Sightings of the Risen Lord in Stamford – April 15, 2018
The door was locked. The disciples were gathered inside that upper room. They were deeply unsettled, surprised, scared and yet hopeful about the news they were hearing from some in their own inner circle. Jesus was alive!? They could hardly believe it. After all, they’d seen him die. Now, 3 days later, the tomb was empty; that much they knew for certain. Peter now said that had seen him. A couple walking from Jerusalem to the little village of Emmaus met him on the road. He helped explain the scripture to them and they suddenly recognized him as he broke the bread. What could all this mean(?) they wondered. And then, suddenly, Jesus himself stood among them, right there at the table with them. They were shocked and terrified. Have you ever seen a ghost? Probably not, but the thought of seeing one is pretty scary isn’t it? Jesus had to show them he was real. He wasn’t a ghost or a disembodied spirit. He was flesh and blood. He showed them the nail holes in his hands and feet. And he asked for something to eat, eating a bit of fried fish and bread. A ghost couldn’t do that. The risen Lord was real; he was solid; he was alive.
That early Christian community experienced the reality of the risen Lord Jesus Christ in a number of ways. The resurrected Lord appeared bodily among them for some 40 days before he ascended. The chosen disciple band were eye witnesses. And then the early Christian community continued to experience Jesus’ embodied presence, whenever they gathered to break bread and drank wine in his memory. They experienced Jesus in their worship and the warmth and love of their community. They recognized him as their eyes were opened to understand the scriptures. When they served others, as they cared for those who were sick, clothed the naked, visited those who were in prison, it was as if they were visiting Jesus himself. As they told stories and passed on the stories they had heard about all Jesus had done in Galilee, teaching, healing, proclaiming the good news, it was as if he were with them. Above all they experienced the power of his victory over death.
Jesus’ disciples did as Jesus asked them to do in this morning’s Gospel, to be his witnesses. In the Acts of the Apostles lesson Peter, James and John had just brought Jesus’ healing grace to a cripple. Then, as we heard, Peter shared with the crowd who gathered to see the cripple who had begged by the gate now walking, the powerful story of Jesus, crucified and now risen.
The reason we have the good news of Jesus today is because that early church experienced the reality of their risen Lord in concrete ways. We are the inheritors of that early Christian community. We continue to be witnesses of the living, risen Lord today.
We, as Christians continue to experience our risen Lord Jesus Christ. He is embodied (made flesh) in the love we share. He is embodied in the mouths we feed, the bodies we clothe, the people we visit, and in the lives of the people we serve. He is present to us in scripture and in prayer and in mediation and in ministry. We receive him in bread and wine. If we are faithful we invite him to live in our hearts. Those traditional practices are how we continue to know the flesh and blood concrete and nearness of Jesus our risen Lord.
Our Bishop has asked us to go further. Bishop Douglas has challenged the Episcopal Church in Connecticut to go outside our parish walls to discover Jesus’ living reality also in the world. In this day and age of “post-Christiandom” he challenges us to look in our neighborhood and discover where God is present and active. It’s not enough any longer in what is increasingly a “post-Christian” world to sit in our parish churches and wait for people to come to us. For increasingly, people are not coming to us. We are living in a post-Christian age. We need to go out into the world and meet people where they are. We need to be the church not only at 628 Main Street but also on Broad Street and on Bedford, and on Tressor and Henry Streets and Greenwich and Darien and Norwalk and beyond. God’s living presence is active in our world, our neighborhood and our Church.
There are two parts to a bishop’s visit. One is for the Bishop to preside at a worship service, which Bishop Ian did at our 275th Anniversary celebration on November 6 of last year. The other part is that he meets with the Vestry (the Church leadership). We’ve scheduled that meeting for May 1. Our assignment before that meeting is to go out and walk our neighborhood, however we define it, and note “where God has moved into the neighborhood to make what is broken whole.” Today some of our Vestry members will be taking that walk in the downtown area of Stamford. Yesterday some others of us walked around Stamford’s rapidly growing, changing and gentrifying South End. I had the privilege of walking with Anne Mavor Bear, who thankfully has a better sense of direction than I do.
Our walk took us from Canal Street to Pacific Street and some of the shoreline and neighborhoods in between. We witnessed the intersection of old, often dilapidated, neighborhoods and upscale expensive new high-rise apartment buildings as well as businesses and office buildings. It is interesting to put on a different set of glasses as it were, a different lens to view the neighborhood, than how I normally see it. “How has God moved into this neighborhood to make the broken whole?”
Anne and I noted some interesting things. So many old and decrepit buildings: warehouses, abandoned shops and factories have been torn down and a whole new community is rising in its place. It’s exciting to see what has happened and all the building that is still taking place in this part of Stamford. For those finding new homes and community and opportunity it is undoubtedly a kind of healing of that which was broken. But to those whose neighborhoods are being disrupted, who are being priced out of their homes, it is far from healing. Anne pointed out to me Serendipity Labs on Canal Street, a building where individuals can rent office space in an open office setting, so that there can be “serendipitous” connections and interactions. Next we noticed Woodlawn Cemetery, an old and beautiful green space in the midst of a vibrant city. In the midst of a graveyard we are reminded of our hope in Christ beyond the grave. The quiet and peace of that setting can bring healing and wholeness. One of the people we met and talked with is the owner of a new spa. This amazingly fit looking young woman athlete was a former professional weight lifter. She was excited to show us the special infrared heated spa rooms where one can be rejuvenated and experience physical healing through a variety of treatments. We passed Inspirica, which is provides housing and hope to many in breaking the cycle of homelessness. We saw where other vital community services are housed. We saw parks and children playing. We saw places of worship.
The ways in which God is moving into the neighborhood to make the broken whole are ways that we as Christians can see God embodied, God incarnated, God’s love made a flesh and blood reality in the world.
Jesus challenged his disciples in today’s Gospel to be witnesses to his flesh and blood reality, the reality of his dying for us and rising from the grave to lead us into new life. We see those same disciples sharing that witness in the Acts of the Apostles. How can we be witnesses to Christ’s victory over death in a post-Christian age, an age that no longer props up and supports the Church, but largely ignores it? How can we be witnesses to his reality in the midst of our community where, if we open our eyes to see, God’s love is in many ways active and making the broken whole?
Jesus is not a ghost. He is not spiritual only, but flesh and blood, alive. He is real. He is substantive. Jesus’ love, a love that conquers death and gives life to those who are entombed, needs to be incarnated, embodied, made flesh and blood reality. How can we as a parish and as individuals find that resurrection power not only within these walls, but also outside of these walls in our neighborhood? How can we share Jesus’ resurrection power with people in our neighborhood? How can we share in some of the ways that God is already bringing healing in the neighborhood and how can we invite people in the neighborhood to discover ways that God is bringing healing and life within these walls, in our worship, in our community and in the love of Christ we share?
I wish I had the answers to all these questions, but that’s a journey we need to continue on. For Jesus calls us, as those disciples in the locked upper room, to be his witnesses.