The Empty Tomb, Mayor Lightfoot, Thomas, and Me…

John 20:19-31

The city of Chicago, as you may know, has been a hot spot in the fight against Covid-19. As a result, for weeks Mayor Lori Lightfoot has been urging residents to heed the stay-at-home directive of our governor so as to slow the spread of this virus which is taking the lives of too many.  I live and serve just west of Chicago, and so her urging certainly rings true here as well. So it is in this part of the world, hilarious memes of the mayor are making the rounds. This one is one of my favorites. It simply makes me smile at the absolute wonder of Easter:

  • For as right and wise as it is for all of us these days to ‘stay at home;’
  • Indeed, as logical as it may have seemed so long ago for the disciples, in their fear, to lock themselves away ‘at home.’

There was no keeping Jesus from showing up and breaking all physical distancing expectations — not to mention how Jesus breaks through all boundaries of time and space, death and life and shows up right at our sides as well. And yes, I have to say that I, for one, have been having to lean into the promise of this in these days.

Even as Thomas was invited to so long ago.

For this is how this came to me this week.

I got a call a few days back that a member’s mother was critically ill and had just been put on hospice care. I asked if they had a pastor with them and she said, ‘no.’ I offered to come, but I knew that whether I would be allowed to do what I have always done would be questionable. Sure enough, when she asked, the director of nursing said, ‘No.’ Only immediate family was allowed.

Oh, I could certainly understand this. This awful virus has run rough shod through too many care facilities and those charged with protecting those who live there have little choice.

Even so, I was saddened by this. Selfishly, I think I had hoped I would be given the chance to do something I at least know how to do— show up, stand alongside, offer comfort and prayer, speaking words of powerful promise which have been passed along to us. I have been doing this by phone of late and while still meaningful, I hope, it really is not the same. Or at least so it seems to me.

When I got the word that I would not be allowed to go, I offered to send her some prayers, or even to pray with her by phone while she was at her mother’s side. We thought we had a few days to sort that out. Sadly, we did not. Her mother died early the next morning.

And yes, it seems to me that this is one of the most heartbreaking parts of this particular time in our life together — that we are not allowed to ‘be’ together in ways that truly matter and yes, no doubt, in ways we have surely taken for granted. Indeed, in this time we are forced to trust the promise that Jesus broke out of that tomb so long ago and is powerfully present in ways we cannot be — in ways we never could be — even when we could still be physically there ‘in person.’

To be honest, this is my most significant challenge right now: to trust that Jesus is and will be fully alive to people. Even when I cannot be there in person to witness it.  (I know that sounds more than silly when I see it in black and white. Being silly makes it no less so, however.) This being the case, perhaps I am more like Thomas than not. Indeed, this being so, I expect my growing and yes, grieving, spiritual edge in these days is this. To trust:

  • That God is working in and through all of this in ways I cannot yet always see;
  • That Jesus is making his presence known even now behind the locked doors of millions of those who are living in fear of a virus that threatens…
  • Indeed, that God’s people, while they may appreciate the gifts I and so many like me bring, are entirely, beautifully, powerfully capable of living out their faith in amazing ways whether I, personally, am able to show up with them or not. For Jesus is already there. Jesus is already there.

Now please, let me be clear. I do not believe God has caused this pandemic, nor does God condone the many mis-steps which have led us to this place. God never wills the suffering and dying of God’s Beloved. Never. At the same time,

  • God steps into such times in amazing ways, providing for and enabling the gifts of millions who work to alleviate suffering and enable healing.
  • God sits alongside and weeps with those whose suffering is great.
  • And yes, God makes God’s presence known in perhaps previously unimaginable ways. Sometimes using  God’s people to do so. And sometimes not.

For me, these days, I have experienced the wonder of God’s presence in all these ways and a thousand more. But most especially, I suppose in this: that my deep learning and growing edge in my life of faith these days surely  resounds in the words of John the Baptist where, near the beginning of John’s Gospel, who, having introduced Jesus, says, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3: 30)

Indeed, I cannot help but wonder now if I may just spend the rest of my life seeking to ‘decrease,’ even when I can be fully ‘present, so that Jesus might ‘increase.’ These terrible circumstances have forced me to step out of the way and live in trust. It remains to be seen how I will grapple with this challenge when I am not forced to do so. Certainly, I expect and hope that I will approach the rest of my life with a greater degree of humility. At least I pray that this will be so.

