The Rev. Canon Jan Naylor Cope
1 John 1:1–2:2
Gracious God, help us to show forth in our lives what we profess by our faith. In the name of the living God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
One week ago, we gathered in a joyful celebration of our Lord’s Resurrection. We boldly and joyfully proclaimed that He is risen. The Lord is risen, indeed! Here we are, one week later, the second Sunday of Easter, and like Thomas, we haven’t seen Jesus. But do we believe and do we live our lives as if we do? To believe is taken from a Greek root meaning to give one’s heart to. It’s more than just feelings. It’s about ourselves, all of us, that we give our heart to the belief that Christ lives. Jesus lives.
As we reflect on where we find ourselves today, I think it’s important to reflect on where we’ve been, acknowledge where we are, and turn an eye toward hope on the horizon or possibly hope that is even at our doorstep—if we stay open and look for it. One year ago, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry preached an Easter sermon that was roughly two or three weeks after the entire global community locked down because of a global COVID-19 pandemic. On that Easter Sunday, he said, it may not look like it. It may not smell like it. It may not even really feel like it, but it’s Easter anyway. Who could have imagined a year ago, the year that we have experienced together: a year of lament—the longest year of lament and loss that I think any of us have ever experienced.
Yet, Easter is here, anyway. Last Sunday, Bishop Mariann, in a very thoughtful sermon, reminded us that Easter and resurrection are a process, not a moment. It always begins in the dark. Over the course of a year we’ve experienced, yes, the pandemic and loss from COVID-19, but it also laid bare, in plain sight, the pandemic of racism and social injustice. We have much Kingdom work to do. Our gospel lesson today gives us a glimpse of how we go about that. Of course, the gospel lesson appointed for today is always the gospel lesson for the second Sunday of Easter. It’s familiar to all of us. Unfortunately, it tends to get shorthanded into the story about doubting Thomas. If we look at it carefully, it’s less about Thomas’ doubts or anyone else’s and much more about Jesus’ grace and generosity. Jesus met the disciples and Thomas and you and me right where we are. In the past year, a metaphor for us might’ve been where we find the disciples: locked behind closed doors, full of fear.
Into that fear, Jesus offers a word peace, forgiveness. “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Then he breathes the Holy Spirit on all gathered to go out empowered by that Holy Spirit to do the work God had given them to do. So, too, we have the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ presence in our midst, to go out to do the Kingdom work we’ve been sent to do. But we understand that that’s going to be a process and not a singular event.
In a recent interview on On Being, Krista Tippett was in conversation with a clinical psychiatrist and professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Christine Runyan. They talked about what’s happened over the course of the past year: that we have a nervous system—all of us—that immediately responds to threat. When a global pandemic is announced, our nervous systems kick in immediately with stress responses commonly known as fight or flight. Part of the problem is that those stressors have remained with us. As a result, we have experienced things like loss of memory, a drop in productivity, maybe even a few of us have been crankier than one might expect us to be normally, isolation and depression. All have been hallmarks of this experience and time together. So if you felt any of those things, know that you’re in good company. We want it to be over, but it’s not yet. Dr. Runyan said that we’re trying to grieve a trauma that’s ongoing.
I can’t tell you how many people have reached out to the Cathedral to ask us if we’re going to have some national service of grief around COVID-19. We all want it to be over and it’s not yet. But hope is on the horizon. How are we preparing ourselves to step out when it is safe for us to do so? How do we open up those locked doors that have held us in fear? In a recent column in the New York Times, David Brooks talked about his own experience of this. He made the observation that when we are engaged in something larger than ourselves, our lives have meaning and purpose. We begin to see those moments of hope and resurrection, if you will.
Isn’t that true of all of us? For me, resurrection came into full blossom last Sunday, Easter Sunday in the afternoon. The Cathedral has been shut for over a year. We’ve been broadcasting online as we are today, but for the first time we offered what we called curbside communion. We had two different communion opportunities available. On the north side of the Cathedral, we had walk-up communion. On the south side of the Cathedral, people drove up and received communion. I was on the north side of curbside communion, where people walked up. Much like we read in scripture with the post-Resurrection experiences, at first with all of our masks and not seeing people for a year, it was a little difficult to identify and recognize—much like Mary in the garden with Jesus. She didn’t recognize the resurrected Christ until he called her by name, Mary. With some of you all masked up, it was when I heard your voice and you called me by name, Jan, that I could truly see you and know you and rejoice.
For others, it was when you came up close. Just as Cleopas and his companion didn’t recognize Jesus until the breaking the bread, it was when you held out your hands and we shared the body of Christ, the bread of heaven, new life, one with another, and our eyes met that we could truly see one another, know one another and see new life and new possibility. For my friends and colleagues on the drive-through side, they had their own experiences, including the Hollis family who got in the car and drove 500 miles from Greenville, South Carolina, to be with us in person and to receive the bread of life.
My brothers and sisters, hope is not just on the horizon, it’s on our doorstep if we will but look for it. We have work to do: holy important work to do. It’s time for us to unlock those doors and in safe and small and still masked steps be in community and be about the Lord’s work. As Henri Nouwen famously put it, The great mystery of God’s revelation in Christ is that he not only came, lived, died and rose among us, but that he continues to come to live, to die and to rise in our midst.”
He lives. You asked me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart. May we show forth in our lives what we profess by our faith. Amen.