It is the Monday after Easter as I sit and write this letter. This morning, as I scrolled through Facebook, two posts caught my eye:
Happy Easter Monday! Christ is Risen, but pastors are not.
What's the difference between yesterday and today? Easter Sunday, we dressed up in our Easter best; we went TO church, extended our Easter blessings and corporately worshipped our risen Lord. Today, we are called to BE the church, dress up in our everyday clothes, and take Christ with us, at work, at the gym, the senior center, Walmart… wherever we go about our daily activities, we still need to live in a still-risen Christ!
Easter is not a day or an event; it is a way of life. Making Easter a way of life means that we turn our eyes toward resurrection each and every day, searching for its signs, believing in its truth, living into its glory.
The candy may be eaten, the baskets put away, but Christ is still risen; God is still in control. We need to treat each day as Easter… celebrating the risen Christ, sharing the saving grace.
Both posts are very true. Indeed, Holy Week and Easter prove to be an exhausting marathon for most pastors. The day after Easter does not mean Easter is over. It is our starting point. It is the second post that I wish to highlight.
The week after Easter, we meet up with good old Thomas. We have come to know him as Doubting Thomas. Thomas needed to see Jesus’s wounds to know that Jesus was really risen. He just couldn’t believe that Jesus could be alive unless he saw him with his own eyes. He needed to see, hear and touch Jesus’s humanity to know and believe it was real. Thomas not only saw him, but touched him and heard Jesus speak his name.
On Easter, I said one of the Easter challenges God puts before us is to see those around us… really see them. But often, we see only what we want to see. Sometimes, like Thomas insisting on seeing the wounds of Jesus, we insist on seeing the wounds of others before we believe that the people we serve are persons worthy and deserving of grace and kindness during their most vulnerable hour.
I want to share with you two stories:
There was a young woman who entered a homeless shelter with her two young children. Her youngest would just be starting kindergarten. This was neither her first experience with parenting young children nor her first experience with homelessness. She had experienced homelessness before with her siblings. Later, when she was just a youth herself, she scored very high on the PSAT. So high, in fact, that she was offered free tuition and room and board at a prestigious high school—a boarding school for girls.
This kind of opportunity would not otherwise have been economically possible for her hard-working mother, who was a nurse. She chose to attend. Unfortunately, she couldn’t finish her high school education at this prestigious school, because her mother died unexpectedly. Her siblings were being cared for by her father; at least, that’s what she assumed until Child Protective Services was called, because they had not been attending school.
She discovered that her father had been drinking to excess, and her siblings needed help. She left school and came home to parent them. They had their ups and downs.
She hustled between jobs and juggled school and work, but ultimately, they all came through it. Her siblings are grown now, leading their own lives.
She was never able to go to college. She was so smart, so capable, but her circumstances were not within her control. She sacrificed her own opportunities to be the very best daughter, sister and mother she could be.
When people learn that she needs money to purchase school uniforms for her children to attend school, I wonder—must you see the wounds, feel them, touch them and hear the quiver in her voice when she tells her story to know that she is a human being who just needs some help right now? Is it not enough to know that she is a child of God, that God loves her and her kids?
Must we know the pain of another person’s life to justify our help?
Blessed are those who have not seen, but have come to believe.
Leonard is a tall, dark-skinned man with a deep, gentle voice. He is the type of person you know is kind and is overflowing with love from the moment you meet him. Leonard attends a church near his home in a senior citizen complex. Leonard also volunteers at a homeless shelter. He is the overnight guardian at the shelter.
When asked why he does this, he simply replied that he wants to make sure there is always a safe place for people experiencing homelessness, especially women and children.
Leonard is 76 years old. He spent 40 years of his life homeless. He understands homelessness better than most people. If you get to know Leonard, one of the things he will tell you is that most of his homelessness was a choice. He chose to live on the streets. He says that the way to really be free is not to own anything at all; not to owe anyone money, not even a landlord or a utility company. He says that when you are homeless, you are invisible. No one wants to see you or engage with you, and that frees you up to move around and meet people who really need community.
One night on a park bench, Leonard sat by himself, rolling a cigarette close to his body so it would be covered by the hood of his sweatshirt in the falling snow. Two young men approached him, pulled a gun and told him to give them his money.
Leonard didn’t have any money, and he asked the duo if whatever they had hoped to buy would be worth his life. That gave them pause enough to give Leonard time to offer his park bench to them to sit and share his cigarette. They sat down.
Since he now had some time to get to know these young guys, Leonard asked what could make them so desperate for cash that they would want to pull a gun on an elderly man in the park.
One of the young men told him that his girlfriend had just had a baby, and they didn’t have any money for formula or diapers, and he just needed the cash to buy some food for the baby.
Leonard told him he sure wouldn’t be helping his girlfriend or the baby if he got picked up for armed robbery tonight.
While they finished the cigarette together, Leonard reached into his bag and pulled out the forms for SNAP benefits, better known as food stamps. Leonard had once worked in the welfare office. He kept copies of the aid forms in his bag, just in case he might meet someone who needed them. Since he was an aid worker, he knew how to fill out the forms, which made him especially useful as many of the people he met in the homeless community could not read or write.
He sat with the young man and filled out the forms and told him where to take them in the morning. He explained how the program worked and told him how to get what he needed for the baby in the meantime.
Leonard always sees the person first and never asks if the wound is deep enough to be worthy of help. Leonard’s first response is always to address the humanity of the people he meets.
Blessed are those who have not seen, but have come to believe.
As we move beyond Easter Sunday, may we continue to be the Church God has called us to be, believing in the humanity of the people we meet, that they are beloved children of God, deserving of every good thing for no other reason than that God loves them.
I hope that we will look into their faces and see the face of God. I hope you will see the Risen One, alive and well, in those who just need a little help to get through today. I hope we can believe without first having to see the wounds to prove it.
Photo by Kalexander2010