Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Second Sunday in Easter: Joy Unspeakable

Open the doors. Sweep the steps. Get ready for church. Put the bulletins out. Put on the white alb, New Mexican stole. I’m singing How Can I Keep From Singing?, look up, startled to see a visitor. She tells me she’s just enjoying the music. Rachel arrives and I help her through the doors with her walker. 
Amy was on her way from Queens but got caught at the RFK Bridge by the 5 Borough Bike Race. So it will be a capella again. Hope Andre arrives soon. As we gather, I share the news that Hannah has died. Tall and quiet. Had a special closeness with Katherine. One of the last of the first African-American members of the church, live-in domestics who decided to come to church closer than Harlem.  She worked for the same family for 30 years. Raised children. Then she got sick. When they were sure she wouldn’t be coming back, they said  thank you and hired someone new. After all, she’d been slowing down.  She was always the first there in our SPSA years. Helped set up the chairs. And never missed an Easter Sunday service in the Park. I feel very said we didn’t know she was in the hospital. Or died. I will miss her. 
Our lessons today have a lot to do with perishable v imperishable. And How we believe.
The Gospel says that the disciples were shut away behind locked doors for “fear of the Jews”....well, not exactly..who were they? They were all Jews...The point here  is not about Jews, but about fear.  They are afraid even after Mary’s report, they are locked up,shut in, behind closed doors.  Again, that’s the easier place to be. As a small group, easier to keep the doors shut. Mistrust outsiders. Keep things tight-knit, self-contained. Controlled. About fear. Who do we lock the doors against? 

Another question. What’s up with Jesus’ hands and feet? Why do the  wounds remain? Even after resurrection? Wouldn’t it seem logical that if Jesus were raised, he would be made perfect? All wounds healed? 
The point is, they make him who he is, even risen. Us too. Our wounds define us. Eve when we are healed, even when we move on, then scars remain. They can connect us, or separate us. 
Then there’s the so-called Doubting Thomas. He had his own Gospel. His own followers. Much of what you read about him in John represents the dialectic of Thomas v. John. It’s polemic. But let’s take the story as it is. This is the only place in the gospels  this story appears.  (My friend Melissa asked , why did Thomas need to touch the wounds? Why didn’t he just ask for a  hug?) Thomas is being concrete. Won’t get fooled again. Remember, he was the one who said, let’s go with you to die ..It’s a question of seeing is believing v believing is seeing. Thomas  asks the questions no one else will. God always responds to our  true questions. Not necessarily in way we want.
This story is ultimately about our resurrection.  From the death of fear, because that is what fear is, death, to being sent out alive. But it requires the Holy Spirit, the breath of the Holy Spirit, like in the Valley of the dry bones. Like at creation. This is John’s Pentecost.
Once Thomas has seen, once he has made his confession, it is the end of story. No need for more. (And this was the original end of the Gospel of John.)
I need to spend a little time with 1 Peter. It's about us being protected...God active and present...seen/known...
Back in the day, folks used to have a walk around  Bible inside of them. A store of scripture in their head and heart through which to understand the world. So a story...

Back when I lived in Tulsa, I had a friend named  Cheryl. She’d been a student at the University. Had gone on to seminary.Now was back to be ordained. She asked to stay at my place. 
The night before her ordination, we went to a Native American pow wow at Mohawk Park. Watching the Indians make their slow moving circle. An inner circle of elders drumming in the center. The fancy dancers twirling  around the periphery.  When we got ready to leave, I discovered I had lost my car keys. Nothing to do but to call AAA. Get a ride back to my place, get my spare keys.
The AAA pick up arrived. The driver was an old Indian. Long silver hair, tied back in a pony tail. Good laugh lines crinkling his eyes. He looked around. Ah pow wow, he said.  On the drive, he talked of pow wows past. And of the 49's that followed. Don’t know why they called them that. They were kind of after parties for the young people. They’d sit around the fire, share beers, songs, jokes. I went to one once, at Pawnee.
He remembered one particular 49. One particular Indian girl.  The way her skin shone in the firelight. Her shy eyes. The softness of her skin. The cool of the night and the dampness of the grass. Brother, he said, that was joy unspeakable. Joy unspeakable....I realized last night her was quoting the  King James Version of 1 Peter 1:8 . Just the right Bible verse when he needed it.
I realized that somewhere in this resurrection life there needs to be joy unspeakable. What is our joy unspeakable? Where is our joy unspeakable?

I brought my sermon to a close. As the offering was collected, I sang How can I keep from singing? With Andre adding some piano. P____ adding her high little voice from the  pews. I added the verse from Pete Seeger:
When tyrants tremble sick with fear and hear their death knell ringing
When friends rejoice both far and near, how can I keep from singing?
In prison cell and dungeon vile, our thoughts to them go winging
When friends by shame are undefiled, how can I keep from singing?

I reminded the congregation that hr wrote those words in the peak of the Red Scare. In honor of those who refused to cooperate with the House Unamerican Activities Committee. 
As we prepare for communion, Hugo reminds me that it is international workers’ day. It fits with a communion. The work needed to plant, harvest, mill grain. How it must be  ground. And grapes tended, ripened in the sun, crushed. bread of life. Vines and branches. And I remembered May Day in Berlin.
After worship, Session meets. I bring them up to date on the activities if the week.  How it’s time to move beyond how cool it is to be back in the church and are we committed enough to make it real? A solid crew stays to work. Hugo and I take down the Ester signs. Mc Alpin Hall is swept clean. We begin the unpleasant task of making a bathroom usable. We are pouring ourselves into this building. Into these bones. May the  Spirit breathe into us. Make the rising real. 

work crew

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