In the Proximity of Hope
Indianapolis First Friends Quaker Meeting
Pastor Bob Henry
April 28, 2019
I Corinthians 15:1-7 (The Message)
15 1-2 Friends, let me go over the Message with you one final time— this Message that I proclaimed and that you made your own; this Message on which you took your stand and by which your life has been saved. (I’m assuming, now, that your belief was the real thing and not a passing fancy, that you’re in this for good and holding fast.)
3-7 The first thing I did was place before you what was placed so emphatically before me: that the Messiah died for our sins, exactly as Scripture tells it; that he was buried; that he was raised from death on the third day, again exactly as Scripture says; that he presented himself alive to Peter, then to his closest followers, and later to more than five hundred of his followers all at the same time, most of them still around (although a few have since died); that he then spent time with James and the rest of those he commissioned to represent him; and that he finally presented himself alive to me.
There are several different appearances of Jesus after the resurrection event that are both interesting and have had me reflecting this week on the hope that they convey.
Scholars often discuss the 10 different accounts that are recorded in the Bible of Jesus’ appearances. I am sure there were others, but the ones that were written down, must hold some weight since they were recorded for the world to read 2000+ years later. Now, just to remind you of these appearances and to give you a sense of the order in which scripture recorded them happening, I just want to read the list.
It is recorded that Jesus appeared to:
1. Mary Magdalene (where she mistakes Jesus as the gardener)
2. The other Mary, Salome, Joanna, and at least one other unnamed woman.
(On a side note, I find it fascinating and a huge statement to Jesus’ day and culture that the first 5 people to encounter Jesus recorded in scripture were woman.)
3. Simone Peter (one of Jesus’ inner circle)
4. Cleopas and a companion on the road to Emmaus. (Most likely the companion was not named because it was very likely a woman as well.)
5. The Eleven Disciples without Thomas (to discuss doubting...)
6. The Eleven with Thomas (to discuss believing…)
7. Seven Disciplines at the Sea of Tiberias (This is the famous Breakfast on the Beach scene)
8. Disciples and a large gathering at a mountain in Galilee. (This is the one Jesus most often reminds the disciples about – meeting on the mountain to receive the charge or next steps – this ends up being almost a month after the resurrection.
9. James (private meeting with Jesus’ brother about the church)
10.Disciples (probably in Jerusalem before he led them out of the Mt. of Olives to give the Great Commission and his departure.)
Ten different situations, all with very different interactions. As well, Jesus appears sometimes miraculously and at other times in normal situations. We have Jesus coming through walls, disappearing, not being able to be touched, asking to be touched, and often the gatherings are accompanied by eating. But to understand the importance of all of these appearances to us today, I think we need to look a little deeper at what Jesus was addressing in the individual appearances and with whom he was addressing them.
After a death (or any loss for that matter), most people not only go through the stages of grief, they also face the deeper need of seeking and finding hope amidst the loss and pain. Each of the people that Jesus appears to is both in shock and grieving. As a pastor, I am familiar with the reactions of people in that first week after the loss of a close friend or loved one. Its often a very difficult time and hard to have clarity or peace.
Over half of the recorded appearances of Jesus happen in the first 8 days after his execution (literally in front of them – talk about a difficult thing to work through. I cannot even imagine having to watch a good friend executed in front of me – especially by crucifixion.) And the bigger gatherings happened over the next few weeks up to 40 days later. For those who have experienced loss and grief…these 40 days can be a rollercoaster of emotion.
C.S. Lewis put it this way in his classic, “A Grief Observed.”
In grief, nothing “stays put.” One keeps emerging from a phase, but it always recurs. Round and round. Everything repeats. Am I going in circles, or dare I hope I’m on a spiral? But if a spiral, am I going up or down it?
This was the situation for the disciples and followers of Jesus – they were in the “spin cycle” of grief and loss. But each of them was dealing with other things as well, and I have a hunch that Jesus’ appearances may be speaking about more than we know. I think it has to do with what I am going to call “the proximity of hope.”
Let’s start with Mary Magdalene. She was so caught up in the loss – that she missed the proximity of hope before her eyes – just assuming he was the gardener.
Losses can do this to us – and not just loss through death. Losing our keys or glasses can have a tremendous impact on how we see (even literally see) the world around us in that moment. Or take the loss of a computer file or a record. On Thursday, I stopped at Starbucks for a coffee during morning rush hour. When I approached the drive-up window, two women stared out at me in a funk. Their computer had just completely gone out. They were at a loss for words at the moment – just hoping it would come back on.
Loss often takes us away from the moment and has us missing what is actually going on. Those who go through divorce often can no longer see their former spouse in the same light – or even themselves. Jesus appearing to Mary and her thinking he is the Gardner shows us how easy our loss and grief control how we see.
The appearance of Jesus to the other Mary, Salome, Joanna and the other unnamed woman, continues these thoughts. Here the thing that happens when we are dealing with loss and grief is that we forget what has already been said or done. In each of the scriptures telling of this appearance, it has the figure of light saying, “Remember how he told you…”.
Loss often has us forgetting or at least neglecting to remember all the details of our lives. The loss of a friendship has us forgetting the good times and focusing often on only what tore us apart. The loss of our own memory has us searching and searching for answers. Sometimes I need to take a day and look back through photos, thank you notes, and even highlights in books to remember what I have done and learned. I think this is why at most memorials we have slide shows and photo boards. We need to remember the bigger story of life…
It says that Jesus presented himself directly to Peter (before the others). Sometimes loss needs direct intervention. We need someone in our life to directly interact with us. I don’t know about you, but I have always related to Peter.
