Freed to Love

John 20:19-31
The First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone

After the empty tomb; after the encounter with Mary Magdalene in the garden; the followers of Jesus gathered behind locked doors. They were afraid. Afraid without Jesus. Afraid of arrest. Afraid of death. Maybe even afraid of life:  afraid of what Jesus might ask of them if Jesus really were resurrected.

It seems appropriate to note that the disciples physically distanced themselves from the people gathered in Jerusalem. They met the qualification of not meeting in groups bigger than 10. Judas had left after the betrayal. And Thomas. Well Thomas was not there. Perhaps they could not score an InstaCamel or DonkeyPod delivery and he was out foraging. Perhaps he was grieving in his own way. We are not told. All we know is Thomas was not there.

Behind the locked door and beyond the fear, Jesus appears to them.  He gives them his peace. He breathes the Holy Spirit on them. He sends them into the world with work to do. It’s like group CPR.

The resurrection is for the purpose of re-creation after death, and re-creation before death. The resurrection is about the life to come. It is about this life. The resurrection of Jesus leads to the resurrection of his followers – the creation of the Church – so that through the power and ministry of our life together, the people of Jesus might become God’s continuing presence in the world.

“Receive the Holy Spirit,” Jesus says, and the stage is set . . . the disciples are ready to go . . . it is a new beginning in the great adventure of life in faith . . . except someone is missing. Thomas is not there. Jesus must come back and pick him up.  For no one can be forgotten. No one can be left out. The new life is for the people of Jesus . . . all the people.

Jesus returns when Thomas is present. Jesus displays his wounds. And Thomas believes. “My Lord and my God!” The words of Thomas serve as the basic affirmation of faith for followers of Jesus. And they serve as the basis for every formal affirmation that has followed.

This year, this passage resonates with me in ways it has never done before. Our lives parallel that of the disciples. Life after the execution of Jesus was not OK for first disciples. Life today is not OK for me. I venture it is not OK for you.

We grieve. Death. Dashed dreams. Lost hopes. Unmet expectations fill our individual hearts and our collective consciousness.[i] The other day, a friend responded to my “How are you” text with: “I had a long, ugly cry today.” I replied that one of my favorite songs features Rosey Grier, a gentle giant, former Pro Bowl defensive lineman singing, “It’s Alight to Cry.”[ii] We grieve.

We shelter in place. We pause. Out of a need to protect others and ourselves, we establish and maintain physical distances. We isolate and separate.

We fear. Writing in The Presbyterian Outlook, the Rev. Jill Duffield notes, “Our fear is utterly understandable. The death toll of this virus mounts. The extent of the economic fallout is yet to be determined, but we know it is, and will continue to be, huge. We’ve seen the suffering, the wounds inflicted, the crucifixion completed. No wonder we shelter in place in anxiety, with no sense of when the world will take a turn for the better.”[iii]

The similarities are striking. Psychologically, emotionally, even physically, we share  great deal with the first disciples. That’s where the Good News of this story finds us.

Christ the Lord is risen today. The gifts he brought his first followers behind locked doors, he brings to us.

The Rev. Duffield names those gifts. The Holy Spirit to inspire us. Hope in the face of fear. Peace amid chaos. Belief in life no matter how deadly the circumstances.[iv] A ministry and a mission.

And that brings us to Kelly Clarkson. I had to look her up. She won the first season of American Idol in 2002. I did not know that because I have never watched an episode of the show in all the years it has been on the air. Her victory led to a recording contract and launched her career as a singer-songwriter, actress, author, and television personality.[v] You may know more. I have told you everything I know.

Except. My friend So Jung Kim posted the news that Kelly Clarkson released a new song this week. “I Dare You.” She released six versions of the song in six different languages. Arabic, French, Hebrew, Spanish, German, and English.[vi]

Clarkson says the song is “about love and all its forms, in the face of adversity. Choosing to love instead of fear.”[vii] She believes that message will connect globally at this moment in time.[viii]

In English, the chorus says:

I dare you to love
Oh, I dare you to love
Even if you’re hurt and you can only see the worst
Even if you think it’s not enough
Oh, I dare you to love.[ix]

I believe that when the Risen Christ entered that locked room to meet the ten and then the eleven, he provided his followers what they – what we – need to take that dare.

In their fear, in the chaos, in their anxiety, the Risen Christ gave his followers the gifts they needed to love one another, to love neighbors, to love themselves, as God in Christ loved them. He freed them to love. He equipped them to love.

And he does the same for us.

Christ the Lord is risen today. The Risen Christ gives us the Holy Spirit, provides hope for our fears, peace in chaos, faith in life in deadly circumstances.[x] The Risen Christ does not magically make all our challenges and afflictions go away. Rather the Risen Christ equips us for the living of our days. And frees us to love.

Even when we are not OK. Especially when we are not OK. Jesus reminds us of God’s unending love for us – come what may, God loves us. And by the grace of God, we too can love. This day and every day, we are freed to love. Thanks be to God.

[i] https://pres-outlook.org/2020/04/2nd-sunday-of-easter-april-19-2020/

[ii] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y52bs0aX6v8

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kelly_Clarkson

[vi] https://www.countryliving.com/life/entertainment/a32187398/kelly-clarkson-new-song-i-dare-you-6-languages/

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] https://genius.com/Kelly-clarkson-i-dare-you-lyrics

[x] https://pres-outlook.org/2020/04/2nd-sunday-of-easter-april-19-2020/

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