I might as well admit it right now: I’m secretly a 32nd degree Chicken. If you’ve seen the back of my car, you might have noticed the telltale logo: a bird awkwardly running away from perceived danger.
Some men are born fearless: either that, or just plain stupid. It seems as if nothing intimidates them and there isn’t any challenge they aren’t willing to take on.
Not me. I’m not exactly a Barney Fife character, and to some my joyfully taking on a life of raising 5 children may seem like the height of courage (or folly). But there are many times in my life when I lack courage and confidence in what I’m doing. Even small things get to me sometimes, and I am concerned because I’m afraid I won’t do things right or to the satisfaction of others.
One of the things that stands out, however, in the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus Christ, is that when He appears to His disciples, whatever chickenness or grief or sorrow they have vanishes.
Left to herself, Mary Magdalene can only grieve at the absence of her Lord. But in His blessed presence, her sorrow is turned to joy. In today’s lesson, we find the disciples gathered together. But it isn’t the love and peace and joy of Jesus Christ that is binding them together but fear, fear of the Jews. For on the night of the day in which He rose from the dead, the disciples were gathered together in the upper room, and the doors were shut, for fear of the Jews.
This is the natural condition we find ourselves in, without the presence and grace of Jesus Christ. But then Jesus comes to His disciples, and the world is changed once again. When He comes to them, He comes and says, simply: “Peace be to you.” And He who created the world by His Word now re-creates His disciples by His Word. For He has only to say the Word, and they will be healed. He has only to say the word “Peace,” and peace is created in their lives.
After He has said this and revealed Himself to them, the fear of the cowardly disciples is turned into joy and gladness. “Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord.”
This is to be our experience with Jesus as well. Although it’s unlikely that Charles the Chicken-Hearted will have to fear persecution to the point of torture, imprisonment, or death, I will face things in this life that make me fear or lose heart (many of them). I will cower in the upper room, sometimes in my little Erlandson ghetto at home, or even at church, afraid of the larger world and the many dangers. I will lose heart even in those purposes to which I know the Lord Himself has called me.
But that is not where I am meant to be. I’m meant to be in the presence of Jesus once again. I am to wait for Him to come to me, or even to venture out and seek Him wherever He may be found. When I am cowardly or chicken, or suffering or grieving, He is waiting for me to come to Him, so that He may speak to me and reveal Himself to me, and I will be filled with joy and peace once again.
How is it that this joy and peace and courage can come to us, even in a world that intimidates us? This is the work of the Holy Spirit, who is the En-courage-r. He is the presence of the Lord in our lives, and He is the one who will give courage to the cowardly and fearful, peace to the troubled, and healing to the suffering.
Jesus is calling you to peace and joy and faith, and to this end, He breathes out His Holy Spirit in your life, just as He did with the disciples in the upper room. Whatever He has called you to do, He will equip you to do, by His Holy Spirit.“Even as my Father has sent Me, so send I you.” This is a terrifying commission, even in our better moments. But Jesus tells the chickenly disciples this shortly after they were just fearful of the Jews. How can they receive such an intimidating commission? Because as soon as Jesus gave them this great commission, He breathed out His Holy Spirit among them.
It may appear from this passage that whenever we are fearful chickens, all we have to do is to pray to Jesus, and He’ll immediately come and make things feel better. But we know this isn’t true.
I see more in this passage. It’s rather ironic that one of the things that comforts and encourages the disciples is the hands and side of Jesus. Ironic, because these are the marks of His terrible Passion and Crucifixion. It’s as if He is saying to us, “You, too, will experience pain and suffering in this world, for My sake. Nevertheless, be strong and of good courage. I AM!”
I see in this, I see in the very Body of my Lord, that this promise of the Encourager and courage is no easy thing. It’s not a promise of deliverance from all suffering or doubt or fear: in fact, it’s a guarantee that we will be tempted by these very things. In fact, if I didn’t need courage, He would have no occasion to send the Encourager. If I didn’t need help, He would have no reason to send the Helper. But I need all of these things, and, by His grace, He is willing to give them to me.
But the certainty of suffering or doubt or fear in this life is accompanied by God’s promise that in that suffering or doubt or fear, He will be with us, blessing us through it all.
And this leads me to my personal definition of courage, one which I have tried to impart to my beloved children: “Courage is doing what’s right, even when you don’t feel like doing it.” It’s this kind of courage that compelled Jesus to march to Calvary, in spite of the anguish of Gethsemane. It’s this kind of courage that transformed the disciples from those who were huddled together behind closed doors out of fear of the Jews into those who went out into the world and turned it upside down.
And this is the kind of humble courage my Lord offers to me, the 32nd degree Chicken. He doesn’t promise to take away everything that may trouble my heart or cause me pain. But He does promise to be with me whenever I come to Him and am ready to receive Him. He doesn’t even always make it feel good. But He does always give me courage so that even when I don’t feel like it, I am enabled to do what He would have me to do.
And what He would have me to do, most of all, is to come and be with Him, so that in due time I may receive His grace and peace and joy and blessing.
Prayer: Let us not seek out of thee what we can only find in thee, O Lord.
Peace and rest and joy and bliss,
which abide only in thine abiding joy.
Lift up our souls above the weary round of harassing thoughts to thy eternal presence.
Lift up our minds to the pure, bright serene atmosphere of thy presence,
that we may breathe freely,
there repose in thy love,
there be at rest from ourselves
and from all things that weary us:
and thence return, arrayed in thy peace,
to do and to bear whatsoever shall best please thee,
O blessed Lord. Amen.
Point for Meditation:
In what things am I fearful? In what things am I failing to trust the Lord? In what things am I suffering?
Resolution: I resolve to come to my Lord and spend time with Him until I have given Him my fear and suffering and doubt and received His promise of blessing.
© 2014 Fr. Charles Erlandson