Shuttered? Have faith!
By Rev. Canon David B. Tabo-oy
v31But these have been written in order that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through your faith in him you may have life. (Read John 20:19-31)
“In the midst of life, we are in death; from whom can we seek help? From you alone, O Lord, who by our sins are justly angered.” These are the words in the Burial Service of the Dead from the Book of Common Prayer. The knock –on effect struck like a thunderbolt in the Episcopal Diocese of North Central Philippines (EDNCP) with the unexpected demise of a brother ordained minister Deacon and Architect Winston Busacay Ano due to the COVID 19 virus. This tragedy has proven the ruthlessness of the virus and the reality that it is just lurking in a corner waiting to jump the next victim. The deathly virus has also claimed hundreds of thousands from all over this planet. Definitely, ‘in the midst of life, we are in death’. The first quarter of this year saw the deaths of four priests in the EDNCP. As we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord we come face to face daily with death, COVID or otherwise.
Death is the one certainty in every life, the one inevitable event. But every death, like every birth, is unique and brings change to many other people. The deaths that the pandemic has brought new normal all over the world. We must not pretend that it is unimportant or underestimate its effects on us who are still alive. To mourn for a loved one is human and right: it is a mistake to refuse grief its full outlet. Yet the grief of Christians must be different from that of others who are without faith and hope. We live and die trusting in resurrection to eternal life. This is what the Risen Lord has brought to all believers and we celebrate this second Sunday in Easter. We live and die trusting in resurrection to eternal life, because Christ our Lord won the victory over death. The New Testament and the work of early Fathers of the Church continually proclaim the Christian hope which links the resurrection of Christ with our own. We know that the faithful departed have been called by a merciful God, who receives them in the love that was revealed on the Cross and proclaimed in the Resurrection.
Our gospel lesson this Sunday tells us the appearance of Jesus to his disciples behind locked doors in that upper room. Perhaps they were assessing what happened the past few days of their teacher’s death on the cross and burial and presumably discussing the claim of the women that they have seen the empty tomb and were told by the angel that their Lord has risen from the dead. It was on that state that the risen Lord appeared to them. Thomas, one of the twelve apostles was absent at that time and when told about the risen Christ was not convinced that their Rabbi has risen indeed. When the risen Lord came to them for the second time, Thomas is present and uttered the now famous phrase, “My, Lord and my God!” This event earned the apostle Thomas the moniker ‘Doubting Thomas’. “My Lord, and my God.” Not teacher. Not Lord. Not Messiah. But God! It is the only place where Jesus is called God without qualification of any kind. It is uttered with conviction as if Thomas was simply recognizing a fact, just as 2 + 2 = 4, and the sun is in the sky. You are my Lord and my God! These are certainly not the words of a doubter.
For past twelve months and counting we have experienced the worst condition that may be compared with the experiences during the second world war. The onslaught of the COVID19 pandemic is the worst of the last two centuries. Lockdowns are imposed to cities, towns, barangays, and doors were shut. Businesses closed, and the once tourist and locals-filled parks are now empty. People became shadows of their former selves, as they hid away from an enemy which could not be seen but could kill them and their loved ones and friends. According to one preacher, “the world drew in and shuttered itself from danger. And lethargy set in. Professionals are calling it COVID burnout: malaise, lethargy, low-grade stress, depression, lack of focus, lack of energy, faulty memory, lack of enthusiasm and purpose. People are less engaged, feel less successful, have suffered loss, are feeling fried. Many have lost inspiration and motivation. Some feel a sense of pervasive dread or chronic anxiety. Productivity and creativity are down. Weight is up. Lonely, isolated, sad, many have become pandemic zombies, wandering aimlessly through their shuttered homes with a faraway look in their eyes. Some have become glued to a computer screen or television for days on end. Some have lost their sense of engagement and excitement for the future. Others have become downright disillusioned and disoriented”.
Acute breakdown! It’s the result of prolonged stress, worry, uncertainty, mental and emotional exhaustion, and it’s pervasive across the world. We are living in a groggy state of mental fog. We have not only shuttered our buildings and businesses; we have shuttered our psyches. We feel disconnected, shells of our former selves. And we don’t know what to do about it.
This must have been the feeling Jesus’ disciples had as well after the crucifixion. Thousands felt their hope had been dashed and destroyed. Others felt disillusioned and betrayed by someone they put their trust in. He had promised change.
The story is told about Albert Einstein, the brilliant physicist of Princeton University in the early 20th century. Einstein was traveling from Princeton on a train, and when the conductor came down the aisle to punch the passengers’ tickets, Einstein couldn’t find his. He looked in his vest pocket, he looked in his pants pocket, he looked in his briefcase, but there was no ticket. The conductor was gracious; “Not to worry, Dr. Einstein, I know who you are, we all know who you are, and I’m sure you bought a ticket.”
As the conductor moved down the aisle, he looked back and noticed Einstein on his hands and knees, searching under the seat for his ticket. The conductor returned to Einstein; “Dr. Einstein, Dr. Einstein, don’t worry. I know who you are. You don’t need a ticket, I’m sure you bought one.” Einstein arose and said “Young man, I too know who I am; what I don’t know is where I am going.”
And that is the good news of Easter; that we know where we are going. We have been told by the Savior that his life and death has promised us life eternal. And Low Sundays don’t change that promise. And unemployment doesn’t change that promise. Neither does divorce, or bankruptcy, or cancer, or depression, or felony, or failure. Through elation and deflation and every emotion in between, this truth remains; we know whose we are and we know where we are going, because the Son of God has promised. And this, my friends, is faith.
A New Shalom
When Jesus appeared to the disciples, his greeting was, “Peace be unto you.” The Hebrew word shalom, for “peace,” is a most comprehensive word, covering the full realm of relationships in daily life and expressing an ideal state of life. The word suggests the fullness of well-being and harmony untouched by ill fortune. The word as a blessing is a prayer for the best that God can give to enable a person to complete one’s life with happiness and a natural death. If the concept of shalom became all too casual and light-hearted with no more significance than a passing greeting, Jesus came to give it new meaning. At Bethlehem God announced that peace would come through the gift of God’s unique Son. The mission and ministry of our Lord made it quite clear that Jesus had come to introduce the rule of God and to order peace for the world. ( Harry N. Huxhold, Which Way To Jesus?, CSS Publishing)
To the family of Deacon Winston (and to all who just lost a loved one) may I share these words praying that they be comforted as they mourn the passing on of a husband and a Father. “Sorrow is real, a harsh truth that twists us with pain, a burden that bends us down to breaking: but it is not a burden that we bear alone. Christ lifted up to the death of the Cross, lifts us with him and shows us the way ahead.
We worship before the Cross, which is joy out of sorrow, life out of death, the sign post to heaven. The Christian soul passes from the temporary to the eternal, from the small world to the infinite, from the company of a few to the company of all the faithful. Where we see only loss and emptiness, God sees new life, a vacant place filled.
Nothing that has been good and lovely can ever perish: we must go on living as long as it is required, strengthened by the past, patiently confident for the future. Jesus said, ‘I am the resurrection and the Life: he who believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he life’.
Let us pray.
Almighty and everlasting God: who in the Paschal mystery established the new covenant of reconciliation: Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ’s Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (cf. BCP, Raymond Chapman, “A Pastoral Prayer Book, eSermons.com)**