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Luke 24:36b-48

In the gospel reading we meet the disciples who are panicking meeting the resurrected Jesus. This is an embodied Jesus who they can touch. Jesus proclaims that he’s not a ghost! The disciples already experienced trauma that Jesus was crucified. They mourned Jesus’ death. That on it’s own is a lot for them to take. Now suddenly God is doing something new. First with the empty tomb. And now with a resurrected Jesus who is walking and talking. But what are the disciples supposed to do with all this? They haven’t yet processed their initial trauma and now they need to process a Jesus who is no longer dead, but is alive, and has a body. I don’t imagine any of us would fare much better than the first disciples. But Jesus is with the disciples to help them process this new reality. He tells them not to be afraid, not to doubt. That he really is the same Jesus who they knew before.

          While it’s the same Jesus, we also know that the disciples are no longer the same. They have been changed by Good Friday and Easter. They mourned the death of their friend. And now they’re grappling with a Jesus who has come back to life. And that things will never go back to the way they were before. The resurrected Jesus doesn’t stay with them for long as someone walking and talking alongside side them. He returns to reassure the disciples that he is with them, but their world has changed and there is no going back to the way things were.

          There are ways we identify with the disciples in the story. Our world has changed, the church has changed, everything keeps changing, and there is no going back to the way things were. And that is hard. We also mourn the way things were both as a church and in our personal lives. Since the pandemic and the trajectory of church, there are people, habits, and patterns that have died. We too need time to mourn the people and things we love that have disappeared. Some of us mourn that our bodies are no longer the same as they were before, that we have different abilities. That house prices, jobs, and the future outlook for climate and political stability are no longer what they were before.

          Earlier this week I was in Saskatoon for national church meetings with Program Committee for Leadership and Ministry (PCLM). The group helps support candidates becoming deacons and pastors, as well as continuing education for current leaders. This is important for the future of the church that we are able to be flexible and adapt to the changing needs of church contexts. We were talking about some of these same things, how to respond to a church context that is constantly changing. As part of the meetings we heard a lecture by Prof. Kyle Shiefelbein-Guerrero who teaches at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon. I recommend taking a class online or in person with Prof. Kyle sometime. He helped me understand today’s gospel reading and the church we’re in today in a new light in terms of systems theory. My brief summary of systems theory: too often we get fixated on changing a single relationship in the church to solve our problems, rather than taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture. One example would be to choose one thing, growing the youth group, thinking it will solve all our problems. Rather than taking a step back and re-imagining how we build relationships with kids, youth, students, young adults, adults, elders as a whole body of Christ. Yes, we likely do want to grow the youth group, but as part of a larger plan as we reflect upon who we are as followers of Jesus in this time and place.

          Sometimes response to trauma comes in terms of how we ourselves respond to change. Often our first reaction is to remove ourselves from something we find painful. Whether we are mourning the death of a person or a way of church, sometimes we freak out. We get angry, frustrated, sad, even depressed. Take for example the pandemic, we wonder how this could happen to us. Why would God let this happen. We wonder how we can put the pieces back together the way they were before. Even though we can’t go back to the way things were before, it is healthy just to name these thoughts.

          These are  Good Friday thoughts reflecting upon the cross. Like the first disciples, we are mourning and processing death and change. Sometimes emerging from trauma we don’t know what to do and we  retreat into ourselves. We’ve seen that in friends and in ourselves. Times we’ve needed community are the times we’ve denied ourselves that support. Maybe we didn’t want to be a burden to others. We don’t know how to engage socially or with a group while not feeling well. Prof. Kyle said that while we are not therapists, as the body of Christ we can engage in communal storytelling. We can name the things and people we’ve lost. We can name the nostalgia we have for a way of doing things that doesn’t exist anymore. Sometimes nostalgia is a false storytelling - telling the story through rose coloured glasses. Things were never as good as we remembered them to be. We tend to gloss over the bad times and overemphasize the good times.


          Thinking back to previous ways of being church, there are things that are good we are letting go. It was never a good thing that women couldn’t be ordained, that queer people couldn’t be ordained, that non-Lutherans were not welcome to receive communion in Lutheran churches, that marriage between protestants and Roman Catholics was seen as taboo. Much of the decline in churches is connected with the fact so many people were excluded for so long and some people still are excluded today. So we lament change, while rejoicing in the fullness of Jesus’ love that belongs to all our neighbours.

          Prof. Kyle also says the health of the whole system, the whole body of Christ, can never be reduced to caring only for those within the church or those outside. We need both the pastoral care for those already here and the diaconal care for all our neighbours. Because Jesus teaches us that our own wellbeing is intertwined with the care our neighbours receive. It can never be one or the other. We reject the false binary of choosing between neighbours next to us and neighbours across the street. They are all neighbours with whom we are building relationships. Ministering to all our neighbours, all boats rise, and everyone flourishes.

          God is doing a new thing in our midst this Easter and as disciples we need to take a moment to recognize that. Prof. Kyle mentioned a few things that help. One is storytelling, which we already mentioned, telling stories of faith. This is something we did throughout the Lenten season. On Thursdays in Lent we celebrated many different faith stories of people in the church community. If you didn’t catch them, they are still available online on our YouTube channel. Through sharing stories we celebrate how far we’ve come both as individuals and as a congregation.

          Another is reimagining how church systems fit together. That it’s not just the old hub and spokes of a wheel model where the pastor council is at the centre and everyone else is on the outside. But rather as a living organism we are all connected as organs sustaining the body. Our bodies need all the parts to sustain flourishing.

          And together with the resurrected Jesus we join in a meal together, sustaining bodies. We process trauma, sadness, joy, flourishing as a community, around the table, together with Christ! Amen.