On many occasions, Jesus had to interact with Peter – one-on-one – and often Jesus had to convey a difficult message. When I am struggling with loss or grieving, sometimes I need someone to come to me and be direct. Often, we need a sponsor or a mentor, to keep us on track, to invest in us, to believe in us. I think Jesus did that with each person he encountered. Again, this was being put in the proximity of hope.
On the road to Emmaus, Cleopas and the other disciple encounter Jesus. Jesus actually walked with them it says. He had them remember, he engaged them directly….and then he did one more thing…he ate with them.
When we are dealing with loss and grief, food is a huge part of the process. Some people eat, some do not. Some find it comforting. But there is more to this. Conversations and interactions happen around the table. The table is a harbinger of the proximity of hope. The church is good about making meals when people are experiencing loss and grief. We are good about having meals after memorials, inviting hurting people out to eat with us to allow them to talk…I know for me having a cup of good coffee with someone opens up conversations and has us dealing with and processing our losses and grieving. Sometimes we find answers, insights, and at other times, just like Cleopas and the other disciple – our eyes are simply opened to hope!
When Jesus meets the eleven disciples without Thomas, he begins to lay a foundation for peace in their lives. In The Message, Eugene Peterson translated the scene this way, “Don’t be upset, and don’t let all these doubting questions take over.”
Sometimes we are so upset and doubting ourselves, others, and even our experiences that losses and grief can be intensified. I am sure the disciples were upset, but often we become irrational when we are upset. We can easily let our anger get the best of us. Our misunderstandings about the losses in our lives can have us going down bunny trails that lead us into unhealthy thinking about ourselves and others.
At times, it would be good to find a place for silence and solitude, to calm our hearts and minds. Loss often creates doubts that can consume our minds and we begin to say things like:
· “I don’t think I can do this without...”
· “I don’t know what I am going to do.”
· “I don’t think I can go on.”
· And I am sure you can think of others that run through your minds…
These are the kind of doubting questions Jesus is talking about not letting take over.
When Thomas (who gets a bad rap for all of church history) arrives in the upper room eight days later, Jesus again takes a similar approach by bringing a word of peace, but then gets more to the point about dealing with this doubt getting out of control. He says specifically to Thomas, “…you believe because you’ve seen with your own eyes. Even better blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing.”
Boy, I can’t tell you how important that has been to me. I have been gripped in wondering how things were going to turn out, sometimes after experiencing loss, and I have worked myself up so much that only my way of “seeing” will do. But my impatience and my lack of will to see from a different perspective has caused me to think I needed to see the entire picture to believe it would come out ok. Often, I just need to believe without seeing for it to work out just fine.
When Jesus meets the disciples on the beach – a scene I absolutely love – he realizes that the disciples had gone back to their old ways (that sounds so familiar – I can relate). We go to our defaults when we are dealing with loss and grief because they often bring comfort or normalcy. There they were all fishing again. And again, they were struggling with the catch. But what is interesting is Jesus doesn’t walk on the water or do anything really out of the ordinary, no this time he takes care of the ordinary. He takes care of starting a fire and making breakfast. Sometimes we need others around us when we are dealing with loss and grief to simply keep up the normalcy and ordinary in our life. They don’t need to do anything spectacular, because often it is simply us who needs to try throwing our nets out on the other side of the boats of our lives.
And sometimes when we are in a funk and have gone back into our default mode, sometimes we need someone to give us a new charge on life. Scripture points out that some of Jesus’ followers held back, not sure about risking themselves totally. Loss and grief can have us not sure, not wanting to step out, not wanting to do anything, but that is when we often need a nudge or a charge. Jesus’ charge was to go! And it was followed up by those beautiful words I ended the service with last week, “I’ll never leave you nor forsake you.”
Actually, Jesus took several disciples aside including his brother James and did more than just charge them – he commissioned them to represent him. He gave them a purpose and job. James would go on to be a founder and developer of the Early Church. James would later write in his own epistle,
“Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So, don’t try to get out of anything prematurely.”
I got a feeling James would have rather continued in his loss and grief, embracing his default, but Jesus’ charge had him listening and feeling the call to go and truly live.
And in the very last appearance Jesus makes before his departure, he commissions all of his followers. He gives them all a purpose to move on and to live. He says that it will come from within as the Spirit equips them. And then he does what many needs as they work through their loss and grief – Jesus blesses them. He raised his hands and blessed them before leaving.
Back when I was in Silverton, people often requested that I share the blessing that I ended our Meetings for Worship with almost every Sunday. I said it last week to end our Easter service. Every time I shared that blessing, I would find people who would tell me that they were changed by hearing those words.
As I would say, God loves you. God is not made at you. I would see tear forming in people’s eyes. That blessing was healing to their losses and their grief that they endured in the church. God loves you. God is not mad at you. And as he said in that last appearance, “and God will never leave you nor forsake you.”
Folks, I sense what Jesus did in those final appearances was give us some guidance on how to handle our loss and grief by interacting with those he loved. Jesus became the proximity of hope to those suffering the loss and grieving his death. And now Jesus is charging us to go and be the proximity of hope to a hurting world.
Let’s remember the insights we have learned this morning from Jesus’ appearances:
1. Check your sight – Ask: What do I really see?
2. Always remember the bigger story – Ask: What have I forgotten?
3. Be open to needing direct intervention – Ask: Can I do it alone?
4. Take time to eat together for the benefit of the soul – Ask: Who do I need to have coffee or lunch with?
5. Don’t let your doubts get the best of you – Ask: Can I believe without having to see?
6. Stop reverting to your “defaults” – Ask: What are my possibilities?
7. Doing the ordinary is just as important as the extraordinary – Ask: What am I about in the daily?
8. Remember you are not alone – God, are you mad at me? Do you love me? Help me remember that you will never leave me nor forsake me – or just help me remember the proximity of hope!