John 20:19-21

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Welcome to our APRIL 19th Worship service from UCUP!

Posted by United Church In University Place on Sunday, April 19, 2020

In today’s gospel reading, we see the disciples hiding out in the Upper Room, sheltering in place, uncertain whether it is safe to come out in public. 

In this pandemic season, we can relate to the disciples’ fear of coming out, as the level of risk seems to increase, even as WA state begins to bend the curve. 

We worry about our own health and the health of those we love. We sift through the barrage of information as we attempt to make the best decisions with what we know and trust in the moment, verifying our sources left and right. 

We struggle with those who are in denial or even worse, holding rallies to “reopen America”, influenced by tweets from the top, to “LIBERATE certain states” from stay at home orders, placing public health at risk, and disrupting how quickly essential medical workers can get to hospitals to save lives. 

   Anything resembling certainty is in short supply and the way forward is unclear. The way forward for the disciples was unclear as well. 

Their concerns were different than our reasons for sheltering in place, but they, too, were fearful. The disciples were uncertain if Jesus was the only target for crucifixion or if they would be targeted too – guilty by association. 

We can still hear Peter’s denial ringing in our ears – “I do not know the man!  Their fear was real and palpable. Certainty was in short supply.

And then, the resurrected Jesus comes into their midst – offering resurrection hope – right where they are. Jesus meets Mary in the garden, in the midst of her grief, and calls her by name. Jesus meets Thomas in the upper room, in the midst of his uncertainty and doubt, and gives him what he needs to trust. 

The disoriented disciples on the road to Emmaus recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread. Jesus meets the frustrated disciples, on the lake shore when they decide to go fishing, cares for their basic needs by cooking them breakfast, then reorients them in embracing this new life God had given them. 

Jesus literally breathes the gift of the Spirit and peace upon the disciples in the Upper Room as they face an uncertain future, giving them the grace and courage they need. There is generosity and abundance in all of these stories, of finding solace and assurance in the presence of Jesus. 

These resurrection appearances are the stories we need for these times – a source of resurrection hope in the midst of pandemic fear and uncertainty, confusion, frustration and grief. 

Christine Valters Paintner recently wrote: the truth of resurrection isn’t that we hold onto some false banner of hope, denying the reality around us. A Resurrected life of hope means we are aware of our woundedness as a place where grace through the risen Christ can also enter in.

Indian novelist and activist Arundhati Roy recently wrote an essay called “Pandemic Is a Portal”:  “What is this thing that has happened to us? 

Some believe this virus is God’s way of bringing us to our senses.  Others say that it’s a Chinese conspiracy to take over the world.  Whatever it is, coronavirus has brought the world to a halt like nothing else could. We long for a return to ‘normality,’ trying to stitch our future to our past, refusing to acknowledge the rupture. But the rupture exists. 

And in the midst of this terrible despair, it offers us a chance to rethink the doomsday machine we have built for ourselves. Nothing could be worse than a return to normality. Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. 

It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”

I invited the congregation to reflect on the question: Where are you finding resurrection hope and joy in the midst of this pandemic? A few people responded. Tom put together a reflection of provocative images over a recording of Jeff playing “Gather Us In” by Marty Haugen. Tom contrasts tensions of the beauty of nature against more disturbing events and images that we would rather turn away from — the images you will see – feature the polarities and juxtaposition of how God gathers us all in – back to the heart of God, inviting us to imagine a different way of living in resurrection hope – from isolation and war and health scares and refugee crises to a place of peace, connection, and beauty, into the kingdom of God. Gather Us IN….

Here in this place new light is streaming –  Now is the darkness vanished away
See in this space our fears and our dreamings
Brought here to you in the light of this day
Gather us in, the lost and forsaken –  Gather us in, the blind and the lame
Call to us now and we shall awaken  –
We shall arise at the sound of our name

Not many people in our church know YVONNE – she isn’t able to attend worship physically, but she has been able to participate in our worship since we started sharing in this virtual space. 

She writes: I have had wonderful things happen during this “shelter” time. People from my church have called me and sent cards. I’ve received Calls from neighbors and cards from relatives, not seen for years. Praise Be to God. I keep hearing of thoughtful things people are doing, like someone in our condo complex made each of us a mask. So we each should do our part to try to curb this situation and only then can our life be restored -which will be different but maybe more appreciated.

PAT – I see resurrection hope Everywhere, from the rhododendron buds pushing up and out to reveal beautiful flowers, and small ferns uncoiling their tops to expand and reach for sun. The flickers and woodpeckers hammering out the message of availability for mating on dead trees; weeds and flowers pushing up from cold soil to celebrate the sun. And most of all, the human connection via phone and computer, saying we may be physically isolated but we are united in spirit. We are risen indeed!

JANET-We’ve all been “exposed” to an intense vulnerability that, maybe in a good way, will resurrect our daily routine lives with amazing grace. What we see happening all around us is minute by minute resurrection. I see a resurgence of gentleness and kindness and I feel resurrection in the simple words I Love You.  Signing a card, ending an email, saying good-bye in a phone conversation has changed from simply – see you soon / talk to you later / take care / love ya’  ..  changed for me so that every one of these intimate connections is now my moment to say I LOVE YOU.  I’m no longer afraid, no longer embarrassed and no longer timid, I just said it to all of you. I LOVE YOU. Love, Janet

Those of you who know Janet can imagine her saying that, can’t you? Remember when she played Unabashed Joyful Joy during Advent. You can imagine her wrapping us up in her joy and zest for life. 6 year old Emma at the time told her mom after one of the dramas that Unabashed Joy had way too much JOY and  should share it with more people. That’s what resurrection hope is all about, receiving the joy and hope Jesus wants to share with us. 

Can you imagine Jesus, coming to you – right where you are with what you are feeling about your life or your future – fear, grief, doubt, uncertainty, exhaustion, frustration or perhaps joy, love, connection and hope – What are you needing to hear from Jesus? Receive his greeting –  listen to him. He’s calling your name. “I am with you always. My peace I give you.” What is the grace God wants to give you so you can be free to live in resurrection hope? Listen. Accept the gift and the freedom and power God gives you to live in the spirit of the one who put you here and continues to bless you and calls you to be HERE right now for this time of history in this community in the name of Christ.

As we move into our prayer hymn, In the Garden, I invite you to open your hands palms up and take a deep breath ready to hear his blessing – ready to receive the breath of the holy spirit, the gifts of Christ’s presence of peace, joy, and forgiveness, of preparing you for a new day a new call. See if there is a word or phrase or image from from your quiet listening that you can carry with you through the day or week as a reminder that Jesus is with you, as you live into this season of resurrection hope.