Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.Luke 24:36b-48 (NRSV)
Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.
Just before the new year began, I sat at my kitchen table dropping yellow construction paper stars into envelopes as I got ready to mail them out to the members and friends of our church. It has been a tradition, for several years in Oldtown, to receive a “star word” on Epiphany Sunday, a word that is meant to guide you through the year like the star that guided the wise men from afar to find the Christ child in Bethlehem.
I tried my best not to look at what word I was sending to each person, though occasionally I would catch a glimpse and think to myself, “Is that the right word for that person?” You see usually, we hand out the star words during in-person worship, and then I am in no way involved in the selections.
Once all the envelopes were filled, sealed, addressed, and stamped, I decided to reach into the basket for my own star. Memories flooded back to a little over a year ago in our sanctuary, when I had reached into the basket during worship to receive a star that said: “persevere.” Persevere? What was that supposed to mean? Well, two and a half months later when the Covid-19 pandemic began, I suddenly understood what the word “persevere” stood for, and what it would mean in my life.
So this year, sitting at my kitchen table, I closed my eyes, plunged my hand into the basket of stars, and mixed them around because I wanted to be sure I got just the right one. I stopped for a moment, dreaming of the perfect star. “Joy,” “unconditional love,” “grace,” “quiet reflection,” “compassion”–there were so many good choices. My hand finally settled on the right one, and I excitedly opened my eyes only to see two stars stuck together in my hand. Ugh! How was I supposed to pick which one was the right one? What if I chose the wrong one?
After a moment of deep introspection, I decided to keep both. My reasoning was mainly that maybe they would balance me out, or better yet maybe they would help me to wrestle with things a little more than I normally do. (Folks, at this point I have to pastorally remind all of you to be careful what you ask for!)
The star words in my hand were “witnessing” and “restraint.” Well, witnessing, my friends is what the great fifty days between Easter and Pentecost are all about because the resurrection on Easter has shown us that life is all about possibilities and new beginnings. It’s not about having all the answers and doing what we have always done but instead, it’s about learning to live in the mystery of our faith. It’s about allowing ourselves to experience hope and not being afraid to try new things.
Because the truth is, my friends, the resurrection becomes more than just a story in a book when besides simply telling the story, year after year, we truly begin to allow it to not only happen in our own lives, but also in our communities and in our churches. When we have the courage to build and stretch and grow, not only listening to the story and shouting alleluia every year, but having the courage to step out into what makes our faith, our lives, and our church relevant to today! That, my friends, is what the resurrection is all about!
During the Great Fifty Days between Easter and Pentecost, we hear story after story in the gospels of Jesus appearing to the disciples: while they are locked behind closed doors out of fear, or while they are walking on the road when they don’t recognize who he is, or even blindly sitting and sharing a meal with him. And friends, when we simply listen to the story and then go on with our lives as usual, we do the exact same thing. We allow fear and comfort and even tradition to dull our passions, and to blind us to the amazing presence of God all around us.
Friends, we were created as Children of God, to walk our own paths, to forge sacred journeys, and to go on amazing adventures as individuals, as communities, and as churches, knowing that God walks the paths and journeys and adventures with us.
I started out our time together today telling you about two construction paper stars that said “witnessing” and “restraint.” When I received them, I had no idea what they were going to mean to my faith journey. They sit on my desk and I look at them every day. I wonder about them. Sometimes I laugh at them. I open my heart to them in my prayers. And during the season of Lent, I even tried to look at them through the lens of love. But it wasn’t until the resurrection on Easter Sunday that I began to truly understand how they work together. Because in order to really witness to the resurrection, making it more than just a nice story, we have to use restraint. We can’t allow our lives to go on as normal like nothing has changed. We have to have the courage to step forward in our faith, using our hearts and hands to share the unconditional love of God not only with ourselves, and with our families, but with the world, using restraint when it comes to simply going through the motions and truly witnessing to the good news! Can I get a witness?