“Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I 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.’” John 20:24-25
“Gathered together [by the Sea of Tiberias] were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing.’ They said to him, ‘We will go with you.’ They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.’” John 21:2-3
What do you do when your world is turned upside down?
For the past few weeks of Easter, we’ve heard how the disciples reacted after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Despite Mary Magdalene’s testimony that Jesus had risen, the disciples didn’t immediately believe. And even after they had proof from the empty tomb, they returned to huddle in the safety of the upper room. Jesus appeared to them there, but Thomas, who wasn’t there (Why?), didn’t believe the testimony of the other disciples. He demanded physical proof, which Jesus provided, and yet, Simon Peter, Thomas, and the other disciples did not immediately go back in public as witnesses to the resurrection. Instead, they returned to the sea shore; they went back to their former pursuit, fishing. Unsuccessfully, I might add.
All this fear and desire to go back to what once felt comfortable and normal consoles me. Because this is the natural response to trauma and grief and world-shaking events. To want to go back to what once was “home” or “safety.” Yet going back is almost always the wrong decision.
I found this out during my journey through Holy Week. The liturgies of Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday were beautiful and yet painful. I treasured the inspiring liturgy and prayers, the excellent preaching, the warmth of my new community, but I missed the music that had for the better part of two decades punctuated those days. Most of all, I missed the refrains, “Stay with me, remain with me, watch and pray, watch and pray” and “Stay here and keep watch with me. The hour has come. Stay here and keep watch with me. Watch and pray.” These refrains had woven the days together and kept me mindful in prayer. The music at my new church community was lovely, but it wasn’t what I had sung so long that it was bone deep within me.
Throughout Holy Week, my musical grieving was intense, and I wanted so much to be able to go back in time, to return to what I knew and loved. And on Holy Saturday, my daughter, the director of liturgy at a nearby Catholic university, urged me to do just that. In fact, she insisted that we attend her Easter Vigil. I was tired and too depressed to want to even leave my house, but I went because I knew it mattered to her. And I tried to stay present to the celebration that had always been my favorite liturgical celebration of the church year. The music was beautiful and familiar, the readings and prayers familiar. But as the evening progressed, I felt more and more sure that I didn’t belong there and I shouldn’t have come. There were small things—like the ridiculous translation that has Jesus giving a chalice of wine to his disciples (a cup, he gave a cup!), like the ridiculous thin wafer given as bread for communion (this can’t be bread, even if it does fulfill the liturgical rules). There were bigger things—like the emphasis on the ordained clergy that had a priest with limited vocal ability singing the Exultet and generally ruining the beautiful sung prayer. There was the ultimate thing—the fact that the table of communion was not open to all. And all those things, and others unsaid (like the role of women in the church, the attitude toward LGBTQ+ individuals, etc.), reminded me of all the reasons I should have left the church years ago.
Yes, part of me wanted to go back to what was known, what I had loved. But there was no going back. Because after your world is turned upside down, you are changed and what once seemed safe and comfortable doesn’t fit anymore. The disciples found that out. They couldn’t even catch any fish, something they had once done daily to feed themselves and make a living.
Jesus obviously understood how hard it was for his beloved disciples to adjust to the new world without him. He appeared to them numerous times. He accepted Thomas’ doubts without chastising him, offering him the opportunity to probe the wounds of his hands and side (which, it seems, Thomas never did). He showed the disciples how to catch a load of fish after all (“Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.”) Then he made them a delicious breakfast and gave Simon Peter the opportunity to proclaim his love three times (to atone for denying him as much?).
All of this consoles me. Jesus will be with me as I try to go forward, knowing for sure that there is no going back. It is a challenge for me because I knew where I belonged in the old world. I knew my community, its strengths and weaknesses, and it was the center of my life. I also knew how to share my gifts with that community. But my place in my new church home is less clear. I am so very grateful for the wholehearted welcome I feel there. But so much is different and I can’t even begin to discern a way that my gifts can be useful to this new home.
Still, Jesus is with me. And there is no going back.