In the meantime, this Easter, I am giving thanks that Jesus did not stay in the tomb — no matter who told him he should! And I am praying to have the eyes, the ears, the imagination, the heart to see what it means that Jesus not only showed up for Thomas so long ago, but again and again, for all of us as well.

  • Tell me about how this time has been for you. What are you learning about yourself, about the world, about your place in the world, about your faith community’s place in the world?
  • Above I have named my own ‘growing edge’ in these challenging days. Where are you being stretched? How is God using this time to help you to grow in new or deeper ways?
  • These days, where do you see evidence that Jesus did not stay in the tomb? Where is he even now making his way beyond locked doors?

 

14 comments

  1. Julie Blomberg Steele says:

    Thank You Janet, for another amazing sermon. I appreciate your grounding as I was raised in your household of grounding with your Mama and JanetLynn (as I called him as he taught me to skate). It makes everything much more personable.

  2. Jerry Johns says:

    I am finding that the hours in the day move more slowly for me. I am able to listen to music, call friends, make visits to the front door of friends with sufficient distance between us. I wave to people in the neighborhood whose names I do not know. I typically take an early morning walk to help center my day. I also focus on body, mind, and spirit. I will see what happens in the weeks ahead.

  3. Ron Gustafson says:

    I have found gas is inexpensive but there is nowhere you can go, being confined, there are only so many things you can do around home, missing people is huge🙈, I’m not a puzzler, so pretty soon my thoughts turn inward. Where my mind keeps going is to Arusha and Juba, South Sudan. What are the next steps, how can we be of the most benefit to those that can use assistance the most by supporting the churches in those areas? While we are inconvenienced, they are hit extremely hard. Now we have time to focus on others without all our preoccupation. Our inconvenience is really a gift in disguise 🙏

    • Janet Hunt says:

      Ron, there is great wisdom in your words. While we are but inconvenienced,truly others are hit very hard. May this be gift to us all as we listen for God’s call together.

  4. Jane Uzzell says:

    My husband has been in ICU isolation since the Monday after Palm Sunday–a fast moving, severe bone & blood infection that also affected his heart, liver & kidneys. Excellent surgeon did surgery that had to be repeated every 24 hrs to remove dead tissue + flush out the infection. Tues. he said it was a million times better, repeated the operation, but then turned Steve over to care of ICU drs. Since then he has had daily dialysis to remove toxins + fluid–6.5 liters over 4 days. Easter Sun.= 4 liters removed, kidneys “worked a little bit, but we’ll take it,” heart in sinus (good) rhythm all night, off of blood pressure meds that kept his b.p. up to normal. Church + friends have been praying since I informed them of Steve’s condition Apr 6. On Good Friday my minister asked what I needed for prayers, and she texted me the most beautiful, meaningful prayer I have ever had–I shared it for Steve’s prayer warriors, too. What have I learned? Jesus is more real and prayers are definitely answered + when people request prayers, I really need to pray, not just send the emoji. I understand events of Holy Week in a whole new way and depth. And my church family is invaluable! So, rest assured that your prayers, even those you wish were in person:person, are felt and heard and appreciated. You ministers are also front line heroes! Thank you.

  5. Pat says:

    Your sermon and a homily of a Jesuit friend of mine truly gave me reason to “dance” this Easter when on the surface I had absolutely no right because of recent happenings in my life, nor would anyone expect I’d put on my dancing shoes for Easter this year. Thank you for risking with us your vulnerability. This is what I believe a real pastor does, or should do.
    I’ve been reading your sermons for quite awhile and I don’t think I ever commented before. This time I really needed to because I wanted you to know that the risen Christ whom I was not quite sure I’d see this year asked me, “May I have this dance?’

  6. Susan Trimby says:

    Powerful message, Pastor Janet!
    I’ll be thinking on this for a while as it has touched my heart and soul.
    Thank you!
    Susan

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