It was just over a year ago that we all went inside and closed our doors. We locked ourselves in for safety because of the worst pandemic the world has seen since the Spanish Flu. Businesses closed. Jobs were lost. The economy took a nosedive. Streets were empty and cities became ghost towns as we hid away from a virus that could kill us, our friends, our family—a virus that can be spread with a sneeze, a cough, or a breath. We all withdrew from the places of our togetherness—from stores, from workplaces, from restaurants, from schools, from church.
We did our best to stay connected and active with our computers and our phones and our tablets. But as the months dragged on and the statistics kept telling us that the world outside our doors was still dangerous, lethargy set in. Psychologists are calling it Covid burnout and estimating that 75% of us are affected by it– a feeling of low-grade stress. Malaise. Low energy. Lack of enthusiasm and purpose. Fatigue. Lack of focus. Faulty memory.
Productivity and creativity are down. Weight is up. The AMA says that the average pandemic weight gain is 29 pounds. The prolonged worry, stress and anxiety of the pandemic has left millions of us living in a mental fog. When we locked down our buildings, we locked down our psyches, too.
We are grieving. But we haven’t called it that.
What we’ve been feeling must be similar to what the disciples were feeling after the crucifixion. They were grieving. Their hopes for change, for a better world and a brighter life had died with Jesus on the cross. They felt betrayed by one of their companions, someone they had trusted. They were ashamed of their own cowardice in deserting Jesus. And they were afraid. They didn’t want to be seen. They didn’t want to expose themselves.
They didn’t know what to do. They didn’t know where to go. They didn’t know what would happen next. So they stayed locked inside the only place where they felt at all safe. Emotionally, they were burned out.
And then Jesus came and stood among them. Behind their locked door. Jesus came to them where they were huddled in their fear and spoke peace to them. He spoke to their anxiety. He spoke to their fear. He spoke to their loss of focus. He spoke shalom. Composure. Stillness. Peace.
And then he showed them his hands and his feet. He showed them his wounds not only so they would know it was really him, but to acknowledge the reality of what they had all been through. It was his ways of silently saying, “Yes, there was real trauma. There is a reason you feel this way. Here it is. I carry it in my body. You do, too, just in a different way. Here I am. Let my visible wounds speak for your invisible ones.”
When they realized it was really him, they were ecstatic, so he spoke peace to them again, this time maybe to calm them down, before he gave them a mission: “The Father sent me, now I am sending you.” Imagine their surprise when he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins they stay forgiven. If you hold on to anyone’s sins, they remain unforgiven.”
And then suddenly it was all over. Just as suddenly as he appeared, he was gone.
We don’t know why Thomas wasn’t there for this brief reunion with the risen Jesus, but it shouldn’t surprise us that he didn’t believe the other disciples when they told him about it. I imagine some of them were having trouble believing it themselves, even though they had experienced it. We’ve all had that experience, haven’t we, where you see something extraordinary and ask yourself, “Did I really just see that? Did that just happen?” Of course Thomas doubted. There is no shame or sin in that.
What is a little surprising, though, is that a week later they’re all still locked in that room. Think about it. Jesus has appeared to them and told them he is sending them out. He has given them the Holy Spirit with his own breath which should equip them for the mission. He has given them the authority to forgive sins or retain them. And one week later they’re still hiding behind that locked door.
Well, maybe they weren’t sure what to do next. Maybe they, themselves, didn’t entirely trust their experience with Jesus. Maybe they were still afraid.
So Jesus shows up again. He speaks peace again. He invites Thomas to touch his wounds. And Thomas falls at his feet and proclaims, “My Lord and my God.”
Even that second appearance didn’t really kickstart their mission. Jesus had to appear to them again before they really got started. In chapter 21, the epilogue of John’s gospel, we read that they had gone back to fishing in Galilee. Jesus met them on the shore and cooked them breakfast, and basically told them it was time to get moving.
It took the disciples a long time to get over crucifixion shock. Crucifixion fatigue. The Post-Traumatic Shock of all they had seen and been through. They were real people who had witnessed a real horror, and even seeing Christ risen didn’t erase that overnight. It would take a refreshing and renewing breath of the Holy Spirit—Pentecost—to reenergize them completely and set their mission in motion.
They began to share their story, the story of Jesus crucified and risen, anywhere they could with anyone who would listen. When they could, they would share it in the synagogues. When they couldn’t share it there, they shared it in caves or in private homes or in open fields. Little by little their numbers grew. Then came Paul, the adversary who became their greatest evangelist after he encountered the risen Christ, and their ecclesia, their church began to take root in places they had never imagined.
All this took time. And imagination. And creativity. And love. And caution.
Jesus is still sending us out to proclaim the kin-dom of God. Like those first disciples, we are stumped about what comes next. And we’ve lost some momentum while we’ve been locked behind closed doors.
As we contemplate opening those doors, we’re not sure what to do next or how to do it. We know it’s not enough just to get all of us back together behind another set of doors, even if they’re our doors in our building. Jesus is calling us, as always, to go out there with the good news of God’s love and grace and kindness. And it’s daunting. Not only has Covid stymied the normal way we do things, but how do we overcome the energy-sapping pain of declining numbers and increasing cultural indifference to religion in general and ours in particular?
We are like those first disciples. We don’t know how to proceed with safety and enthusiasm. We’re not sure where to go next. We don’t know what to do next and how to do it.
What we do know is this: The risen Christ has stood among us and spoken peace to us. He has breathed on us with the Holy Spirit. He has given us the authority to forgive. And he has told us to go.
And we know that Pentecost is coming.
We don’t have to figure it all out before we step out. The disciples didn’t. They went out in faith and followed the guidance of the Spirit as they went. We can do that, too. The Spirit will guide us and strengthen us and propel us into the future Christ is leading us to.
If we are faithful, there will be changes. God is always doing a new thing.
It’s not our job to know in advance what will change, just that Christ is the architect of the changes that are coming. Our job right now is to pray for the Holy Spirit to fall on us and light us up in a big way so that we are brave enough and healed enough to unlock the door and go out.
So take a breath. Breathe in the Spirit that Christ is breathing out on us. And then go…to make disciples of all people. For the sake of the kin-dom of God.
In Jesus’ name.