The Second Sunday of Easter – April 7, 2013
Acts 5:27-32; Psalm 150; Revelation 1:4-8; John 20:19-31
Preacher: Meredith Kadet, Seminarian at St. Michael’s Church and M.Div. senior at Union Theological Seminary.
Easter is a time of celebration, right? A time of joy! But today’s gospel reading starts with an emotion we don’t usually associate with easter: Fear. It’s evening, and the apostles are huddled together in a locked room. They’re afraid of the authorities. Reasonable: their leader has just been brutally executed – perhaps they’ll be next.
But this is also the very day that three of them went down to Jesus’ tomb, and discovered it empty. The stone was rolled away, the burial wrappings are just laying there in a a heap. Mary, who lingered, MET Jesus there in the graveyard. Everyone in that room has heard her story by now. Jesus may be alive.
I can’t help but think it’s not just the authorities they’re hiding from. I think they’re hiding from Jesus, too, and from Mary’s story. I think they’re hiding from their own hope. Those locked doors can remind us, in case we’ve forgotten, just how weird and scary, how overwhelmingly powerful, resurrection is.
Those locked doors are a way of saying: Go away from us. We’re scared. Imagine the atmosphere in that room. The talk. The speculation. The whispers. Do we dare to believe that this is happening, that Jesus is alive? Can we stand the disappointment if Mary’s tale is just an idle one or a hallucination induced by grief? What is going to happen to us if it is true? If the authorities catch wind of Jesus being gone from from the tomb, how are they going to respond? And what are we going to do if Jesus really is alive again? And – Better to lock the doors; better to just stay here tonight until things settle down.
It’s probably easy relate to these scared apostles, to their locked doors. Living in New York, most of us have good reasons to lock our doors. We lock our doors, we lock our cars, we lock our bikes, we close our handbags. We’re used to this. You don’t want to make it to easy… You don’t want to be unnecessarily vulnerable.
And what about on an institutional level, or even on a national level? What about all the laws about who can cross our borders, who can get married, and what liquids you can bring into the airport? We’ve got a lot of national locks. An outsider might look at all this and think: these people are pretty scared.
When we’re scared, where we’re vulnerable, we’ve learned to lock the doors. And this goes beyond the external doors – physical locks and real laws – that we slam shut when we’re scared. What about in our personal lives, in our spirits?
Social scientist Brene Brown, an expert on vulnerability, tells a story about her teenage daughter – and I’m using this example as I think about our young people and their families who will participate in Rite 13 today. Brown’s daughter, a lifelong soccer player, wants to try out for a new team, a sport she’s really new at. Brown’s first impulse is fear. Her daughter isn’t experienced at this sport, and she’s likely to fail – she won’t make the team, she’ll be disappointed, she’ll feel bad. So Brown is thinking: can I get her into a camp for this sport – get her more experience? Can I get her a coach? Or maybe I just discourage my daughter from trying out, tell her to stick to soccer, which she knows, which she’s good at, where she’s successful. I just don’t want her to have that hard moment, that disappointment. But Brown checks that impulse, and she encourages her daughter to try out anyway.
Brene Brown’s scientific research is in the behaviors and attitudes that make people, in her words, “wholehearted.” Wholehearted people, people who really live life with depth and vigor, people who are willing to get out and muck around, people who build meaningful, intimate relationships, people who are creative and inventive. In all these wholehearted people, Brown finds that the common denominator is, surprisingly – not brilliant intelligence, not wealth or privilege or being raised by a perfect family – no. Their wholeheartedness comes from a willingness to be vulnerable. These people are open, willing to put themselves out there with a person or a dream or a project, to take a risk on it. They don’t let fear of failure or hurt hold them back.
We think of vulnerability as weakness. But here’s what people have told Brown about vulnerability: They say: Vulnerability is sitting with my wife who has Stage III breast cancer and trying to make plans for our children. Vulnerability is my first date after my divorce. It is saying I love you first. It is asking for a raise. It is sending my child to kindergarten. It is offering my child the gift of a church community and an education in our traditions, and then letting her make her own choice.
This is the stuff of life. This is the willingness to show up. This is courage. This is what parents and communities allow their children to try on, a little bit at a time, as they move toward adulthood.
