Beyond Opening Day

[special_heading title=”Beyond Opening Day” subtitle=”by Louise Westfall” separator=”yes”]We’ve just celebrated our annual Spring mega-holiday, the glorious beginning of a whole new season!  The sun shone brightly; the music was upbeat; banners were flying; we enjoyed reunions with people we hadn’t seen in a while; everyone was smiling, and even strangers high-fived…

Yes, there’s nothing like the home opener of the Colorado Rockies (even though they lost the game).      Maybe you thought I was referring to the Christian’s mega-holiday—Easter–and the association was intended.  I don’t think it’s too far of a stretch to say that Opening Day is to baseball what Easter is to church.  Both are days when hopes are highest; everything is fresh and new and the world seems shimmering with possibility.  Resurrection… Rocktober.  Ah!

And for both, what happens after “opening day” is actually what matters and makes the difference.  After a discouraging losing streak, the Rockies’ bats seem to be coming alive; and the pitchers are throwing heat.     For Jesus’ disciples’ the days following Easter were perplexing.  The women had told amazing stories of an empty tomb and Mary Magdalene had looked them in the eye and proclaimed I have seen the Lord.  But they hadn’t.  Could it be true?  And as Jesus’ followers, they feared their own arrest and execution.  So they hid out together behind locked doors, restless, and unsure.

A reading from the gospel according to John, in the twenty-first chapter, at the first verse.  Thanks to Rob and Tim for helping us experience the conversational nature of this encounter over a meal, and how it utterly disrupted the routine; upended expectations, and launched them toward a world series beyond imagination.  Listen for God’s Word to the team.   [John 21:1-19, read responsively with Tim and Rob]

What happens after Easter?

Well, in this text the disciples try to get back to life as usual only to find it empty without Jesus.  When he calls to them from the shore, he seems to understand their need and provides abundance and nourishment.  Jesus takes bread as he had done so many times before, and gives it to each, a fitting reminder of the communion they had shared.  This is my body, given for you.  Now here I am, alive, and still for you.  The disciples ate and rose from that breakfast new men.  Their fear was transformed into bold faith that produced joy and a new mission: to take the bread of Jesus into the wide and wild world.

Then the scene shifts to a close-up of Jesus and Peter.  Peter—whose name means “Rock,” — had been the first to confess Jesus as Messiah, Son of the living God.  Yet that last week, when Jesus was arrested, and the wheels were coming off the whole enterprise, in fear of his own skin, Peter had denied even knowing him three times.  Is it mere coincidence that Jesus invites Peter to declare his love and devotion three times?

I wish we had a record of the whole conversation, instead of this er… redacted summary.  Surely Peter spoke of his regret and the bitter tears he shed.  He’s ashamed at the possibility that Jesus might doubt his sincerity.  Yet the text is clear that this is a scene of forgiveness and reconciliation.  The breach caused by Peter’s denial is overcome in the grace of resurrection.     I hear Jesus speaking with the future — not the past — gleaming in his eye.   What the disciples thought had ended on the cross, in the tomb, was anything but over.  It’s a new day.  And Peter, like the others, has a new job.  Do you love me?  Feed my sheep.  Do you love me?  Tend my sheep.  Do you love me?  Feed my sheep.  Do you love me?

Easter has come and gone once again. Jesus’ question echoes across millennia.  Christ’s resurrection is not an ending but a beginning.  What happens beyond this great opening day?  What happens after worship, after another news cycle of terror and violence, after the alleluias die away?   The resurrection demonstrates that Christian faith is one of second chances.  Imperfect as we all are, we are called to rise: to love again; to forgive one another; and to recommit ourselves to following Jesus no matter where the journey takes us.

