I’m wandering a bit through the USA right now. Meeting congregations and synods and friends who support me in so many ways in life and particularly as I continue to live and serve in Madagascar. Some of these stops along the way include the opportunity to preach as I did at St Philip in Littleton, Colorado on Sunday, April 28. We read the gospel of John from chapter 20 verse 11. This is a picture of the churches altar and stained glass window and below are the words I shared that day.
Peace be with you.
My name is Kirsten Laderach. I am a pastor with the ELCA and the country coordinator for the Young Adults in Global Missions program in Madagascar.
I consider myself a pretty lucky person! I have a job that – though extremely challenging at times – gives me great joy. I like the challenge and the learning and personal growth that is often uncomfortably thrust upon me.
I work at the intersection of encouraging and developing young adults to see a world larger than themselves and the homes and country they came from … while in many ways representing those communities and this church and country to the Malagasy Lutheran Church.
We, myself and the young adult volunteers, do this through the lens of accompaniment. Walking with, thinking and acting mutually and together, or at least trying our best to… and then picking ourselves up over and over again when we fail. It doesn’t matter where you are or who relationships are with, relationships are beautiful and hard, life giving and exhausting but we are always more, and better because of them.
The Bible is full of stories around relationships … relationships with family, friends, strangers, enemies and ultimately with God. It too records and tells the stories of beauty, difficulty, life and death. All while it points to larger themes like forgiveness and grace, salvation and eternal life, truth and resurrection. Our text today is not foreign to these themes; and neither are our lives…
I arrived in Madagascar just over four years ago and the Madagascar I originally met looks little like the Madagascar I know today … and that’s mostly because the Kirsten who arrived in Madagascar four years ago looked and was a bit different then the one who stands before you now.
And that’s what happens to us, right? Time moves forward, circumstances and understandings change and so do we…
This isn’t to say that we wake up one day and know all the answers and get everything right because we’ve been prepared and prepped for what might be to come. But it is to say, that we continue to be human.
Jesus had been telling the disciples, and any one who would listen, who he was and what was about to happen and still the empty tomb wasn’t first met with joy but instead an inability to see, question, fear, and doubt.
One of my favorite things about my job is to watch the volunteers grow and to work through their own blindness, question, fear and doubt…maybe because they do so in ways not so dissimilar to my own …
A couple weeks ago I met the new volunteers who will arrive at the end of August. From April to August we share information about what to expect in a year of service and in Madagascar AND then they come to Mada get off the plane and their eyes get really big … we then spend another 4 weeks in country preparing them more specifically and yet still I get the phone calls and the messages … sometimes panic and shock, and sometimes in weeks or months, an “I couldn’t hear what you were saying until I actually saw it…”
And you’ve been there, we’ve all been there,… the first day of school, a new job, relocating, how about marriage?… all the preparation and still…
And Mary Magdalene and the disciples… they where dealing with something, some one even bigger … A resurrection, Jesus alive again… can you imagine???
We take this for truth now, we celebrate the story, we read about it in the book that “these are written so that you may continue believing that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of God and that through believing you may have life in his name.”
But that wasn’t always so, there had to be a first… (or firsts,) to struggle through the information, to see what’s new and what’s possible and even to be given the opportunity to understand for themselves, for ourselves.
Some, through the years, have questioned those who first encounter the risen Lord and their reactions to the news. Thomas always gets the most criticism, forever being… who? (Doubting Thomas)
And the disciples after hearing the news are locked in a room, locked. in. fear. But Jesus had just told them…
And we often wonder and explain away why Mary didn’t recognize Jesus right away…
But what if…
We are all Thomas?
What if we are all the disciples….
What if we are all Mary Magdalene….
Waiting, sometimes stubbornly, until proof can be supplied…
Waiting until we can just like Thomas “see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side… I will not believe…”
Maybe we are like the disciples?
Unsure of what to do, locked in fear, afraid of what is to come, afraid of what is, afraid of a group even a group we might some how be a part of… “and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews…”
Maybe we are like Mary Magdalene
Questioning, unable to recognize Jesus, even speaking to him as though he was another until he spoke her name… “sir, if you have carried him away…”
This is often how we react to ourselves and each other in times newness and in times of doubt, fear, question…
What keeps jumping out to me as I read this text over and over… Jesus presence and his gentle words ….
“Peace be with you”
Can you hear him?
“Peace be with you”
It’s as if Jesus is saying, ‘Friends I am here as I told you, I will always be, I come in peace and love so that you may have life…and not just a heart beating, breathing in and out life but an abundant life. A life where forgiveness and grace, salvation and eternal life, truth and resurrection direct and guide your very being, your very existence.
This has been sustaining for me and I hope for you … Jesus is still present to us and through us, through the people we know and who come into our lives in often fascinating and unexpected ways. Sometimes we have to listen a little harder and drop more of the Thomas that dwells inside of each of us, but we are, all of us, we are called by name and we are greeted with peace.
May God’s peace be with each and everyone of you.