The following sermon was preached by Amy Allen, LSTC M.Div. student, in Augustana Chapel at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago on Thursday, April 19, 2007.
Alleluia! Christ is Risen! (Christ is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!)
This week after all the Easter celebrations have subsided often feels for me, in a way, like coming to chapel on Holy Week, after all the exuberance of Palm Sunday. Going from waving palms and shouts of Hosanna to stations of the cross and predictions of betrayal. From empty tombs and shouts of Alleluia to locked doors and fearful disciples.
Maybe it seems like we don't have much in common with the disciples in our Gospel story anymore… after all, we've got the white banners! The triumphant Easter hymns! The shouts of Alleluia! We left these same disciples last week refusing to believe what the women had told them – that Christ was really risen. But we knew better. We didn't dwell on that. Instead, ignoring their hesitancy, we proclaimed that Christ is Risen Indeed! And so we continue to proclaim. What do we have to be afraid of?
Yet, fear continues to loom all around us. To paralyze us. Causing us to insulate ourselves from the other – from the unknown. Keeping us from reaching out. Getting to know one another. Trusting one another.
Having professed their faith in Jesus as the Christ, the anointed one, the disciples in our story today find themselves at odds with the chief priests and elders of their own community, such that their fellow Jews, their own friends and family, have become the other. And not knowing what that "other" might do, they have locked their doors, and aren't letting anybody in.
So too, it seems that we close ourselves into our own homes and our own lives just as surely as if we'd locked the doors of a house, or rolled shut the stone of an empty tomb. Christ is Risen! But in many ways, we, like the disciples, are still dead.
Two years ago, I found myself reminded of my own need to insulate myself in this way, while walking outside of Union Station. My roommate had just dropped me off to catch a late night train, headed, actually to Pennsylvania. And it was a snowy (and appropriate for Chicago) windy winter evening. The entrance my friend had left me at was closed, and so I had about a block to walk to enter the station. There I was, alone, in downtown Chicago, on a poorly lit street, at almost 10:00 at night, in a snowstorm, with a backpack and a large suitcase in tow. No reason to be afraid, I assured myself, as I headed down the sidewalk…. That is, until from about 10 feet behind me a man shouted for me to wait. I picked up my pace to match my growing heart rate, and tried to ignore the voice, but the man kept following after me, and with no suitcases and a distinct advantage in size, I knew that he could catch me in an instant.
I contemplated ditching the luggage and bolting, when I saw something waving in his hand. There it was, blowing in the wind, like a white flag of peace, my scarf. "You dropped this," the man explained. I thanked him, received the scarf, which must have blown off me in the wind, and politely declined the stranger's offer to help with my luggage, quickly, albeit awkwardly with my large load, making my way to the station door and once again into the comforts of familiarity. Those doors didn't lock behind me, but once again in a place I could trust, a place with security officers and crowds of people, I felt safe. Closed off from the unknown.
It wasn't until later that I realized the stranger outside had taken a risk of his own. After all, I was just as much a stranger to him. He couldn't have known who I was or what I'd do. He didn't know whether I'd be grateful for his kind gesture, whether I'd scream for the police, or even pull out a can of mace! He could have just as easily left my scarf to be buried in the snow. No one would have ever known. And yet, he chose to help. He broke through whatever fear or prejudice was clouding me, and he offered to help a fellow human being. He took the time, in whatever schedule he had to meet that night, to notice my needs, and despite my resistance, to do something about it.
Jesus didn't have to enter into the disciples' locked house that evening. There were plenty of others who could have spread his message – whom he could have sent to proclaim the forgiveness of sins, to offer the promise of new life in his name. The women, after all, had believed. Peter had at least begun to figure things out. Jesus could have gone straight to Galilee. Made his appearance there. Or, he could have reprimanded these disciples. Given them a good talking-to for not figuring things out on their own. For hiding when they should have been preaching. For getting what he had taught them so wrong. But Jesus didn't do any of that.
Jesus took the time to notice his disciples. Even after each and every one of them had denied him. Had deserted him. Even after Thomas refused to believe. Jesus took the time to reach out to them. To each and every one of them.
He didn't break open their lock or force them into the world of which they were afraid. He simply joined them where they were, greeted them, and stood with them in that locked upper room. And so Jesus stands with us. Wherever we are, in the midst of whatever fears may be consuming us, Jesus comes and stands among us. Even in our lowest moments. When we've misjudged another person. Allowed our own prejudice, whether against Jews, strangers in the night, or whoever the "other" might happen to be, to get in the way. Jesus stands with us. Jesus keeps following after us, and as if waving a white flag of peace, Jesus breathes on us.
But that breath is more than a simple sort of truce. Jesus' breath – Christ's breath – is one of life. It is the breath of the Holy Spirit that brooded over the waters at creation, the same breath that we call upon when we immerse ourselves in the holy waters of baptism. When we enact Christ's promise of bringing life out of death, new life into our fears and prejudices, our moments of death and dying. It is the same breath that Christ breathes on us. That enables us to move beyond whatever is dead or dying in our lives and to experience the new life of Christ in us.
And so we, like the disciples, are sent. Sent into the world to proclaim Christ as our Lord and our God. Sent into the world to proclaim a new life in Christ. Send into the world to notice – to notice God's presence among us, and the needs of God's people, our sisters and brothers in Christ, strangers though they may be. Sent into the world to set aside our fear and prejudice and to proclaim the forgiveness of sins and the love of God. Send into the world to love and to believe.
Alleluia! Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen indeed! Alleluia!