April 19, 2020

“Jesus Unmasked”

By Rev. Katrina Pekich-Bundy

1 Peter 1.3-9

John 20.19-31

April 19, 2020

Jesus is always meeting us where are and our scripture passages today show this compassion and dedication. Last Sunday, Easter Sunday, Mary was at the tomb to anoint Jesus after his death. When she arrived she noticed he was gone. She told the disciples and two followed her back to the tomb. Now, some time has passed. Not believing or not sure of the next step, the disciples have locked themselves in their home in fear. We read that they have fear of the Jews, but let’s remember for a moment that they are still Jews. They were fearful of people who were narrowing in on the death and resurrection of Jesus, who might have included Jews, but also included Romans and probably some Gentiles. The disciples were inside, with locked doors, afraid. Maybe we can relate to being in our homes with some fears and anxieties.

Jesus arrives at their home and nothing holds him back – not even the lock on the door. He somehow moves through the locked door, or breaks it open – we’re not sure. I like what Presbyterian Outlook editor, Jill Duffield says: “Jesus enters our anxiety-ridden spaces.” The first thing he does is say “Peace be with you.” This is not only a reassurance of bringing peace, but a marker of identity. Jesus said this often and so it was familiar to them. We are comforted when we hear familiar words, especially in a familiar voice. When we pick up the phone and hear the voice and greeting of a loved one, we are jubilant.

Jesus shows them his hands and his sides, intuiting what they needed before they could even ask. Then, he breathed on them. A year ago when this scripture came up I saw this as just another vehicle for the Holy Spirit. Yet, now, if someone were to breathe on me, my response would be very different. Yet, I think Jesus reads the culture, the time, the signs. In that moment, breathing the Spirit was what they needed. If Jesus showed up at our doors today, I don’t think he’d be breathing on us, because he would know that could cause some anxiety. Yet, he would sit with us, he would listen. He would show his wounds, I imagine. We remember the Spirit takes on the form of breath, and wind, and a dove, and fire, and so perhaps it is because we experience faith differently and have different needs of understanding that the Spirit can take shape of what we need in that moment.

Later, Thomas comes strolling in, and I think this is one of the first times I have wondered – where was he at? Buying toilet paper? Groceries? When the disciples tell him what he missed he wants to see Jesus’ wounds. He has been given this “doubting” label (that isn’t mentioned in scripture, but an adjective someone along the way gave him that stuck, like an elementary nickname), but he is merely asking for the same experience as the other disciples, who didn’t have to ask to see the wounds.

I believe the resurrection passages remind us more than ever that our faith is a sensory experience. Last week Mary heard Jesus speak her name: “Mary!” and in the hearing of the word, she believed. Peter and the beloved disciple believed when they saw the empty tomb. Thomas and the other disciples had faith when they could touch Jesus. We taste and smell the Good News of Christ’s resurrection when we partake of communion. Jesus meets us where we are – physically, and sensory-wise.

One of the struggles I have during this time is that we are only experiencing two of the senses – sight and hearing. While we gather virtually, and I am thankful, I also recognize that for those who best experience through taste, smell, and touch, this is a difficult time. So, perhaps, in this time when our routines and rituals have been disrupted, we are able to create new ones. Maybe you can light a candle in your home before worship. Perhaps there is a smell that reminds you of worship, or simply having some bread to snack on reminds you of the meals we have together. What are some rituals you could create in this time and new space?

This Gospel reading also reminds us of the faith of those who cannot see Christ’s wounds, but still believe. In this time, I think to those who do not have internet, who don’t have smartphones or computers, who cannot connect easily virtually, and cannot see the worship service, but still believe.

The First Peter passage references those who believe without seeing, and the hope of the resurrected Christ – a living hope. Peter speaks to those who didn’t see Christ with their own eyes. The people are suffering because of persecution. Peter is reminding them of their faith and offering hope.

As I spoke with a colleague this week she said that another pastor had said that as he and the church he served were worshiping from home, behind locked doors, with anxiety, he had some insight into what Christians must experience in places of persecution. He was quick to recognize that our situations are not as dire or exactly the same as those who are persecuted, but that perhaps he could see that experience in a new light as he had his own anxieties as he worshiped at home.

MaryAnn McKibben Dana, a Presbyterian pastor and author, said that “many of us have been protected by privilege” and this experience of sheltering-in-place, has taken that away. At the same time, we recognize those who were oppressed prior to this pandemic, who don’t have adequate health care. We recognize that this pandemic is hitting communities of color harder than white communities. We realize that many of us still have more privilege than others.

As we pray to God and have living hope in the resurrected Christ, we pray for equality, we pray for peace and love and health. We seek to experience God in new ways in our homes, and realize that God is not in the sanctuary, but meets us where we are – every time – busting past our insecurities and welcoming us with open arms. Amen.