certain before, but now we know otherwise, and I think that the words from Jesus are may be all the more comforting in a decidedly unfamiliar place. “Peace be with you.” You don’t know where I went, so let me eat with you, familiar and settling because it is what we have always done together. So you that you know it’s okay. Disembodied spirits don’t eat, so Jesus is real. This is how he spent time together with his disciples when he was alive.
It seems important for Jesus to comfort his disciples, but I think he did not comfort them only for their sakes, but instead he comforts them so that what he started could continue.
What exactly did Jesus begin?
That’s actually a difficult question for most people to answer. Jesus came so that we can have life and have it abundantly, but what does that mean? I can say that personally, I don’t find it compelling that we just profess Jesus and in exchange for that profession we get life everlasting. That seems petty and transactional, and not really like the God I know—the God revealed in the scriptures.
Instead to follow Jesus, is to follow Jesus to the cross. It is to say that what is life giving is not what a person can accumulate in the material realm, what gives life are actions done out of love, care and concern for the other/ for the neighbor—it is lifting people out of poverty, it is having black and brown and blue lives and all lives matter, it is supporting and welcoming the immigrant as if they are Joseph, and Mary pregnant with child. It is clothing the naked, housing the homeless. Giving tax breaks for people who need tax breaks. And you may perhaps think I should stay out of politics. I’m not advocating any particular party, any more than Jesus did; I’m advocating love and justice, just as Jesus did. All these actions and others, give life. The life that we gain is a life bigger than life itself. It is far more than a transaction – good works for an afterlife. It is a celebration, a joy, an abundance of being, to do these things and find God in the doing.
It brings to mind the previous bishop of Louisiana, Charles Jenkins, who died this past week. When Katrina hit, the bishop had in some sense a conversion experience. The line between the “have’s” and “have not’s” was laid bare and in Louisiana, as in most places in nation, this line was delineated by skin color. He was “both broken and transformed” by the ordeal. He retooled the work of his diocese to aim toward a remedy for the social injustices—beginning ministries to build houses, run medical clinics and forge new relationships. He worked hard his remaining time to do what he could to rectify the situation. At one point he went into deep depression, as maybe we all should when we start going deeper into the injustices that even if we do not institute, we allow to happen. This is the way of the cross and the way of resurrection.
When we say that Jesus died for our sins, we at least mean that Jesus’ death shows us that following God’s way, the way of the cross is life giving. This is more important than being put to death. And the good done goes on after death. We rise from death, and death is defeated. When we defeat injustices, death is defeated. When we are broken and transformed, death is defeated. When people get health care, death is defeated. When people are housed, death is defeated.
God in Christ is forever leading us to defeat death. Calling us to this most holy work as children of God, providing healing for others. May we all be broken and transformed like the good bishop, broken open to love and justice, broken open to life. God’s life. The life of the crucified and risen one. May we all find this celebration of life.
1 John 3:1-7