I’m sure that many of you have all heard me talk about the year that I spent in Panama – but I don’t think that I have ever told the story about the beginning of my trip, and how I almost didn’t make it. So bear with me, I promise it will relate to today’s lesson!
When I graduated from college, I knew that going straight into the work world or straight into graduate school was not the right path for me. I had this uncontrollable desire to travel – to get out of the United States, get out of the normal, leave everything that made me feel comfortable behind, and just go. And one day, the opportunity to serve abroad fell right at my feet. One of my friends was serving abroad in Costa Rica, and told me that he thought it would be great if I applied to the program. One thing led to another and next thing I knew, I was not only hired, but I was going to replace him in Costa Rica with the job of planning and leading mission trips for future mission groups. It sounded like the dream job, and I couldn’t believe just how lucky I was to have this opportunity. And just as fast as things came together, things came crashing down. A few months before I was sent out, I received a call saying that my employers in Costa Rica had decided to hire someone else. And I’ll be honest – I was completely crushed. I knew that it wasn’t a personal thing, and that it was all politics between the companies and service corps, but it still felt like rejection to me. And, in addition to this, I also knew that it would be a very difficult and challenging year of service, and wasn’t sure if I would be able to handle such a heavy job!
So I was presented with two very scary facts – that I currently had no plan for the next year, and that even if I was reassigned, that there was the very realistic possibility that I wouldn’t be able to make it the whole year. I remember having conversations with family and friends, wondering if I should just stay home. Staying home was safe, it was comfortable, and easy. I felt discouraged, hurt, and unclear if this was even a good idea anymore. But during these days of discernment, my boss in NYC called and told me that they had a position as a teacher in Panama open up, and that it would be a good fit for me. So here I was again, facing the decision whether to stay and play it safe, or to go and see where it takes me.
So let’s take a quick time out and look at the story according to John. What we heard in the reading is that when Jesus returned, he went to go tell all of the disciples. When he showed up, they were inside of a house that had all of the doors and all of the windows locked. And no wonder! They were living in fear – they just watched Jesus – their friend, their mentor, their teacher – be crucified. Of course they didn’t want to parade around, spreading the word of Jesus and telling people that he was their friend. But Jesus walked in, and said “Peace be with you.” After he showed them the wounds in his hands, he again said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
When I think about this story, I think about how much I can relate to how the disciples felt. The disciples physically locked the doors of the house, but I think that is also symbolic of locking up their feelings. They were in shock, disbelief, and hurt. They shut themselves in with each other where they felt safe – safe from the chaos happening in the outside world and safe with each other in community. When something bad happens in our lives, when we are afraid of something, when we are hurt or wounded by someone– our natural reaction is to protect ourselves. Whether it is something as simple as doing terribly on a presentation for class, or something as tragic as losing a loved one – we close ourselves off to try and prevent ourselves from feeling that pain again.
But here is Jesus saying, “Peace be with you.” Now, we have to remember that this message is not coming from someone who has had a perfect and easy life, who can simply say these things. This is Jesus, the man who is known by his wounds. Jesus knew how scary the world was, how dangerous it was to follow his path. Jesus could have told them that it wasn’t worth it, to stay locked in with each other where they knew they would be safe. But instead, he breathed the Holy Spirit into them and told them to go. Despite the obstacles they faced, he was encouraging them to show God’s light and love in the world.
So, like the disciples, I had been given the opportunity to go. And as most of you know, I ultimately chose to take the job in Panama. Even though in those moments of hurt and fear when all I wanted to do was quit, I knew that I wasn’t truly living up to my potential. If I had chosen to play it safe, I wouldn’t have met all of the wonderful people I met, and I wouldn’t have had the most insane year of my life. I wouldn’t have traveled all over Central America, I wouldn’t have met my absurd, infuriating, yet completely adorable and lovable students. I wouldn’t have found my incredible passion for teaching, for bridging the gaps between cultures, and for watching kids light up when they finally understand or learn something. There is so much life, happiness, love, and spirit that I would have missed out on.
In the end, I realized that the door had been opened for me. I just had to decide whether I was going to walk through it or not. And time and time again, I keep finding myself presented with these open doors. Currently, I have had the door opened to pursue my dream to go to grad school at American University. And after a bunch of doubt, questioning, and uncertainty, I have decided to walk through this door. And yes, there is still that fear that I could fail, or go into major debt, or regret my decision. But I believe that what we need to figure out in this life is how we can be our best selves, and how we can best be Christ’s light in this world. Just like the disciples, we are given the opportunity to go out, to open the door. Jesus breathed new life into the disciples. He equipped them to go out, they just had to decide
So, when we think about Easter, I’m pretty sure we all think of happiest of times. For me, aside from crying for hours every Easter morning about not wanting to wear a dress, I remember Easter being the best day. And Easter is beautiful, and wonderful, and meant to be celebrated. Jesus has returned, and we should rejoice and be glad in it! But we must remember the true message of Easter – that we have received the peace of the Lord, that we should be opening doors, trying new things, opening our hearts, and finding how to best be Christ’s light in the world.