This morning, I would like to invite us to delve into our imaginations for a moment. What I want us to do is just close our eyes, and place ourselves among the disciples gathered in the upper room as we just heard about in this morning’s Gospel. Although St. Luke does not provide the same level of detail as St. John did in last week’s gospel, it is safe to assume this gathering is the same as last week’s.
So, now take a moment and imagine that your are sitting in the upper room where the Last Supper took place, but now instead of gathering to celebrate the Exodus, the disciples have gathered to mourn. Perhaps they have gathered to hold Shiva, the Jewish rite of mourning that is held for several days after a loved one has died. Or, perhaps they have simply gathered in the upper room for safety with doors and windows barricaded against the violence of those who despise them and Jesus. St. John tells us they werelocked in this place for fear of the Jews, or what I feel is a more accurate statement for fear of the ruling class.
Thus, the emotion that washes over us as we sit in this room is an intricate mixture of fear, grief, loss, despair and a deep sense of not knowing what to do next.
There is only one time in my life that I can remember experiencing this intense mixture of emotions and that was during the days that followed 9/11. In the homily I gave the following Sunday, I told the congregation, as the enormity of the event began to settle in, I felt as if I was ten years old again . . .awaking from a bad dream and wanting to run to the safety of my parent’s bed. But unfortunately, I wasn’t a small child anymore and the events of 9/11 were not a dream but a reality we would all have to come to terms with in the months and years to come.
As I think back over the days that followed 9/11, I realize the worst of the cacophony of emotion we experienced was fear. While psychologists tell us that anger is perhaps the most destructive emotion, I believe fear is the most debilitating of emotions. Over time, fear immobilizes, keeps us frozen in place as we become overwhelmed and unable to deal with the rapidly changing reality that surrounds us.
Sometimes . . .it feels as if the institutional church has become frozen in time with the disciples, locked away in the upper room. The church. . . overwhelmed and frozen, not because our leader and teacher has died, but because who we were and the role we once played in society is no longer. I find it interesting, as a church of the reformation, we are still referred to as the “main-line” when we are anything but the main- line. No longer are we able to live in the paradigm of being the Christ of culture, but now must continue to struggle to find a new paradigm and a new role in society from which to operate.
This same reality held true for the disciples. If the movement Jesus began was to continue, then the function or role of the disciples had to change. The early church at the time Luke was writing was in a similar situation. During this time, the fledgling church, which had originally perceived itself as a part of Judaism, was now being pushed out of the synagogues as the Roman government was escalating its persecution of Christians. And now, the nascent congregations had to develop a new identity as an independent entity from Judaism.
So what are Luke and John telling us to do when the church finds itself at a cross roads, when fear and grief begin to take hold and the mission of the church becomes immobilized? First, they tell us to stop, regroup, and gather in prayer. Christ will lead us where we need to go. Second, let go of whatever you may fear. Remember, the first words from Christ are,” peace be with you.” These words are not that far off in meaning from the Angel Gabriel’s words to Mary, Joseph and the Shepherds, “fear not! For God is with you.” In other words, no matter how dark, how scary or even how violent the moment may seem, God is always with us, and, no matter what the short term may hold for us, the long term result will be all right. . . if. . we are willing to trust in God. Finally, the writers tell us, the role of the church is never to sit back, barricaded from the world, but to be in the world as witnesses to the resurrection.
Cameron Murchison in his analysis of St. Luke’s account writes, as Jesus breathes upon the disciples he commissions them from ones who follow (disciples), to those who are sent (apostles). In essence, no matter how much the world around us may have changed, or how dark and terrifying the actions of our enemies may become, the role of the Church never changes. As it was on the day when the resurrected Christ sent the apostles into the world to bear witness to the resurrection, so it is still today. We are to be the compassionate hands and feet of Christ in the world in all that we undertake. We are to be the ones who bear testimony to the risen Christ until the Reign of God is complete.
But the question for us to grapple with is, how far along in the story are we. As the congregation of St. Luke’s, Camillus, are we still barricaded in the upper room, mourning the congregation that was five, ten, fifteen or even forty years ago, struggling to hold onto the last vestiges of what some may consider our glory days? Or, have we accepted the peace of God, and are no longer afraid of how the world has changed around us, or how we were once the center of community life but now we have been pushed out of the middle and are marginalized by a post modern reality? Or, have we found our way to the end of today’s story and recognize that as baptized members of the Body of Christ, the Church, we have moved from being followers to those who have been sent by Christ to bear witness to the resurrection?
If we are to continue being a “Vital, Growing, Christ Centered-Community, Bringing all People to God’s Healing Embrace”, then we, as a community, must continue to work our way through this story, and start the next chapter, of what is the story of the resurrection.