At the school down the street, children lined up this morning to meet this year’s classmates and teachers. Laughter echoed from the older students, while this year’s youngest held tight to hands of their parents as they walked into this new adventure. A little boy in a bright blue T-shirt cried, disappointed that his best friend isn’t in his class this year. A young girl celebrated that she got the teacher everybody wants.
Maybe because I’ve spent so many years of my life in school, in some ways September feels to me more like the start of a new year than January. Whether I’m heading back to school myself or not, there’s excitement in the air and in me. I enjoy the comforting stability of getting back into routine, the welcome summons to good, hard work, and the promise of new books to read, ideas to explore, and friends to meet.
Though I’m not going to school this fall, my heart is full with the promise of newness and all the work, learning, and new friends that these months will bring. This fall, after twelve years of work, I get to finally, finally, put the book I’ve been writing for you into your hands. I can’t wait!
I’ll share more on that soon, but today, as we stand in this first week of September, I’m thinking about you. I’m wondering what this autumn will hold for you: what new adventures, what familiar fears and burdens, what hopes and dreams. I’m standing beside you in my mind, holding you up to the Living One who really does stand beside us in whatever we face and however we feel about it.
In these last few weeks, as I’ve been preparing to step into this new season of putting the book out into the world and feeling both the excitement and vulnerability of that, I’ve been walking with Jesus and his disciples through the resurrection stories. I expected joy to surround the resurrection, but first I felt the confusion and devastation of the disciples as they holed up together in the wake of Good Friday, everything they thought they knew apparently shattered. I identified with Mary as she took one look at the open tomb, assumed the worst—“They’ve stolen his body!”—and ran to tell Peter and John. I walked with the travelers on the road to Emmaeus as a third person came up and asked them what they were talking about, and I poured out my own questions and disappointments.
But I also heard, again and again, the risen Jesus’ words to his friends, “Peace be with you.”
I listened to him ask the questions to draw out their aches and frustrations, their longing and their grief as well as their hopes and their gladness. “What are you discussing?” (Lk 24:17) “Why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” (Jn 20:15) “Haven’t you any fish?” (John 21:5) “Do you love me?” (John 21:15)
Fear and joy, disorientation and doubt, hope and disbelief and love walk hand in hand through the resurrection narratives. Within moments, the disciples move from fear so intense they have the doors locked to being “overjoyed” (Jn 20:19-20). But then, while they are excitedly talking about one recent encounter with the risen Jesus, he appears again and they are once more “startled and frightened” (Lk 24:36-37).
To be human is to have a whole range of feelings about change. Even good change.
I listened as Jesus spoke Mary’s name, and Simon’s, and my own, declaring that none of our fears or failures will keep him from sending us out to share what we’ve seen: Jesus is alive and he is here!
This encourages me so much. Even when the living Jesus is present and active among us, guiding us into the future himself, our emotions may be all over the place. We may not immediately recognize Jesus for who he is. But none of that keeps Jesus from showing up again and again, asking questions, offering peace, speaking our names. Calling us into the future with him, a future that may at times be challenging but will be good because Jesus will be with us in every moment of it.
This is how joy grows: not in the absence of fears and doubts and disappointments, but in feeling them fully and finding the living Jesus meeting us with his presence and peace right in the midst of them.
Savor this with me, will you, as we step into something new—a new school year, the new experience of releasing a book into the world, whatever new thing you’re facing this fall? Aren’t these the truths we need to know in order to move forward with confidence, resting in God’s love?
- Jesus is indeed alive and active among us. He is present, delighting to show up and surprise us as we walk and chat with a friend (Lk 24:13ff), share a meal (Luke 24), or hole up somewhere trying to protect ourselves (John 20:19).
- He knows exactly what we each uniquely need, and delights to meet us in it. Mary got two angels, the question of who she was seeking, and hearing her own name spoken by Jesus (John 20:11-18). Simon got a miraculous catch of fish echoing his initial call, and the repeated question, “Simon, do you love me?” (John 21). Thomas received an invitation to touch Jesus’ wounded hands and side (John 20:24-29). For some of us, the barrier to trust is doubt, for others fear. Jesus meets each of us in different ways, but always with the compassion and intimate knowing that delights to give us exactly what we need.
- Our mixed emotions aren’t a barrier to Jesus. Again and again Jesus comes, again and again speaks, “Peace be to you.” And right in the middle of their (and our!) mix of fear and joy, Jesus declares, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (John 20:21) He speaks it as he stands before them, his wounds declaring that all who follow will experience wounds too, his vibrantly alive body and soul singing the certainty that in the end everything will be all right because the living Jesus walks with us.