The risen Christ needs our hands and hearts, for we are living in crazy and sad times.
Jesus stands on the Lakeshore in today’s gospel and tells Peter to “feed my sheep” in a three-fold pattern that echoes Peter’s denial of Jesus before the rooster crowed on that fateful morning when Jesus was taken captive, when Jesus was taken to be crucified.
We have been taken captive by crazy and sad times. Crazy and sad times when young man brought up in a Christian family walked into a San Diego synagogue last week and opened fire. Crazy and sad times indeed when I, along with other interfaith leaders, were called to a last minute meeting on Wednesday morning with the New Paltz School superintendent and others to discuss what we might collectively do about the Anti-Semitic graffiti that keeps popping up in New Paltz High School and Middle School.
“We are living in crazy and sad times.” These were the words my interfaith colleague and friend Shir Yaakov used to begin the Holocaust Memorial Service held this past Weds night in Deyo Hall here in New Paltz. Yes, that was the same night that this last minute meeting with the New Paltz School District superintendent was scheduled to address the anti-semitic graffiti - how crazy is that?
At first Shir asked me to attend simply to be in solidarity as a Christian clergy person alongside our Jewish sisters and brothers. To gather in solidarity as they honored the memory of the six million Jewish lives plus one million other unnamed lives lost, and proclaimed that they would work together so that this will never happen again.
Then, Shir wrote to me again, wondering if I might share the now famous quote from Lutheran Pastor Martin Niemoller. You might remember that Pastor Niemoller was one of those who did not initially speak out against the Nazis, but later came to believe he had been horribly wrong. Then Niemoller joined the resistance to the Nazis and was arrested and imprisoned in a concentration camp. He came out alive, freed by the Allied forces. And Niemoller, upon gaining his freedom, wrote the following quote:
First they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist. Then they came for the Socialists and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out.
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Thanks to a risen Christ Pastor Niemoller was able to acknowledge his sin and complicity in all that had happened in a way that allowed for God’s light to shine down through the years, all the way to us.
These are crazy and sad times indeed. Yet there is light and hope when, in the midst of these times, God brings us together, brings is “to gather” in solidarity, remembering those who have stood for truth and righteousness, and spoken up and spoken out.
Also, it is in the midst of these crazy and sad times that we gather around the scripture lessons for today, gathering with our hungry hearts, longing to be fed with the bright light and hope of Christ. For in scripture we hear - as we always hear and know it to be true again - that Christ has risen from the dead and placed hell and every crazy and sad time that ever has or ever will be under foot.
Today we hear of one of the Jesus post resurrection appearances – another Jesus-is-not-dead-but-alive “happening.”
We have already heard about how Jesus appeared behind the closed and locked doors of the upper room to the disciples once without and once with Thomas. Now Jesus appears here on the Lakeshore to the disciples, and there are several themes common in both stories that are worth noticing.
First: the disciples do not recognize him. This should be comforting to any and all of us who feel like we “miss it” when Jesus appears in our lives and right in front of our faces. Or for any and all of us who are struggling right now to see Jesus in these crazy and sad times.
Second: In both instances Jesus makes himself known in physical ways such as breaking bread and praying, showing his wounded hands and side, and eating cooked fish over a campfire. Jesus’ eternal and amazing and wondrous risen presence is known and experienced in common and everyday acts. As Christians we gather weekly - and more when we can - to receive this extraordinary physical and mystical presence of Jesus in Holy Communion - a gift that is augmented in a particular and deeply unique way through the arms and heart of the community in which it is received.
Finally: In each instance of Jesus appearing post resurrection there is an action carried forward as a direct result of Jesus being there - fully resurrected - among the disciples.
In the Upper Room the Holy Spirit is breathed upon the disciples so that they might forgive the sins of others and carry this Jesus-loving-us-into-new-life-story to others. Now - here by the Lakeshore - Peter and the disciples are told to feed the sheep. Feed God’s sheep!
Yes! Jesus, as we come to you hungry ourselves and receive the real bread from heaven we naturally long to share this gift with others. We long to be like your other disciples who told those who were not with them that God lives - Jesus is risen and therefore there will come a time when weeping will cease and the world will be made new. We stand together with other Christians in this knowledge and we stand together with our interfaith neighbors and others whose beliefs are not the same as ours.
Yes! Jesus, as we witness your fullness of forgiveness and love revealed in every day bread and wine and community gathered we find that we long to be part of your hands feeding those in bodily need as well - getting out to the farm and over to the store and into the campus to labor for short and long term solutions to food insecurity.
Yes! Jesus, we say “yes!” - with your help - to it all. For you are the risen Christ and with you all things are possible, even as you work with our wounded and weary selves.
Yes, we are living in crazy and sad times. Yet the people of God still gather. And we tell the stories of God’s faithful, filling, forgiving, and forever work for the world. This is the bread from which we will never be hungry again. This is the bread that will give us the strength needed to find local solutions to building love, not hate in our schools, our community, and the world, and to stand up for what is right again and again and again.
For Christ is risen.
Christ is risen indeed, Alleluia.