Another week has gone by, and not much has changed.
The doors that were locked are now merely shut.
Thomas is with the disciples this time, having missed last week.
The sight of the risen Jesus, and his gift of the Holy Spirit, has apparently not moved the
disciples very much, which is why I suspect he returned at least as much for them as he
did for Thomas.
They are still in the same room, having basically the same conversation.
Peace be with you, Jesus says, and then he shows off his scars, and then the realization of who this is hits home.
Same story, different week.
Maybe the same is true in your home.
Once again, worship is on video instead of in, and the familiar walls separating you from
the outside world with all its fears are still the same.
For some folks, quarantine is almost as boring as church—same thing, different week, can we
For others, it is a welcome breath of rest and restoration like church—same reassuring morsel of comfort and familiarity to anchor a different week, can we stay here?
In times of high stress and change, ritual and routine are welcome gifts.
In times of boredom and restlessness, they can feel deadly.
In times of grief and loss and uncertainty, they can be as irritating and reliable as old friends. Wherever you and your head and your heart are, the story is essentially the same.
Jesus has broken through the distance—the impregnable six feet of death, the stone on the tomb, the locks on the doors, the injuries to his broken hands and side and heart.
He slips past the fears and comes to you and says, Peace be with you.
If you're here next week, he'll say it again.
When you die, he'll say it again, and then breathe new life into you, one ex-corpse to another.
Same story, different world.
Yes, there are variations.
One week Jesus gives his disciples the Holy Spirit, full partnership in his gospel firm, and
his unprecedented power to be utterly powerless—his power to forgive.
The next week he loops in Thomas and gives a blessing to those of us who come to trust him
without seeing him.
Please note, Church, that Thomas does trust Jesus, just not the people who talk about him.
I wonder if that is because he doesn't notice much of a difference in them.
For all their enthusiasm, they seem the same: same room, same closed doors, same need to
huddle together and have the same conversation over and over.
The story has changed, but has their behavior?
Of course, real behavioral change usually takes more than a week.
That takes reinforcement; it requires hearing the same life-changing words over and over again.
We say the same thing every week so that eventually we will come to believe it.
The good news is that Jesus keeps showing up, week after week, speaking peace.
He is patient and persistent.
As our fears remain, as death and lies and violence and cruelty rage on, as the world continues to be different variations of the same sinful mess week after week, Jesus slips through and arrives with holes in his hands, breathing words of wholeness.
Peace be with you, he says, directly and otherwise, in forgiveness and water and bread and
stories and songs, in other people or maybe on a screen, different ways, different weeks,
You are forgiven; share that with others.
Peace be with you; share that with others.
I love you; share that with others.
And because we regularly forget, or get lost, or sidetracked, or sick, or afraid, or overwhelmed, or worried, or whatever, he keeps coming to us week after week.
Peace be with you, he says, until we come to believe it.
This explains why, as professor Alan Kreider suggests, the most important virtue to the early
church was patience.
The luminaries and leaders of the first three centuries wrote about it more than any other virtue, seeing patience as our representation of the heart of God, revealed—eventually and
clearly—in the life and teaching of Jesus.
With so many reasons to give up on us, God does not.
To reveal this God to the world, Christians had to be beautifully different: they had to
This takes cultivation—ironically enough, building patience requires patience.
Maybe you noticed in your own household, or mirror, that it didn't spring up overnight.
One of the multiple silver linings of our present pandemic may be an uninvited crash course in patience, and it's a semester, not a webinar.
Rewiring habits and reshaping soul take time; it's making a feast from scratch, not a microwaved dinner.
The Apostolic Tradition, written in the third century or earlier, suggests that those new to the
faith should hear the Word for three years before being admitted to worship.
Imagine if I took that approach with new members.
Imagine if you knew now that quarantine would probably last three years; how would
that change your mindset, and your choices on the other side?
Now imagine watching human history with the eternal eyes of God.
Do not ignore this one fact, beloved, Peter writes, that with the Lord one day is like a
thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.
The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.
So Jesus shows up, week after week after week, repeating himself and inviting us again and
again to join him in loving the world the way he first loved us.
This means persistent patience, which Kreider points out is not in human control and is not in a hurry; it has such deep confidence in God that it does not need or try to manipulate
timelines or outcomes.
Patience in unconvential, non-violent, liberating and hopeful: it does not compel or coerce.
Patience is the first characteristic Paul lists of love, which is kind and does not insist on
its own way and able to endure so much.
Look again at those hands and that side of the one who says Peace be with you.
It's the scars that confirm who he is, the marks of patience, the broken skin of love.
And it's his after-the-last breath that fills us and sends us into the scary world that killed him
with a mission to forgive and patiently, persistently spread peace.
We keep loving this world week after week because he keeps loving us.
We keep drawing near to those who suffer, and now keep our distance from others,
because he keeps coming to speak well-being and renewed life to us.
We keep teaching preschoolers kindness and sharing and using words instead of fists,; we keep collecting socks for homeless neighbors; we keep making masks and blankets and phone calls that don't feel like they change anything; we keep singing and praying and forgiving others and ourselves because love that is patient and persistent is exactly what this
frenzied and fractured world needs right now... and is simply sharing what we have
received... because it is simply who God is.
Peace be with you, says Jesus, which is another way of saying, I am here for you.
Again, still, always, forever and ever, Amen.