Easter – A Season of Disorientation

Pastor Glenda Simpkins Hoffman 4/12/20

This past week has been one I don’t think I will forget. It was the fourth week since the governor gave the stay-at-home order. And it was Holy Week as we walked with Jesus through his passion, or suffering—his last meal with his closest friends who still didn’t realize what was about to happen. This was followed by Jesus’ arrest, trial, suffering, and finally death on the cross. I was once again overwhelmed with gratitude for Jesus’ deep love and willingness to suffer and die so that we could live in a joyful relationship with him forever! But I was also keenly aware of my own failures and sin—all the things in me that need to die that the life of Christ might live more fully in me.

And I am glad for Easter—not just the day but the season of Eastertide that begins today and continues until Pentecost, which this year is May 31. This is a season of the church year that is really about processing the meaning of the resurrection in our daily lives. Often, it focuses on the resurrection passages of Jesus appearing to his disciples before his ascension.

For many of us, it may not feel like Easter as we are unable to gather for worship or with family and friends to celebrate. But our current circumstances amid the COVID-19 crisis can probably help us appreciate more what the disciples experienced on that first Easter morning. They had seen their Lord brutally killed on a cross. They were in deep grief over the death of their friend. And if that wasn’t enough, they had to grapple with the violence and horror of a world and political and religious system in which this kind of death could happen. They also had to grieve the reality of dashed personal dreams and collective hopes. They believed that Jesus was going to be the political Messiah who would overthrow Rome, free them from oppression, and establish Israel as a nation.

That first morning of the resurrection was a glorious day, a miraculous day of unexpected joy and wonder as Jesus had overcome death itself. But it’s important not to pass by the disciples’ experience too quickly. They had experienced a trauma, and Jesus was no longer present with them in the same way he had been during his ministry. The weeks following the resurrection are a time of disorientation as Jesus appears to them periodically to help them. The disciples come to better understand the scriptures and all that Jesus has said to them through the lens of the cross and the resurrection. They experience that second touch of Jesus that is enabling them to see what they could not see before.

But this didn’t happen in a moment. It took time, many encounters with the risen Christ, and talking amongst themselves. And even the encounters with Jesus didn’t change the fact they still had to let go of the hope of what might have been and grieve the loss of their expectations. Most of all, they had to prepare to let go of their friend, the Savior, their Lord as he prepares them for his return to the rightful place at the Father’s side. It is good that God gave them time to process all that had happened before he ascended

In her book Life Together in Christ, Ruth Haley Barton writes about the disciples’ experience directly after the crucifixion: “The disciples were suspended somewhere between loss and possible gain, grief and possible joy, profound human suffering and perhaps some kind of redemption, dashed hopes and maybe daring to hope again. They were wrung out—emotionally, spiritually and physically. They had been powerless to prevent the events of the last days, and they were powerless now to do anything to change their situation. They are now on the road between the now and the not-yet.

“Although they were probably not aware of it, these disciples were in what Richard Rohr calls ‘liminal space’—a particular spiritual position where human beings hate to be, but where the biblical God is always leading them. The Latin root limen literally means “threshold,” referring to that needed transition when we are moving from one place or one state of being to another.

“Liminal space usually induces some sort of inner crisis: you have left the tried and true (or it has left you), and you have not yet been able to replace it with anything else. This is Abraham leaving his home country and his father’s house for a land he did not yet know. It is Joseph in the pit. It is the Israelites wandering in the wilderness between Egypt and the Promised Land. It is Jonah in the belly of the fish. It is Mary weeping at Jesus’ tomb. It is the disciples huddled in the upper room between the crucifixion and the resurrection, betwixt and between the life they had known and whatever was supposed to come next. This was a time for intimate emotions and dangerous questions. Maybe something new and wonderful was in the works, but who knew?”

We too are in a kind of liminal space staying at home, waiting for this virus to pass, praying for those who are ill, dying, putting themselves on the front lives to save others. And we are doing what we can to care for ourselves, our family and friends, and others by staying at home. But we don’t know how long this will last or what is ahead. What we know is that God is with us in the midst of this. And we will get on the other side of this some way, somehow. But my hope and prayer for myself and all of us is that we will be changed when we come to the other side.

Since the beginning of the year, we have been in a sermons series on Romans titled Transformation. During this Easter season, we will be in the last section, which is where Paul explains the difference the good news of Jesus and his resurrection makes in our everyday lives. I like Eugene Peterson’s translation in The Message of Romans 12:1-2: “So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.”

This section of Romans is the application of all Paul has said. It is where the rubber meets the road. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead is the power of the Holy Spirit in us working to transform us and make God’s truth real in our everyday, ordinary lives as we give ourselves over to him.

So in this season of Eastertide, I encourage you to make time to cultivate your relationship with God. We are providing daily devotions, which include the passage each week along with a different spiritual discipline each day of the week.  You can sign up to receive  daily devotions in your inbox or print a copy. Going forward, I won’t be posting on Realm but on the VPC blog on our website on Tuesdays and Thursdays and maybe once on the weekend. My aim is to provide reflections on Romans and our present experience that I hope and pray will be helpful to you. 

While we must maintain physical distance, we can stay socially and spiritually connected. The Men’s and Women’s Bible Studies will be going deeper in Romans 12-16, and any and all are welcome to join us. If you aren’t connected yet, know there is a group for you.  Go to Adult Ministries to explore opportunities and find the zoom link.

This is a disorienting season for us as it was for the disciples. We wait on God and wonder what is ahead. But what we can know is that God loves us and wants us to experience more fully the abundant life he has already given, and he wants to lead us into deeper transformation. I’m praying for you and for myself that we will indeed become more like Christ together for the world in the coming weeks.

Grace and peace,

Glenda

April 12, 2020
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