There was an upper room in Jerusalem. Nothing special about it in particular. Or at least not until this particular day. But a small group was beginning to assemble there. A group of young men caught on that uneven ground between failure and forgiveness. A cluster of souls caught somewhere between “I can’t believe I did that” and, “I’ll never do it again.” A gaggle of young men who were too ashamed to seek forgiveness, but too loyal to give up.
I guess we’ve all been there. We’ve seen our sandcastle promises swept aside by the pounding waves of panic and insecurity. We’ve seen our words of obedience ripped into ribbons by the chainsaw of fear and fright. And perhaps we’ve never felt the rug pulled out from under our feet quite as much as we have today on Easter Sunday in the midst of the storm of COVID-19. We receive daily reports of disease and death. Numbers that, quite frankly, scare us more than we’d care to admit. We’re heading into a financial crisis, the recovery from which will most likely hang like a millstone around the neck of the next generation. We hear worrying cries for adequate amounts of PPE for those key workers on the front line. We struggle on, either in lockdown or self-isolation for an indefinite period. But most of all, we fear for our loved ones. We fear for the health of our health workers. We fear this COVID-19 that has changed the way we live our lives.
But fear is nothing new to the people of God. And this Easter Sunday, we’re reminded of those disciples refusing to give into fear, choosing to step out of the shadows and come back. What made them return? Was it rumours of the resurrection that were rife on the streets? After all, those who had walked with him had learned to expect him to do the unexpected. They’d seen him forgive a woman who had five husbands. They’d seen him honour a pint-sized thief disguised as a tax collector. They’d seen him show love to a prostitute whose reputation would have brought blushes to the faces of the Kray twins. They’d seen him scare the devil out of the possessed and watched him put the fear of God into worshippers.
Traditions had tumbled, the lame had leaped, sinners had sung, Pharisees had fumed, and multitudes had been moved. You don’t just pack your bag and go home after three years like that.
And so, they came to that upper room. Seeking forgiveness for their betrayal, but not knowing where to look for it, these faces emerged from the crowd. They gravitated to that same upper room where they had shared bread and wine together. They come back with a bramble of hope. And there they sat. Behind a locked door. And just when the gloom gets good and thick; just when their wishful thinking was falling victim to pessimistic logic; just when someone says, “I wish I could see him one more time…,” a familiar face walks through the wall.
He who forgave his followers stands ready to forgive the rest of us. If Easter tells us one thing, it’s this: there is hope. Hope that God can do the impossible. Hope that if God can turn around the broken, hurting, lonely lives of his disciples, then he can do the same for each one of us.
Sure, we can’t gather together at church, either today or any coming Sunday in the near future. But we can come together in prayer. Over the phone. Over the internet. A chorus of devotion springing from the heart of saints and sinners alike. A cry for forgiveness. For comfort. For healing. For hope. For peace. For a brighter today, and a better tomorrow.
When the only right thing to do is stay at home and stay safe, we need to do more than look about us. We need to look up. And we need to look within. When 11am on a Sunday is changed for everyone’s safety, the question we need to be asking is simply this: if we have a hope in better days; if we know that even death is defeated; if there is new life available to each and every one of us, no matter the hurt, no matter the sin, then what effect does this have on the way we live? On how we treat others?
In lockdown, we need to focus on prayer, on reading our Bibles, and developing our own relationship with Jesus. And then, when the lockdown is lifted, let’s not get back to normal. Let’s get back to better.