So I’ve been looking for examples of people doing that.  Feeding God’s people with the bread of life.  Rising from feelings of disappointment or inadequacy or guilt to commit acts of hope and healing.  Working with others to change the rules of a game stacked against some of the most vulnerable players.[callout_box title=”The resurrection demonstrates that Christian faith is one of second chances. Imperfect as we all are, we are called to rise: to love again; to forgive one another; and to recommit ourselves to following Jesus no matter where the journey takes us. ” subtitle=””]The world mourned at the sight of the historic, magnificent Notre Dame Cathedral burning from a fire occurring during a massive renovation project.  Most moving to me were the photographs of people gathered to watch and grieve together at this symbol of faith, architectural treasure, a monument to human perseverance and devotion to Divine worship.  One French commentator noted that in the largely secular country, “Today we are all Catholics.”  Far fewer people noticed news of three small Louisiana churches burned to the ground by human hands motivated by racial hatred.  These historically African American congregational leaders spoke in the aftermath, declaring their forgiveness of those who had perpetrated the crime, adding, “Our buildings were destroyed … our churches live.”   They began a GoFundMe campaign to rebuild.  It started slow, but in the wake of the Notre Dame fire and assisted by social media users spreading awareness of the need, people from all over the country and even France contributed over 2 million dollars—surpassing the fundraising goal.   [ 2019/04/16]

Sherry and Andy Kenney met at Central, and have been active members for over thirty years.  They have been concerned about conditions at the US/Mexico border, where thousands of migrants from Latin America seek asylum in the United States, and strongly believe that a higher, longer wall is not the answer.  So they traveled to El Paso and spent a week working with churches who provide hospitality and support to those awaiting court hearings or travel arrangements from in-country sponsors.  No miracles were performed, unless you count having a shower and clean clothes, a hot meal, and your own cot.  Unless you count being able to pick out shoes that fit, and receive needed medications for your children.   Sherry wrote, As amazing as the courage and patience of those who are migrating,  is the generosity of those who are welcoming.  The median household income in El Paso is $42,000 . . . these are not wealthy people, yet they volunteer their time and purchase what is needed to help others.  Although we avoided discussing politics, it was clear that the citizens of El Paso are on various sides of the immigration issue.  But everyone agrees that welcoming and serving “the least of these” is the way we follow Jesus. 

Zach Warren agrees. He and Jess and their daughter are more recent Central members.  As a civil rights attorney, Zach volunteers with the Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network to assist migrants and refugees navigate the complex legal system with able representation.  He recalls children as young as five with little English language skills having to appear before a judge alone, without family or legal support.     Beyond Easter’s empty tomb, Zach works to bring good news to the poor and release to the captives.

Central’s celebration of resurrection began in a shadowed sanctuary, illuminated solely by these thirteen candles, representing the students and teacher who died at Columbine, twenty years ago.   We acknowledged the pain of loss that nothing can comfort completely, and increased doubt that schools can truly be secured.  Yet we also looked into those tombs with Easter eyes and felt strengthened to “practice resurrection,” and address the multiple causes of school violence.  This week I learned of a young woman, Amanda Nguyen, founder of an organization called Rise, which has been working with Parkland high school students in their efforts to develop solutions to gun violence.  One of those students testified before the Colorado legislature which went on to pass a “red flag bill” aimed at removing guns from people in immediate crisis.  Nguyen’s work grew out of her own experience of surviving sexual assault — her testimony and tireless advocacy helped a gridlocked US Congress pass a national survivors’ rights act… unanimously.  What motivates her is not revenge but wholeness; not by exacting an “eye for an eye,” but calling for restorative justice.  She calls herself “driven by kindness,” and was recently nominated to receive this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.

There are other stories of practicing resurrection, but I’ll save them for another time.  The funny thing is, the more you look at the world with Easter eyes, the more examples you find.

Friends, the “proof” of opening day is confirmed only by all the games that come after.  And so far?  Well, I have hope.

The “proof” of Easter is confirmed only by all the life-giving acts that come after — all the ways we feed and tend Christ’s beloved flock here and in the world out there.

Last Sunday we invited everyone to take a packet of columbine seeds and plant them as an act of resurrection.  (we have more seed packets to distribute today)  One Central family sent me a photograph of a small area of their yard they’d cultivated for the seeds.  For now, just a bare patch of ground.  But they have hope.

Alleluia!  Amen.