April 11th is a Zoom Communion Service, held online.
Readings: John 20:19-31 and Acts 4:32-35
Rev. Roberta Howey's reflection
This morning, as I made my tea, my cat came up to me, started to tap dance with a cane, and broke out into fluent Russian poetry. She ended her routine with a backflip and flew off the balcony like Superman, landing with a graceful thud and curled up for a nap.
Don’t believe me? Even though I told you I just saw it?
Well I am glad to know we are now aware of how Thomas was feeling, or at least a fraction of it. It is easy for us to judge when we know exactly what happened. Why didn’t Thomas believe them?
Because it is impossible. People don’t come back from the dead. Especially ones killed so brutally by the state. The disciples were asking Thomas to believe the impossible, something that after days of grief and anger, was simply too much. This was the final straw.
So let’s go a bit easy on Thomas. After all, no one goes around calling him “denying Peter”, or “rather annoying Andrew”, but Doubting Thomas is doing his best with the facts at hand.
The fact is that what is “impossible” is something that changes depending on where we sit. It was impossible for people to go to the moon. It was impossible for a woman to vote or hold her own bank account. It was impossible to determine what dinosaurs looked like. Until it wasn’t. It was impossible to produce multiple vaccines, let alone one, for a virus that had been around for less than a year. Until it wasn’t
For us, in our faith, it was impossible for Jesus to come back, until it wasn’t.
This has been the story of faith. No life can exist, until it does. God doesn’t talk with us, until God does. People don’t find each other until they do. Slaves are not free until they are. Tyrants can’t be toppled until they fall down. The dead can’t rise again, until Jesus does it, both resurrecting others and himself.
In a post-Easter world, the game has changed. What is impossible and possible is blurred. What we can do and witness is now opened up to so many possibilities. Because it isn’t us deciding what is impossible. It is God, who looks at us and says “go for it”.
I am not asking us to immediately ignore the rules of reality. But I think that we are, like Thomas, opened up to the idea that what is impossible can be not just possible, but inevitable.
God urges us to go down that road and see what the kingdom can look like when we declare it not just possible, but happening here and now. Let’s do so, fellow disciples, and see how God has changed the world.
Rev. Dr. Kristin Philipson's reflection
You need to see it to believe it.
By Rev. Dr. Kristin Philipson
Acts 4:32-35 – Second Sunday in Easter
April 11, 2021
Long walks these Covid days take me past all kinds of churches, St. Helen’s Catholic, Olivet Baptist, Roncesvalles United, Bonar-Parkdale Presbyterian, the City Church International. Ever since we started our strategic conversations here at Rosedale United Church I find myself studying these buildings with the same question in mind: what would make a normal person walk through those church doors? I have to wonder because I’m not a normal person – and neither are you. The clear majority of Canadians, fully 80% – four out of every five people – never go to church, never think about church, except maybe negatively. If I was part of the normal majority of people what would make me stop and take notice of these buildings, I ask myself? What could these stones say that would make me stop and want to listen? Walk past most churches and they give no hint of what they’re about on the inside. If a normal person can’t see it, how can they believe it?
We know what’s special inside this place. How would you explain it? I grew up at St. Paul’s United Church in Edmonton. Our minister had three kids and had lost his first wife to cancer. When we met him he was newly remarried. His new wife didn’t want to be a part of any of the United Church Women groups that were popular at the time. She wanted to sing in the choir, so that’s what the church encouraged her to do. The kids didn’t fit the mold of what you’d think a minister’s kids would be like. One daughter had bangs hairsprayed straight up 5 inches, the other shaved her head and smoked, the son grew his hair long, wore bear feet in winter and took up the bongos. The spiritual life of our community centered around the simple, small, and ordinary things in life: blessing babies, breaking bread. Scan the sanctuary and you caught a full spectrum of human experience – the married and divorced, the sick and the healing, the youthful and the aging, the broken and the whole. Fluidity between all states was expected. Sometimes you were up, sometimes you were down - whatever you were you brought it to church. I remember the single mom who sat with her two young daughters and sat their grandmother. She was the first person we knew who would meet someone online and she invited the whole church to her wedding. It was a community much like Rosedale United, a community that understood (to quote Rachel Naomi Remen) that “the secret of living well is not in having all the answers but in pursuing unanswerable questions in good company.”
What we all found on the inside at St. Paul’s United – what I hope you find here, when you log in to this online sanctuary – is the same thing that’s written about in the description of the earliest Christian church in the Book of Acts: namely, compassion. That’s what churches do when they’re at their best and healthiest, they give compassion. They hold you in your joy and sorrow and they cultivate and grow compassion in people. “All the believers were one in heart and mind,” it says in the Book of Acts. “No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had…And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them.”
I recently saw the film, Nomadland, starring Frances McDormand and written, directed, and edited by Chloé Zhao. Frances McDormand plays Fern, a widow and former resident of Empire, Nevada, a modern-day ghost town that died with the closure of the United States Gypsum plant in 2011 – the town’s main employer. Fern’s husband worked at the plant and after his death Fern is thrown into poverty. There’s no work in Empire – Fern can’t even sell her house; the government even retires the town’s zip code since everyone had moved away. Fiercely independent Fern becomes a nomad, living in her Van, travelling to wherever there’s seasonal work. When we meet her she’s working at an Amazon warehouse in Nevada as part of a program called “Camperforce” where Amazon recruits nomadic RV and van-dwellers, pays their board at a campsite while they process orders over the busy Christmas season.
Completely alone, Fern finds community as she begins to meet other nomads. What strikes you about the nomads is their compassion, their willingness to hold each other’s stories. It’s understood that everyone has baggage beyond what they can fit in their vehicle. It’s understood that, along with their mugs and mattresses they’re carrying loss, regret, and longing. No one who pulls up into an RV Park is met with any judgement; all are one in heart and mind and they make sure there is no needy person among them. They band together to support each other’s dignity – here’s where the work is, here’s where you can park without anyone bothering you. There is a holiness to their lives; they’ve sanctified each other’s journeys by simply witnessing to them. The nomads reminded me of a church community my family used to drive past on Sunday mornings on the way to our own church when we were living in California. This particular church community met every Sunday in Pasadena’s Central Park, which was home to a large population of people experiencing homelessness. Every Sunday morning they took their ministry out into the neighbourhood, setting up tables, cooking up a big breakfast for whoever was hungry.
Compassion must be one of the most beautiful virtues that spiritual communities cultivate; it resurrects us all. Look at our hands we say, see our sides? Look what God has done in us! But if you happened to walk past our church building right now, I wonder how transparent the power of this compassion would be? Don’t you have to see it to believe it? That’s the strategic question for us. “As the Father has sent me,” Jesus said, “I am sending you.” You see, pandemic restrictions forced the Spirit to move out of our buildings and into the neighbourhood and She’s been calling us to join Her. There’s so much compassion in here, and Spirit is calling us to bring it out – to make the unbelievable believable. It might surprise us then, how much we get noticed.