April 7, 2013 Second Sunday of Easter
Through the dark, cold, depressing, nearly snow-less winter, we held on to a hope that spring would eventually come. The season of Lent, through which we travel each year, promises us that there is light at the end and that on Easter Sunday, just as the lilies begin to open and the daffodils erupt from the earth, we will see the Resurrection. We will see the empty tomb. We will find that promise Jesus made to always be with us has been fulfilled.
As I read through the readings, I was struck deeply at the first reading from Acts. People believed in this weird message from a kid from a Podunk town. People loved him, trusted him so much that they took their loved ones who were ill and set them outside so that one of this kid’s friends could pass by. They had hope. They had faith. And their loved ones were cured.
Kevin and I spent the afternoon walking around his alma mater, Washington College, and he took me through the town cemetery that adjoins the campus. The oldest date we could read was 1772. As always when I find myself in a cemetery, I noticed how many of headstones that referenced Christ. “Peace, Perfect Peace,” one read. “Gone in body, with Jesus in spirit,” said another. Why do we do this?
In a moment filled with pain, grief, loss, we may find ourselves drawn to our faith. Really, what else do we have to hold on to? What else is there, than for us to place everything we have into God, to turn it over to God and say, ‘I got nothin’. This one’s on you.’ But that’s what God wants. That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Having hope? Trusting that somewhere, somehow, the pieces are going to fall together in a way that reminds us it’s not our time or our plans, but God’s?
So many in our community today are facing devastating, terrifying situations. People we love are caught in a place where it seems there is no hope, where the despair is all encompassing. One little boy is facing another relapse of his cancer, and his team of amazing doctors is regrouping, preparing to try something else. Another member is preparing for a total life change, moving back across the country after his Navy discharge, and his parents preparing to help him through the transition. Dear friends of our parish are facing relationship challenges that may prove to be insurmountable. One is dealing with a back that just won’t heal. We have within our extended St. Sebastian Community people who are living with HIV and AIDS, addiction, crippling depression, bipolar, and other mental illnesses, grief over the loss of a beloved partner, friend, relative, hurt and anger over betrayal or an lack of understanding.
And yet we find ourselves here. We come to this tiny community in a movie theater, and we worship. We give thanks to a God who loves us beyond all comprehension, who weeps with us when we can do nothing else, who turns our tragedies into opportunities, who graces us with love and mercy and the strength to continue on.
You may know I left the RCC because of the rampant sexual abuse that a few clergy perpetrated and a great many leaders tolerated and hid. For a time, I was so angry at God and the church that I didn’t think I’d ever be able to go back.
Eventually, I figured out where my anger needed to lie and started craving the support I’d always known and depended on from my church family. I moved to Maryland, and I found St. Sebastian. I wouldn’t wish my upon anyone. I wouldn’t relive that pain for anything.
But it ultimately brought me here. It is a part of my path. It is a part of my journey, my history. I got to this point because a man over two thousand years ago appeared in a locked room a few days after he died and promised his apostles peace. He broke through all the barriers we erect in our fear, and he gave us peace.
They locked rooms and hid. Jesus found them. I focused all my anger and hurt at God…God broke through. I close my mind. I go into ostrich mode, stick my head into the sand and wait for it to pass…it doesn’t. It’s really not even easy to hide from the pain since the sand gets hot and sticks to my nose and eyelids and … gross.
And then, just when it seems that there is no way things can work out, we begin to find a way out. We begin to find a way to put the pieces back together, to make meaning out of the tragedy. That’s Jesus’s MO, have you noticed?
We don’t have the benefit of having lived 2000 years ago and experiencing firsthand Jesus walking into the locked room. We depend on stories written down years afterwards. We don’t have the benefit of having Jesus actually walk into the room where we are hiding and offer us peace.
Or do we? A well-timed phone call from a friend, a spontaneous hug from a loved one…or even a stranger. Daffodils exploding on the hillside by the highway. Sunlight streaming through the clouds. Nerds jelly beans. That song, you know the one, the one that never fails to lift you up a little, randomly playing at the grocery store. A thank you from someone we haven’t spoken with in ages. A snuggle from a pet. A gorgeous, warm spring day. Berger Cookies. Grandma’s Bishop cake. A quote from a favorite book. The heart-melting sound of a baby’s laughter.
I met an old friend of Kevin’s yesterday. They hadn’t seen each other in a couple of years, and it had been months since they spoke. They talked about needing to talk more, needing to just pick up the phone and call or text every once in a while. He said, quietly, profoundly, ‘I need friends. I need people to check in on me once in a while. I fall off the face of the earth for a time, and it gets really hard to come back.’ He touched briefly on some of the things going on in his life and how hard it would be to explain it even to his best friends.
And yet, without taking that first step, without breaking free from the walls we put up around us, there is no way things can improve. Quiet the voices in our heads that discourage us, that tell us it’s not going to work or that people won’t understand. The only way to ensure it’s not going to work or that people won’t understand is if we don’t give it a chance, if we keep making excuses. Give our hearts the opportunity to speak and to make a difference.
We play this role with people every day, and people play that role with us every day. We are that hope. We are that peace. We have the ability to break down those barriers.
The Lord be with you!
Let us now, before we move into another great gift of peace that Christ gave us in the Eucharist, extend our hands and open our arms to share with each other Christ’s peace.