April 11, 2021
Second Sunday of Easter, Pastor Lois Pallmeyer
Dear Friends in Christ, God’s grace and peace be with you. Amen.
Throughout Lent, we worshiped on Wednesday nights though YouTube, using Paul Damico-Carper’s version of Light of Love Evening Prayer, created when he was on staff at Holden Village in 2008*.
Evening Prayer follows a traditional pattern of psalms and prayers, some which are always included, with the option to include others. Paul chose to include Psalm 133 in his version.
“How good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity.
“It is like fine oil upon the head, flowing down upon the beard of Aaron, flowing down upon the collar of his robe.
“It is like the dew of Hermon, flowing down upon the hills of Zion.
“For there the Lord ordained his blessing, life forevermore.[i]”
Do you like that? Or, like me, did you take a double take that the first time we sang this, thinking, “What?” Is it pleasant to have oil flowing down one’s beard and all over the collar? That sounds… messy to me. Oil flowing freely and abundantly is kind of a problem.
Psalm 133 was sung for generations by people who didn’t always get along. Northerners (also known as Israelites, Galileans, and Samaritans) lived in the shadow of Mount Hermon. They traced their heritage to Moses and Jacob, to the ten tribes of the North, and felt cut off from the monarchy in Judah to the South[ii].
As Dr. Diane Jacobson describes, the two kingdoms of North and South were divided like Palestinians from Israelis, like Sunnis from Shiites, like Red states from Blue, like Black people from white, like the wealthy from the poor, like folks from across the Twin Cities who struggle over issues of faith and life[iii]. Psalm 133 was sung by people from both the north and the south, as they together make a pilgrimage to Zion, that southern mountain, to worship.
But the Psalmist realizes that nature doesn’t respect socio-political fault lines. Mount Hermon in the north enjoys springtime melting snows, the runoff which feeds the River Jordan, and refreshes even the hills of Jerusalem. If Zion in the south can enjoy the refreshing dews of Herman in the north, if the oil drips down off the beard and soaks even the robes of the Priest Aaron, then God’s blessing can’t be held by just some of us. God’s unction grace drenches all of us, and leaves no one out.
What a strange, but sweet psalm to link up with the story of Thomas[iv]. Thomas, we remember, missed the first show. Jesus had appeared to the disciples that first Sunday night, the night of the resurrection, and Thomas wasn’t there.
We usually think he was just off some place, maybe picking up groceries or running some errands. Joy Moore, of Luther Seminary, wonders whether it could have been something deeper. Was Thomas not getting along with the others[v]? Had he experienced the crucifixion differently? Had his not trusting their report of seeing the Risen Jesus built some kind of a wedge between him and the other disciples? Did he hear their news and rather than rejoice, feel resentful, as if he had been left out?
In these past few months, many of us can describe a change of focus in our conversations. There was a feeling of us all being in 2020 together. For nearly that whole year, we worked together to isolate, to support each other, to remain diligent and patient. We all shared the same experience, the same pain, the same hopes, the same disappointments. All for one, and one for all.
And then all of a sudden, in the middle of December, vaccines became available. Not for everyone, but for small pockets of people, first health care workers, then people living in long term care facilities, and then a few others. Things shifted from a shared group experience, to an individual desperate hope to get on some list, find some vacancy, learn about some available clinic taking appointments, find a vaccine.
One by one, people posted happy, buoyant pictures on their social media feeds, sent out happy texts to their family, put on stickers and celebrated their happy news. “I’ve been jabbed!”
And we began to notice this growing anxiety of who was in and who wasn’t, who had seen the resurrection, and who was still hiding behind closed doors, searching websites, calling clinics, and holding their breath. Most of us tried to celebrate for our friends who had had their turn, but a few bold people were honest enough to share their pain aloud, “I’m having vaccine envy!”
There’s been an awkward messiness built into the way the vaccines have rolled out; some people had access, some didn’t. It was unavoidable, I understand: there were only so many available doses delivered, and the doctors, nurses, and people most at risk simply had to be first. The sooner any of us were vaccinated, the faster the whole of us would be. The clinics had to give out the vaccines one by one. There was no other way. It was meant to be fair and orderly, but there was randomness built into the distribution. We’ve realized that things haven’t always proceeded equitably across the society.
