Our gospel lesson begins with a very odd statement when you think about it. St. John the Evangelist writes, “When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews…” What’s so very odd about it is that you could easily include this parenthetical in your reading: “When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples —who themselves were all Jews—had met were locked for fear of the Jews…” It’s not as if the followers of Jesus weren’t themselves Jewish—they were—or that Jesus himself wasn’t Jewish—he was. It’s that John generally sets up the Jews entirely as antagonists of Jesus, as the ones who don’t receive his teachings or who look for ways to catch Jesus in rhetorical traps when he meant the religious authorities. There are exceptions like Nicodemus who comes to Jesus to learn from him, but often the Jewish leaders see Jesus as a dissident, and so they seek to silence him in order not to disrupt their connection to the Roman Empire, and to maintain their own power.
On the very first Easter, scripture tells us, most of the disciples were holed up behind locked doors full of distress. A few days earlier they had seen Jesus be falsely accused and arrested. Then some stood in a nearby courtyard as the sham trial unfolded and Jesus was found guilty on trumped-up charges. But in that courtyard we saw how quickly Peter disowned even knowing Jesus, fearing for his life. Most of the others had scattered by now, but some followed along with the crowd trying to remain hidden and unknown. Soon enough word got around to all of them that Jesus had died, and had been quickly put in a tomb before sunset.
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” declares the Psalmist in sheer agony. “Why are you so far from my cry and from the words of my distress?”
Jesus himself utters these words from the cross according to the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, who go so far as to leave the cry in the Aramaic, Jesus’ native language. The language closest to his heart. “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani.” My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
I’ve been watching “Lost” with my son the past couple of weeks. We’re only a few episodes in to Season 1, but that season based on the aftermath of a plane crash on a mysterious island feels eerily familiar to our current situation.
The Psalmist sums up exactly where we have been, you and I, these past many days. If there’s been any time in our collective lives where it has felt like we are sinking to the depths of the ocean, that the water has washed over us and we are drowning, that time is now. “From the depths I call out to you, O Lord God, please hear my cry.” Please, Lord, do not leave me to fend for myself, I need you. It feels like this is it. That the end is coming upon us, and I don’t know what to do. God, help.
A number of years ago I was on a weeklong Lenten retreat at a monastery. I stayed at the guesthouse of the Society of St. John the Evangelist in Newburyport, MA which is this tremendously beautiful old New England farmhouse. I’ve forgotten now what the topic was that week for the times of reflection followed by long stretches of silence, but I do remember that this date fell during that time.
It happened again today. I got sucked in to social media sites, first checking the latest news (not good), then getting the updates from friends I’ve not seen since high school (how to do home schooling), and then a chuckling at a few dozen memes before checking the news again and restarting the whole process.
I’m not sure about you, but I really needed to hear the words of the 23rd Psalm this morning. We’ll read it again on Good Shepherd Sunday—the 4th Sunday of Easter, 6 weeks from now—but it’s a balm right now, at a time when the world as we have known it slips away and we don’t know how to respond. I’m grateful for this “psalm of sustenance,” as one commentator put it, in a time when nourishment for our souls seems nearly impossible to find.
This past week I had to keep asking myself what day it was. I got up at my normal time every day and did my morning routine, but after that all bets were off. I didn’t drive the kids to school like I normally do. My calendar quickly cleared out as first a Bible study, and then a coffee with one parishioner and a lunch with another got pushed off indefinitely. On Wednesday I didn’t have the follow-up doctor’s appointment that could wait, and I spent Thursday in virtual meetings that would have happened in person otherwise.
There is no denying it, friends: we are in the wilderness.
This past week has been one of uncertainty, anxiety, and trying to prepare for the unexpected. And it’s as if time has screeched to a halt. A friend posted online that she thought it was the change to Daylight Saving Time that would tire her out this week. I replied, “Was that really just last Sunday?”