When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” (John 20:19, 21)
It was Easter last week and this place was filled to overflowing. You couldn’t buy a seat in the sanctuary. We had a full choir, four brass players, and timpani. When the people stood up to sing, it shook the rafters. Easter was a wonderful day, and everybody said so! But here we are just a week later, and the big crowd is gone, so are the brass and bells and timpani. The season of Easter is seven weeks long... we’re supposed to spend 50 days living into the reality of the resurrection; but just a week later and much of the air is out of our tires! It’s hard... it’s hard to keep Easter going.
And today’s scripture text seems to anticipate this problem. That first Easter Sunday was a big one too – just look at the range of emotions that Mary Magdalene went through on Easter Sunday. When she started out for the tomb in the wee hours of the morning she was in despair. When she arrived and found the stone had been rolled away from the mouth of the tomb she was in shock! When she discovered that his body had been taken out of the tomb, she was in deep sadness. When she was greeted by the risen Jesus she was amazed, and when she runs and tells the disciples, “I have seen the Lord!” she is overjoyed.
But it’s hard to keep the excitement of Easter going ‒ look at the disciples that same evening... Easter evening ‒ still all huddled together behind locked doors! They are still afraid and confused – not sure what to make of Mary’s testimony. So, look what happens next... Jesus appears to the disciples too! The door is closed and locked so nobody can get in, but that doesn’t stop him. Jesus appears in their midst anyway. “Peace be with you,” he says and then shows them the wounds on his hands and his side ‒ this really is the same Jesus who was crucified on the cross! Again, he says to them again: “Peace be with you,” and then he adds: “As the father sent me so I send you.” Jesus sends his disciples out to be a reconciling community ‒ to proclaim the Easter message and bring peace. Easter is not a secret to be kept, but good news to be shared. “Jesus is risen” is good news for everyone near and far. Our mission mandate is built right in to the Easter message.
And Jesus continues to come to us today – to his fearful and confused disciples – and pushes us out of our hiding places and into the world. That is where our mission lies... not in here! I am constantly looking for opportunities for us to serve beyond these four walls because a church without a mission is just a club. Over the last five years or so the refugee situation in Europe has been on my mind. As you know, scores of people have been forced out of their home country with nowhere to go. There are more than 65 million refugees in the world presently. Germany took in more than one million of them, but the bulk of all refugees, more than 50%, are stuck in refugee camps in Africa and elsewhere. That concerned me so last summer I suggested (in a sermon) that Hidenwood should consider sponsoring a refugee family to come here to Newport News. I floated the idea out there to see what sort of reaction it would get. Only one person commented on the idea – it was a person who had been considering joining our church. That sermon tipped the scales for him and he decided he wouldn’t be joining. He wasn’t in favor of us sponsoring a refugee family when there were so many people right here that need help. (Though he didn’t offer to cut a check for them either.) Apart from him the response of the rest of the church was deafening silence.
So, it seemed to me that the refugee door was closed and locked. Sponsoring a refugee was not going to happen here at Hidenwood anyway. But then something very mysterious happened. A minister from Waynesboro named Chris Pulice emailed our church website last October with this message:
My name is Chris. I'm a Free Methodist pastor in Waynesboro, VA. I am in contact with a group of Central African Refugees who live in the Hampton/Newport News area.
They are desperately looking for a place to worship Jesus in the language that they can understand (Swahili/Kirundi).
Would you have any space that they could use?
Thanks and Blessings!
I emailed both Carey and Caleb about it and they thought we should explore the idea... so I responded to him saying we had a chapel that was under-used, did they want to come see it?
Later that same week, four gentlemen landed at our door ‒ Josephat Nkeshimana, Chris Pulice, Elisa Ndizeye, and Costantin Mbaruku. They were very impressed with the Chapel space. I apologized that our church was nowhere near the bus route, but they said that wouldn’t be a problem. So, I took the request to Session and they unanimously agreed that we should invite the Central African Refugee Community to hold services in our chapel on Sunday afternoons from 2-4:30 pm. And ever since the middle of November, that’s what’s been happening. I’ve attended many times myself and from the first Sunday fell in love their singing. Their faith is embodied in their music. And whenever I stay for the sermon one of the members will sit beside me and interpret for me (because my Swahili is a little rusty.)
What I am saying is that I believe Jesus is responsible for this partnership between Hidenwood Presbyterian and the Central African Refugee Community. He brought us together to be a gift/blessing to the other. Hidenwood is a blessing to the Central African Community, and the Central African Community is a blessing to us. And I think the gift is still being unwrapped ‒ we will be more of a blessing the more we work together. Today’s joint service is an example of how each contributed to be a blessing to the whole.
So, I hope we will look for other ways to fellowship and worship together, to minister to each other and even do mission together. One obvious thing that separates us is language. I think it would be wonderful if we could pair members of Hidenwood with members of the Central African Community to offer English tutoring. Even an hour per week would provide such great benefit. And one thing Hidenwood doesn’t have much of is children – we would love to have your children join us for vacation bible school each summer. It’s a one-week school where we learn about Jesus together – singing, playing, learning and doing crafts.
Transportation is an issue but it’s not unsurpassable. July 16-20 is our week of vacation bible school. Let’s talk about making this a reality for the children.
It’s hard to keep Easter going... and that is why Jesus comes to us... even through doors that are closed and locked. He comes to bring peace and to send us into the world with a mission. That mission is our invitation to new life. Let’s accept it and find new life in Christ. Let’s keep Easter going.