I put my Easter decorations out really early this year. The lengthy winter made me long for signs of new life- the spring flowers, sunshine, rain, sprouting leaves and even those pesky bunnies who eat my garden. I have an Easter sign in my house that says “He is risen.” Every time I walk by that sign, those 3 small words remind me of the BIG gift we have in Jesus Christ. And I think this year, more than ever before, I need to hear it. During Lent, did you know that every Sunday is supposed to be celebrated as a mini-Easter? As someone who usually appreciates the more reflective and solemn nature of Lent, I don’t always give that much thought to each mini Easter and what it can do. But with all the unknowns right now, and with life still happening in the middle of this pandemic, with social distancing, with constant prayer for our dear brother in Christ, Pastor Joe… I need Easter- how about you? I need to hear that God doesn’t give up on us, that we aren’t alone and that we are loved. We don’t hear the Easter Story of Christ’s resurrection quite yet- but we do hear a story of redemption today I am really grateful for that.
To set the scene a little bit- a man born blind, rejected by his community and becomes a beggar who doesn’t have much hope. I think it is important to pause for a second and talk about the rest of the identity of this man. What we know about him is that he cannot see and he doesn’t have money, but Jesus is able to see his whole identity. Not only these 2 characteristics, but also the fact that this man has the potential for faith; the potential to be an honest and forthright advocate for the gospel, he won’t back down when others question him and he has this openness that makes him ready to follow Jesus. This becomes important in the second half of the story, but right off the bat, it is important to us too. When we are described – do we just keep to the basics or do we get a picture of our whole selves? It probably depends on who is doing the describing, but Jesus doesn’t hesitate to see and know the whole picture of this man- both his strengths and what others would say are his weaknesses. It is our whole selves that makes it possible for the light of Jesus Christ to shine through. Jesus sees the potential in each of us and he sees the potential in this man.
And so he approaches this man born blind, makes mud with his spit, puts it on the guy’s eyes and then tells him to wash and be healed. And the man is. I have to say this is not my favorite healing— yuck, right? Muddy spit should not go into someone’s eyes. (I tell my kids who are 3 & 6, not to do stuff like this all the time- I say “Don’t put that in your mouth! Don’t spit on that!” on a daily basis) However, a Bible commentary tells us that mud during Jesus’ time was actually considered medicine- a type of poultice used by healers, the doctors of the time. Which means, Jesus was using the medical science known at the time to perform this act of healing. It was divine intervention alongside science! In a time such as the one we are in now, we can sure appreciate prayer and medicinal science working together to help people. And at the same time, this healing from Jesus happens in an unexpected way because the religious leaders didn’t believe divine healing could happen on the Sabbath, but Jesus shows us again and again that the grace of God cannot be constrained by our human expectations or limits.
After Jesus healed this man, no one recognizes him. The man was so changed by Jesus’ intervention- that he wasn’t even recognized by his own community. I wonder if in part it was because his demeaner changed- he might have looked like a new man, but did he live like one too? Did he walk around with gratitude because someone actually saw him for the whole person he was and gave him back his dignity? Did his face light up because he now had the light of Jesus in him? Hope certainly looks different than despair. It changes our ability to keep going, to help others, to believe that things don’t have to stay this way. Whatever it was about him that people didn’t recognize- they started asking him what was going on.
And he simply told them his story- naming his experience plainly. And when they kept questioning him, not wanting to believe it- he became that much more candid; pointing to the one who performed the miracle for him and asking if they can’t believe a miracle from God that they can see for themselves- how can they be disciples?
What does sin have to do with it?
The other thing about this story is it speaks to the misbelief that this man’s sin (or his parent’s sin) and his blindness are connected. In Jesus’ time people equated the consequences of sin as coming directly from a person’s actions- there are still people who believe this today. If you or your parents sinned against God and then something bad happened, it was described as justice. This way of thinking though doesn’t account for the fact that sometimes things just… happen. People who don’t do anything to deserve it have good things happen to them and people who don’t do anything to deserve it have bad things happen to them. And this way of thinking can become more dangerous, if something harmful happens to someone and we believe that they deserved it because it can prevent us from giving help, offering forgiveness and healing relationships. But that is not what happens here. You see, this story is all about grace. The man born blind is healed for one reason and one reason alone- because God loves him. He didn’t deserve to be blind and he didn’t earn his healing, other than having an open heart ready to trust and have faith.
This past week as we have began social distancing because of the Covid-19 pandemic, we cannot forget that our story is all about grace too. We are forgiven and given eternal life not because we earned it, but simply for one reason, because we are loved by God. In the last week, as our lives have turned upside down- we have the opportunity to pause and have our mini Easter moments. Every moment of hope we hear about during this crisis- as business owner who keeps paying their employees anyway; when we stop and appreciate the courage and hard work of our health care workers; when we hear from our teachers who care about our kid’s education and their well-being; as we realize what a blessing our grocery store cashiers and stockers really are-AND in every creative way someone reaches out to another, even while staying home… may we see each of these actions big and small as moments of God’s grace and love shining through in this time that can have us questioning so many things.
How are you feeling?
Every morning this week, when my kids and I started school at home- I am reminded first and foremost that all the teachers in our world are SAINTS!- but also we start each day by checking in about how we are feeling. We have a simple feelings chart and put a sticker on the chart under how we are feeling each day- happy, sad, angry, scared and even, we aren’t sure. Our feelings can change day by day, and over the course of the day- but there is meaning in checking in with one another- especially as we journey together in this time of uncertainty. May we be as candid with our experiences as the man in this story- sharing our feelings, our stories and our worries during this time so we can carry them together. May we notice each and every mini Easter around us and may our hearts be open to the unexpected ways God is at work in our world. May we be filled up with the light of Jesus Christ to share hope with the world. Thanks be to God and another happy mini-Easter to you. Amen.