The Rev. Canon Jan Naylor Cope
Transcribed from the audio
In the name of the living God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
As one quick wit put it, “What does one do for an encore one week after the Resurrection?” A week ago, Easter day, at this service, the Cathedral was packed with about 3000 worshipers, trumpets, timpani, streamers, glorious music, flowers, worship, Eucharist— every manifestation that we could imagine and plan that would be appropriate to share the good news of the resurrected Christ. Here we are one week later; there are a few empty seats in the house. No trumpets, no timpani, no streamers. So we and the disciples gather together to learn how to live into the joy, the promise, the purpose that we proclaimed last week.
I think there are many lessons that we can take from the gospel account of the disciples and where we find them in Scripture this day and where we may find ourselves. In the gospel lesson you just heard the disciples had actually received the report from the women that the tomb was empty, that they had seen the risen Lord. Yet we find them locked tight behind closed doors, all closed up in a room together, and as the gospel lesson tells us, out of fear, fear of the authorities and the possibility of retaliation that what might happen to them was precisely what happened to their beloved friend and rabbi and teacher Jesus.
What does Jesus do, seeing all of his disciples behind locked doors? Jesus appears, despite the locks, and offers words of peace. The first words out of the resurrected Christ’s mouth are words of peace: “Peace be with you”—essentially a forgiveness to the very disciples who had deserted him and denied him. Jesus goes on to give them what they need to really grab hold of the reality of the joy and the purpose that awaited them. He shows his wounds. He gives them a commission: “Just as the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And then he breathes the life–giving, life–empowering Holy Spirit upon them and teaches them a very important lesson about forgiveness, essentially with the words of peace, making the point that you are to forgive as you have been forgiven.
I think forgiveness is part of the key in not only the lesson you heard this morning, but a life lesson. As a priest, over the years, as I have heard people offer confession, there are a variety of things that are going on but at the core, there’s almost always a thread of a need for being forgiven. Forgiving someone else, but usually it’s struggling with being able to forgive ourselves for something we’ve done. Look at the disciples. They have ostensibly locked the doors to keep what’s outside that they consider threatening away from them; but what about the other side of that door? What have they locked in? Their fear. Their shame. Their remorse. Their unworthiness. Their sense of unforgiveness. Jesus comes to them and unlocks that door to liberate them to live fully as resurrected people: to go from being disciples, followers, to apostles who proclaim the great good news and joy that they have received. But I think it’s a struggle for all of us. We all have things that we lock up inside that need to be unlocked to liberate us to experience that same Easter joy and purpose.
In her book Traveling Mercies, Anne Lamott writes about an experience of forgiveness in her own life. She says that as a Christian she’d never really obsessed much about forgiveness. She actually liked to hang on to unforgiveness with people who had hurt her and had worked on that really pretty faithfully for several decades. She came to a point in her life though that she knew that she needed to let go of that. So she made the decision that she was going to start on that path of forgiving people. She decided to take a page out of CS Lewis’s book who said, “If we really want to learn how to forgive, perhaps we had better start with something easier than the Gestapo.”
So Anne Lamott put aside all the people that were her arch enemies and decided instead to focus on someone whom she’d only recently begun to hate, hadn’t known her quite as long. She dubbed her Enemy Lite. Well, this woman was the mother of one of her son’s best friends in school. Her son Sam was in the first grade with this boy and Enemy Lite was one of those people, you know, who always has it all together and Anne Lamott, maybe not so much. It started innocently enough. Anne Lamott was a little bit confused about school schedules and such. She hadn’t bothered to read the papers that the school sent to her in advance of the start of school. And it was October before she figured out that on Wednesdays, school ended 45 minutes earlier. Well, Enemy Lite, wanting to be helpful, said, you know, Anne, if you need any assistance with knowing how the classroom runs and schedules I’d be very happy to help you. Strike one.
Then it got more serious. Enemy Lite showed up at the door to pick up Sam for the field trip because, of course, she was one of those moms who drove all the kids on field trips. That was not the issue. She showed up wearing a jacket and latex biking shorts. Why? Because she worked out all the time and she could wear latex biking shorts. Anne Lamott noted that she had on her really fat pants and it was a serious strike two. All the women in this congregation know what I’m talking about. At that point in time, she decided she really needed help. This was not going well. So she got a box that she called God’s Inbox, got a piece of paper, wrote the woman’s name on it, folded it up, put it in the box, and prayed, “Help.”
Well, it was kind of going okay and then it really went over the top because you see her son Sam was having troubles learning how to read. He was what was called a late reader. Enemy Lite’s son—guess what—was an early reader. Enemy Lite, again trying to be helpful, offered to Anne the books that her son had already whipped through, wanting to give him early reading books so that he might be able to progress. Let’s just say that was a really significant strike—tough to live with. She got the name back out of the Inbox, put exclamation points after it, put it back in the box and seriously prayed for help.
But then one day something happened. She went over to Enemy Lite’s house to pick up her son and Enemy Lite was being warm and friendly and gracious and invited her to sit down and have a cup of tea. Anne really had no interest in that but her son Sam had misplaced his knapsack so they were going to be there a little while while he looked for that. And she sat down, she had the cup of tea, and as she was preparing to leave something changed. She describes it as the veil being dropped and that she realized for the first time that those were her issues not Enemy Lite’s. That she was the one concerned that her son was not learning enough in school; that she was the one concerned that she was out of shape. She realized that she had put all these things on Enemy Lite to carry because it was too painful for her to carry them herself. She unlocked the key to forgiveness.
What might any one of us still have locked up that we need to let go to hear the words of peace from the resurrected Christ, to be forgiven, to be commissioned, to receive deeply and fully the life-giving, life empowering breath of the Holy Spirit? My prayer this day is that each one of us will attend to those things which we need to let go, to unlock our hearts, our spirits, to go forth from this place proclaiming with joy and purpose and transformative love that He is risen. The Lord is risen, indeed. Hallelujah!