Homebound Apostles

A Homily for the Second Sunday of Easter

Text: St. John 20:19-31


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Risen Lord, who calls and equips the entire church for ministry. Amen.

In years past, I’ve preached this text as a reminder that the modern Church is apostolic, sent out like those first disciples to proclaim our faith in the Risen Christ while also remembering our kindred in distant lands who live in fear of violence. “Come out from behind your locked doors,” I said.

But today, that is truly terrible advice.

During this pandemic, many of us are temporarily homebound, sheltering in place, worried that every visitor, every trip to the grocery store, might bring about contagion. Those essential workers among us, those who cannot stay home, worry not only for their own safety but that they might inadvertently expose their loved ones to danger.

It is a cruel age when we are forced to worry that signs of peace might become accidental acts of infection.

Today, though, unlike any other Easter in my lifetime, we can relate to the disciples. Today’s Gospel reading opens on a scene suddenly familiar to us: on Easter, we enter a room with the eleven socially isolated, fearful of what the future holds. In the wake of the Crucifixion, while the women went to the tomb, Peter and the others (minus Thomas), are huddled in a locked apartment, hiding out of sight. They saw what happened to Jesus, and they are terrified that it might happen to them – that the Jewish leaders and Roman occupiers might come after them as well.

The eleven have heard Mary Magdalene’s testimony, that Christ is risen, but we can see their doubt. Take a moment to picture their faces: jumping at every sound, the pit sinking in their stomach every time they hear a group of pilgrims walk by. In the midst of Passover, the disciples are holed up in Jerusalem, afraid that the crowds outside might turn against them.

It is to these people, and to us in our own upper rooms, that our risen Lord brings tidings of great joy. It is to those living in fear that our wounded Lord appears as a refuge. It is to Mary Magdalene, weeping in the garden, to the disciples hiding in fear, to Thomas, with all of his doubts and questions, that Christ appears in all of his resurrected glory.

Notice that Christ comes to the disciples while they are still in hiding,

that it is only after the Lord’s appearance with wounded hands and pierced side, that they rejoice.

Behold! The risen Lord comes bringing peace in the midst of fear and suffering.

Behold! Our Lord comes bringing peace to fearful disciples behind their locked doors.

Our Lord bears the wounds of his battle with sin and death, and yet Christ is victorious over the gates of Hell. Still scarred by the marks of violence, Jesus rises again to continue proclaiming forgiveness of sins and life everlasting.

Take heart, today, secure in the knowledge that even though we are physically isolated from each other, Christ is still among us.

And Christ sends us out to do the same. Homebound though we may be for a time, we are still apostello – sent out – like the followers of Christ before us to proclaim the peace of Christ and the forgiveness of sins. Even though we need to stay home as much as possible, we are still called into Christ’s ministry.

Yes, this holy calling may look a little different over the next few months. It may be grocery shopping for our elderly neighbors, sewing masks, or long hours on the phone keeping up relationships during the stress of isolation. To be certain, I never expected to tell Christians the most faithful act of worship would be to stay away from the sanctuary during these Great Fifty Days of our Lord’s Resurrection.

But even in this strange new world, our ministry will also look very much same: providing financial assistance to the poor and distressed, lifting up the concerns of the world in prayer, loving our neighbors, and preaching the Good News of the Resurrection.

We, though separated by space and time, are united with the Church throughout the ages as members of the Body of Christ. And we, with them, are an Easter people, living lives of joyful celebration, even in among the perils of this world. We are an apostolic Church, sharing in the mission of God with the apostles who came before.

It will not be easy; it requires the sort of transformed imagination and divine love only possible through God’s grace that we might hear our Lord’s call during these trying times. But in the face of our own fear, Christ grants us the faith to persevere. In the face of sin and death, Christ sends us hope in the Resurrection.

Amen.

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