I think about vulnerability and I think about the ministry of Welcome that is gearing up and expanding at Saint Michael’s. As a church, we’re about practices that open our doors and our hearts wider. We do this through our new commissioned greeters, and through our Lenten practice of saying hello to people we’ve never met before. We do this through our Saturday Kitchen and when we gather at Bistro, every time we eat together. We do this because we know that God often comes in the form of an unrecognized stranger. A scary stranger. God’s messengers come as three dusty travelers when they bring Abraham and Sarah the promise of a child in Genesis. The Risen Christ appears to his disciples as a gardener, as a fellow traveler, he appears as a guy frying up fish on the beach, a human being among human beings. In every instance, divinity is recognized only after bread is broken, a meal is shared. First we welcome the stranger, we open ourselves and make ourselves vulnerable by sharing our food and home and worship – and THEN, we recognize the glorious gift that has come to us. God’s full of surprises. When we’re willing to be surprised, when we open our hearts and our institutions and our communities, we’re going to get closer to God.
God knows that’s scary. God knows we’ve got a lot of good reasons not to open up. Many of us have opened up before and been wounded when we were most vulnerable: by a partner, by a family member or a parent, by a church, by a stranger.
So look at Jesus in our story today. The Risen Christ is a mirror of our woundedness – and our openness. God’s total and full openness to US is visible on the body of Christ, IN the wounds. When Jesus appears to the huddled disciples in that locked room, the first thing he does is show them his wounds. He even invites Thomas to put his fingers in the wounds – to enter into his very body. The mystic Julian of Norwich takes this and she has a vision of a Jesus who leads us into his breast, into his heart, through that opening in his side. It is through that opening that we find within Christ all the joys of heaven, she says. Jesus’ wounds become an incarnation of his vulnerability, his openness to us. He says: I know what it is like to be a human being in this world. He transforms his hurts into compassion, into an openness that invites others to be open and free with him.
When we the church, the body of Christ, are open – when we allow even our wounds to be transformed into compassion for others – then we, too, offer the joys of heaven. We say, WE know what it is like to be a human in this world. At our best, we can be a place for people to be real. At our best, we rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. We make it safe to let our guard down, unlock our spiritual and emotional doors and invite others inside to love and care and share with us.
And to help us, We have this image of Jesus who conquers in a wounded body just like ours. Jesus says: We don’t have to be perfect. We don’t have to be strong. We can be broken. We just have to be willing to answer Jesus’ invitation. When the wounded risen Jesus breathes on the disciples, he breaths that animating breath, that wind, which God breathed into the first human beings. Into these huddled, scared human beings he breathes life, a commission: As my father has sent me, so I send you. I send you out of this room of fear. Go out into the world, and be vulnerable.
And we see it happen. In our reading from Acts, we see Peter and the disciples standing before those very authorities who had driven them into their locked room. Peter stands his ground and he insists that he, and the men and women with him, will obey God only, and no human authority. They will persist in spreading their message of resurrection, of a wild and unpredictable God who does not cower before pain and death but lives ANYWAY. Because of God’s breath they are full of courage, and they will keep on putting themselves out there, taking risks, being vulnerable as Jesus was vulnerable, spreading the Good News.
I don’t expect us all to go home and pry the locks off our doors, or start telling total strangers our intimate secrets. This isn’t a message about how we SHOULD be vulnerable. I know it’s a scary world out there. Jesus knows that it’s a world that WILL crucify you if you are as free and open as he was. But his message is that after all we were created for freedom and openness. That’s where we came from. We have a right to be vulnerable. We were created to love one another with that perfect love that drives out fear, that perfect love that does not cower from the stranger in our midst, that perfect love that welcomes the wild God. We have RIGHT to be open. That’s our human right. We have a RIGHT to welcome each other into our hearts. That is our right as human beings. As individuals and as a community, we have a right in this scary world not to be afraid, a right to look each other in the eye, a right to share our inner lives and joys and sorrows, a right to try new projects that fail, a right to welcome strangers, a right to follow God in our hearts into fullness of life no matter how scary it is. When we are afraid, we have a right to feel that cool breath of the Risen Christ on our own faces – to feel that Holy Spirit flowing through our very own wounds to fill our hearts – to hear the words: Peace be with you.