Why are you frightened?

Rev Deborah was the preacher on Sunday 18 April. Here is her sermon for you to ponder again.

In our gospel reading today Jesus appears to the bewildered disciples. Jesus says to them, ‘peace be with you’.  He then asks them a sort of double question.

‘Why are you frightened and why do doubts arise in your hearts?’

You can imagine the disciples saying,

‘Why are we frightened? Why do we doubt you? Is there any wonder? It was just a few days ago that you were arrested and our world came crashing down around our ears. We thought that if you were him, that you were the Messiah. It had been so exciting to be part of your team, to witness your healing miracles, to learn from your wise teaching.  But then you were arrested, mocked, beaten, put to death.  It was excruciating to watch – well, for those of us brave enough to be there, at least.  The rest of us stayed hidden away for fear of the authorities.  We thought they’d be coming after us next. And now we’ve just heard that two of our friends saw you along the road to Emmaus and then while we’re still trying to wrap our minds around that, all of a sudden here you are with us, now?  Or what appears to be you or a ghost? Of course, we are frightened. And as for doubts? What on earth are we supposed to think is happening here?

In response to their fears and doubts, Jesus makes things as concrete as he can for them, trying to give them something they can wrap their minds around. ‘Here are my hands and feet. Touch me and you’ll see. It’s me.’

The gospel reading sums the disciples’ feelings with the words ‘while in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering’. Touching Jesus hands and feet helped but only so much.

They want to believe him, but they just don’t know if they really dare. And so, they find themselves with this strange, but understandable, combination of joy, disbelief and wonder.

Jesus then asks for something to eat. A simple request, something concrete they can do for him, even while they’re caught up in fear and doubt, joy and disbelief.  They find him a piece of broiled fish and he eats it. He seems to be offering them further proof that he is alive, after all ghosts are not known for fish consumption.

We are then told says Jesus opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, explaining why things had to unfold the way they did, through his suffering and death, and now his resurrection. Then he assured them, as witnesses of all these things, that they would soon be ‘clothed with power from on high’ a foreshadowing of the day of Pentecost.

‘Why are you frightened?’

That question is still relevant today.

What hides behind our locked doors? Our fear may be very personal, such as the fear of illness, unemployment, loneliness, loss or something happening to our loved ones. Some of our fears get played out on the national and international level. The pandemic is one example that we are all familiar with. We have been through the past year and many of us have been impacted by the events that have happened. Although we are on the road map out of lockdown, we still have fears for the future. What is going to happen? Are we going to get to normality? What about the variants? This is compound by what we see on an international level and the situation in Europe, India and Brazil.

And as for doubts, we are only human. And yet, as with the disciples, Jesus simply comes among us and says, ‘peace be with you’.

Our definition of peace is limited – often to the absence of conflict or an inner tranquillity. In the Bible, the word for the Peace of Christ is ‘Shalom.’ The literal translation of shalom is wholeness, harmony or completeness. It refers to harmony and unity between all things.

When Jesus offers peace to his disciples, he is offering wholeness and completeness. Resurrection life.  Jesus offers the same to us – wholeness and completeness.

But then comes Jesus’ other question – ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ – which brings things back down to earth.  A simple request, a concrete task to do. What might be our contemporary equivalents?

Feed someone who is hungry.  Welcome a stranger.  Look after someone who is sick.  Pray for one another.  Pray for your enemies.  Stand with the powerless.  Speak out against injustice. Practice hospitality, compassion, generosity.

Watching for opportunities simply to do some of these, to be witnesses, can help us become fearless, even in the face of unsettling news in the world. Fearless in the sense of not giving in or giving up to fear. Fearless in the sense of not being afraid to take risks and to reach out to others in love, kindness, compassion. Fearless in the sense that we know there is something, someone greater than our fear. Someone that will hold us no matter how scared we are, and no matter our particular balance of joy to wondering, belief to disbelief is on any given day. Fearless because God is with us.

Today’s reading ends with the commissioning of the disciples, to be witnesses. Luke, in our first reading, begins to paint the picture of what it looked like when the disciples fulfilled their calling as witnesses. Peter and John healing the crippled man and then Peter’s proclamation of what God had and is doing in Jesus Christ. The disciples were changed people.

Last week we had a story in Peregrini morning prayer called ‘Remembering the Gift of Wings’.

There was a bird who loved to fly. One day, while it was high up in the air it began to rain. Its feathers became so heavy that when it tried to land, it broke its wing. Time passed, and the bird became better. It wanted to fly, but no matter how hard it tried, something inside stopped it from leaving the ground.

Day after day it tried, and day after day fear held it down. Then one day, a strong wind came and lifted it high into the sky. It opened its wings and the bird remembered as if for the very first time, that it could fly. Jesus is the one who takes away our fears and enables us to ‘fly’.

When Jesus asks us the same question that is in Luke 24. “Why are you frightened?” I don’t think there’s anything wrong with giving him our reasons as long as we also hear him saying, ‘peace be with you’. I bring you wholeness and completeness .… I’m alive …  and ‘you will receive power from on high.’ Be my witnesses.

Yes, life can be scary but showing up when we’re frightened is one of the things God does best. Amen

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