Thomas is like those who were left out of the inside track on the vaccine. Still wearing his mask, still keeping away from the crowd, Thomas discovers that ten of his friends have witnessed a miracle, while he’s missed out. He’s not happy about it. He finds it hard to rejoice for them, because until he, too, has a shot at seeing Jesus, none of the blessing seems to be for him.
Jesus doesn’t leave him out, of course. It’s like the clinic calling just one week later giving him an appointment. Jesus appears to Thomas that following Sunday, and gives him just the assurance he needs.
Thomas’ response is stronger even than Mary’s or the other disciples’. This isn’t just Rabbouni[vi], isn’t just the Lord. Thomas confesses a deeper truth, claiming Jesus as his God. As far as we know, he never looks back. Thomas is believed to have spread the story of Jesus further than the others, bringing the message to as far as southern India. The blessing of the Risen Savior wasn’t just for the earliest witnesses, he learns, but for the whole world. Not just for those who see, but for those who hear the good news through them.
We might ask whether it would have worked better if Jesus had showed up for everyone all at once. Why just a few disciples at a time, one in the garden, a few on the road, some, but not all behind closed doors? Couldn’t there have been a less random way?
But like a vaccine that has to be administered one person to another, God chooses to be particular. God uses real people, daily experiences, one-on-one conversations, friend to friend invitations, person by person, neighbor to acquaintance to congregation member, to turn the world around. Because, just like the glistening, morning dew, the goodness of God doesn’t work if it stays put. It’s meant to flow. It’s meant to spread from us to others.
Those first vaccinated people back in December and January didn’t stay at the vaccination site to enjoy their new resistance to infection. Health care workers were empowered to get back to their hospital wards. People in long term care facilities were able to receive visits from loved ones. The blessing of the vaccine isn’t realized if vaccinated people stay isolated, but is celebrated as they can reenter their relationships and community.
When Jesus meets the disciples on the first evening, he shares peace with them, and breathes life into them. He fills them with Holy Breath, and sends them out to breath into the world. He invites them to forgive others as he has forgiven them. After all, if you don’t forgive sins, if you don’t share this good news, if you retain all this, keeping it to yourself, then the goodness of the resurrection stops; it stays here.
And that’s not its purpose; that’s not how resurrection works. It’s meant to refresh the whole world, like dew that flows from the far side of the mountain in the north, but miraculously gives blessing in the south. Like a disciple who shows up late to the party, but carries the joy to the farthest coasts of a distant country. Like those who recognize when they’ve been forgiven, and turn to forgive others. Like those who were vaccinated early, but then started finding appointments for their neighbors.
The early followers of Jesus practiced this quite fully[vii], sharing their wealth, their food, their possessions, their daily lives. They understood that where one received blessing, it flows out to others.
We tend to think about all the ways this could go wrong: wouldn’t people get jealous after a while? Won’t there be resentments and frustrations about how the newcomers squander the resources the old faithful had contributed? Won’t there be troubles built into this kind of community?
Like oil that flows over ones hair and all over their clothes, God’s grace is messy and abundant. It can’t be held back or absorbed by any single person, but has to flow out to anyone nearby.
It brings together people who have no business getting along. It anoints each one of our stories with forgiveness and reconciliation, even when we doubt. It refreshes the shadow sides of ourselves, and frees us to share our resources with those who don’t deserve it. It oozes out justice into the lives of those who’ve never tasted it. And it never, ever leaves anyone out.
It might get messy, but oh, how very good and very pleasant. Like the way we rejoice each time we hear the news that Christ is Risen, Christ is Risen Indeed. Alleluia.
- I used the name Paul used when he wrote Light of Love, Friesen-Carper, when I preached, but his name is Paul Damico-Carper now.
[i] New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org
[ii] Diane Jacobson, “Psalm133: Meditation,” Western Mission Network — January 23, 2009.
[iv] John 20:19-31
[v] “Sermon Brainwave Podcast #779: Second Sunday of Easter – April 11, 2021” Working Preacher, Luther Seminary. April 5, 2021. https://www.workingpreacher.org/podcast-type/sermon-brainwave
[vi] John 20:16
[vii] Acts 4:32-35