April 24, 2022

Second Sunday of Easter, Pastor Lois Pallmeyer, April 24, 2022

Dear Friends in Christ, God’s grace and peace be with you. Amen.

A rare tropical flower, the Gasteranthus extinctus, was last documented in 1985, and at the time, thought to be nearly extinct. But last week, near a highly deforested area of Ecuador, botanists were thrilled to find that the wildflower was still blooming in parts of the remaining cloud forest after all: a sign of hope in the devastating destruction of native environments. Scientists can now look for ways to encourage local farmers and research teams to work for the flower’s survival[i].  Healing in the place of destruction offers them the promise of new possibilities, and in fact, other new species have been discovered alongside the tiny flower, even in the few remaining patches of cloud forest[ii]

Signs of resurrection are discovered in broken places.

It was the signs of Jesus’ broken body that Thomas needs to convince him of the resurrection[iii]. Thomas insists on touching Jesus’ wounds, needs to put his hand in Jesus’ side and touch the holes in his hands to be persuaded that Jesus is alive. Jesus’ body was not unscathed by the cross, but still carries the marks of suffering. Even in resurrection, as Anglican Priest Sue Grace writes, Jesus is left with, “the mark of grace as a sign of undying love and as an entry point for our own healing and restoration[iv].”

I think many people presume that faith must come from something triumphant. We may hope to see God in stunning displays of beauty or amazing strength. We may wish to witness God’s power in something miraculous or unexplainable. We’d like to meet the Risen Savior. We may pray for some remarkable demonstration of healing.

But in reality, many of us notice that our faith has grown the most in times of loss or suffering. We may not feel it at the time, but in hindsight, we realize how grace was strongest when we were at our worst, when our need was most pronounced or our heartache most unfathomable, as a loved one lay dying, or as our world seemed to fall apart.

We’ve felt God’s presence in places where something small has surprised us, where someone we’ve barely known reached out in a gesture of compassion or touched us with some random act of unnecessary kindness. We’ve discovered reconciliation and been touched by forgiveness in a relationship we long had presumed was unsalvageable. We’ve witnessed the power of God in others around us who have been abandoned or abused, but who despite their difficulties, give thanks to God for their lives and their sense of hope.  We’ve been moved not by something magnificent or dramatic, but by the welcome gift of another new morning after a sleepless night, or the smile of a stranger, or the return of a bird’s song after a long winter. It is in broken places and experiences that our Risen Savior continues to let us touch his hands and side, and invites us to claim new life there.

What is broken in your life that may be a place for God’s resurrection to take root?

The pain in the stories from Ukraine demonstrate once again to us the brutality of unchecked power and despotism. It’s hard for most of us to fathom how any lasting peace will be realized before horrendous destruction has taken place.

But the witness of those Ukrainians who continue to believe in a future for their country offer a different image to us. The jazz clubs and orchestras that find ways to continue performing, those who sing their national anthem and native folk songs in shelters, individuals in Poland and Moldova who welcome their neighbors with open hearts and homes, and those around the world who are stepping in with ways to support them are signs of new life in the midst of the destruction.

Throughout the pandemic, we heard countless stories of people who found ways to care for those around them, too. Chefs turned their restaurants into soup kitchens, and offered carryout meals at whatever patrons could afford to pay. Others started making meals for frontline workers, or began delivering meals to homebound neighbors. Teachers moved their classrooms on-line. Counselors and psychologists met their clients over the phone or on zoom. Drivers delivered groceries to those who couldn’t leave their homes. Somehow, one after another of us reimagined our work to meet demands of people in need. Somehow, we made life work regardless of the challenges.

We’ve wondered about what would happen to our congregation through it all too. Could a faith community survive without gathering physically? We know that there was suffering in our not being able to gather. It may be years before we fully realize the extent of the wounds Christ’s body suffered through it all.

But as Easter people, we also see signs of life in spite of those wounds. As in a spring thaw, we catch glimpses of all the new ministries that have taken root during this time. We notice deeper involvement and possibility in the midst of the brokenness.

Today we are recognizing volunteers and servants of the congregation. Many of you found new ways of serving through this long season, or have remained faithful to tasks you always knew to be life giving: making meals for Highland Elementary students; serving dinners through Loaves and Fishes; sewing quilts for people around the world; prayerfully knitting shawls for those experiencing loss; teaching Sunday School in creative and new ways; mentoring confirmands; delivering meals to those who need a hand; sending cards to those who are unable to get out; maintaining our gardens; advocating for racial justice; caring for creation; envisioning a new apartment for asylum seekers; working in our library; serving on our council; sorting through our archives; praying for those on our prayer list; serving receptions after funerals, even when only a few family members could gather, or more recently when it was safe for the church to be full; repurposing this space as a sanctuary; and keeping it fresh through the various liturgical seasons; ushering; greeting; serving communion at this table; singing in the choir – even when you could only record your anthems on line – (Talk about a challenge!).

You’ve helped hold us together, despite the brokenness of these difficult years. You’ve continued to witness to the love of God, to the very body of Christ, wounded, yet alive, and ready to meet the needs of the world.

Some of your service has allowed you to touch the brokenness around us, and has given you chances to see God living even through the pain. In other cases, you have touched us with your own broken stories, and have served as a witness to the ways God brings life, even through scarred and wounded members of Christ’s body.

None of us did any of the work to which we were called perfectly. We are broken and human, and even in the best of circumstances, we come to our tasks with confusion, pride, imperfections, and hang-ups.

But since the beginning, God uses clay vessels, even broken hearts and wounded hands for the healing of the world. In spite of our imperfect lives and ambitions, God fills us with the breath of life, and claims us as the Body of Christ in the world.

You’ve probably heard of, or at least seen kintsugi —  the Japanese art of repairing damaged pottery pieces with gold or silver lacquer[v]. Rather than throwing away a broken cup or teapot, kintsugi allows the potter to glue the pieces back together, creating a new, uniquely patterned bowl or pot sometimes considered even more beautiful, and perhaps more resilient, than the original piece. The scars become seen as a part of the design, and the process treats breaking and mending as a unique aspect of an object’s history, rather than cause for its disposal: signs of new life in broken pieces[vi].

Dear friends in Christ, we are all wounded members of this family, witnesses to the Resurrection, invited into the shining veins of healing God uses to mend the world. Who knows whether, after years of feeling extinct, broken, or irrelevant, God’s work may blossom through our efforts once again, and allow our lives to truly say, Christ is Risen!

[i] Megan Marples, CNN. “Botanists rediscovered a rare tropical flower thought to be extinct for 36 years, “ April 15, 2022, https://www.cbs58.com/news/botanists-rediscovered-a-rare-tropical-flower-thought-to-be-extinct-for-36-years.

[ii] ibid.

[iii] Gospel text for the second Sunday of Easter, John 20:19-31.

[iv] “Easter Two: The Wounds that Heal,” Companions on the Way. https://www.companionsontheway.com/post/easter-two-the-wounds-that-heal

[v] Tiffany Ayuda, “How the Japanese Art Technique Can Help You Deal with Stressful Situations,”
Better by Today.  https://www.nbcnews.com/better/health/how-japanese-art-technique-kintsugi-can-help-you-be-more-ncna866471

[vi] Photo credit:  Marco Montalti. Getty Images/iStockphoto. Free images on Unsplash