April 24

Faithful Resilience

By Marsh Chapel

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John 20:19-31

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Recently, my husband and I have started a new Saturday morning ritual. We get up reasonably early for a Saturday morning and head out to pick up a coffee and take a walk in our neighboring areas. Sometimes we wander the paths that track alongside the Charles River, noticing the birds that make their ways to the shoreline, weaving in and out of wooded areas that intersect with roads and town squares. Sometimes we explore Mount Auburn Cemetery, a gorgeous mix of cultivated trees, flowers, ponds, and wildlife in the midst of a functioning burial ground – a national historic landmark in its own right that draws birders, historians, and scientists doing urban ecological research to its grounds. Most recently, we found our way to Fresh Pond, aided by the trails the local Departments of Conservation & Recreation have built to provide car-free paths through Watertown and Cambridge. Each of these walks takes us about an hour and a half to up to two hours. We make our way, noticing the world around us, guessing at tree and bird species (Mt Auburn lets us cheat by having placards on all of their trees), greeting walkers/runners/dog owners as we come across them, and allowing ourselves to feel closer to something bigger than ourselves.

We took up this practice during the early days pandemic. You probably remember that when we were told to stay home and away from others, going outdoors for a walk was one of the few things public officials encouraged. Get outside. Get fresh air. Get some exercise. Being cooped up indoors for so long isn’t good for your mental health. It was one of the “safe” options when we knew little about the coronavirus and fear of getting sick or getting others sick was our dominant thought. In a time of high anxiety, the nature outside our front door helped us feel, if you will excuse the pun, more grounded.

Walking these areas also helped us grow in appreciation for where we live. Despite our urban landscape, we can easily access these greenspaces. We are lucky and recognize that not everyone has such access. It also made us realize nature’s healing properties. And it’s not just us thinking it helped our moods. Studies have shown that connections with nature can help improve individuals’ mental and physical health, decreasing anxiety and depression, easing muscle tension and lowering blood pressure and even decreasing the duration of hospital stays.[1] We don’t put in headphones on these walks so we can hear the birds singing, the lapping of water at the edges of the rivers and ponds. We occasionally take our walks on brutally cold or rainy mornings (usually more my husband’s idea than mine) but we get to see animals we might not otherwise encounter and appreciate the cycles of the seasons and weather patterns in nature revealing itself to us. These walks helped us get through the long stretches of us only seeing each other during lockdown. It broke up our days that seemed to run together. And now, it’s something that we can do to connect with each other after a busy week of work.

Nature has taught us resilience. We have seen it take over abandoned areas, with trees and grasses pushing through old pavement. We are reminded of the renewal experienced each year as new buds and blooms inevitably begin to grow during the grayest days of March and April. Nature also reveals the complexity of the world around us. The water levels of the Charles remind us of whether we’ve been having too much or too little rain. The presence of certain wildlife, or lack thereof, has made us question how human interference has or has not created problems. Mostly, it gives us hope and a sense of being connected to the Divine through the creation. Instead of viewing the world through our computer screens, which is something I will admit has taken up too much of my time lately, getting out into our local environment helps us to feel more complete. It makes us more aware. It refuels us. It is healing in a world that increasingly feels more and more out of control.

In today’s Gospel we encounter the disciples in a locked room on the first day of the week. They are fearful. Their world has been turned upside down by the recent events they’ve experienced. They’ve lost their leader. The state executed Jesus and now, who knows, they might be next because they are his followers. Hiding appears to be the best option because there is so much uncertainty around them. Despite the fact that Jesus has told the disciples that his time will come and that they will have to continue his ministry without him, they are still terrified. They were told to believe and continue on and yet they find it hard to in their present circumstances. Fear overtakes their faith, it freezes them and causes them to want to remain hidden from the world. They keep themselves hidden because they cannot move on. They are directionless and have only each other to cling to in the immediate aftermath of Jesus’ death.

Jesus then appears through the locked door meant to keep the outside world “out there” and the disciples safe “in here”. He wishes peace upon them and breathes the Holy Spirit on them. They recognize him through his repetition of peace, the words he shares with them. The whole thing is completely beyond comprehension for the disciples. No one expected a week after his death, that Jesus would appear, least of all the disciples who didn’t seem to believe Mary Magdelene’s testimony from the day of his resurrection. Everything is once again upended by his appearance, even if for a short time. However, Jesus’ words calm them and they recognize their savior.

Jesus’ presence fosters the disciples’ resilience. While Jesus had intended for his words before his death to provide a reminder to the disciples of how they were to proceed after he was no longer with them, they needed an extra boost of his presence and the work of the Holy Spirit to motivate them to proclaim the good news. They find Thomas, who wasn’t there when Jesus appeared and share the good news that Mary and Jesus have shared with them. Thomas, in turn, doesn’t believe them. Thomas has always been a questioner, a seeker. You may remember that in chapter 14, after Jesus telling the disciples that he is preparing a place for them with God, Thomas states that they do not know where he is going and therefore they cannot know the way. Jesus replies that he is the way, the truth, and the life. Evidently all of the disciples forgot this exchange. Thomas too comes to recognize Jesus’ power in his second appearance to the disciples. It is not that Thomas doubts, but that he wants to experience what the other disciples saw the week prior. The author of the Gospel instills in us as readers that we too should trust in Jesus’ resurrection not because we will be able to physically witness it as the disciples did but because we have faith in God. Thomas questions because he wants to be sure in his faith in God, securing and owning his faith. Thomas’ questioning is a form of resilience because it helps him to grow into his faith, finally confessing “My Lord and My God” when he encounters Jesus.

The resurrection and these subsequent appearances by Jesus to the disciples (including Mary) remind us of the boldness of our faith. Our Christian tradition is rooted in making a way out of no way. The impossible becomes possible. Refueled and reoriented by Jesus’ appearance and his breathing of the Holy Spirit on them, the disciples are now ready to go out into the world and proclaim the good news of Jesus’ ministry to others. Much like the second Genesis creation narrative, in which God breathes the breath of life into human beings, Jesus’ breath offers new life of ministry and resiliency to the disciples.

In the past few years, it may have felt as though we are in need of the Holy Spirit’s presence to build our resilience. Grappling with the on-going pandemic and anxieties around social behavior (should I continue to wear my mask? Is it safe to travel? Should I feel guilty about returning to some normalcy?), a war erupting in Eastern Europe, continued inflation, and to top it off, the looming challenges we are facing due to climate change, we may want to refuse to accept reality. It is easier to pretend these things are not affecting us because the grief and discomfort of facing these global challenges are just too much for us to wrap our heads around. We may want to lock ourselves away and try to hide out of fear of what the future might hold.

Looking at this time in our collective history, one might think that it would cause us to come together and be more willing to support one another. To anticipate global phenomena, such as a pandemic, and find ways to prevent or lessen their impact. This hasn’t been the case. For many, climate change and related issues of pollution and social and economic harm have dropped in people’s awareness. Rising gas prices have not caused our nation to seek out alternatives, but rather to double down on our dependence on fossil fuel consumption. War in Ukraine is motivated not just by ideological claims of Russian ethnic identity (as claimed by the Russian government) but also by the vast resources found within Ukrainian soil. Ukraine has the second largest natural gas reserves in Europe, as well as the sixth largest coal reserves. These fossil fuel deposits are generally found in the eastern part of Ukraine, which just so happens to be the area that the Russian government is interested in annexing back into Russian territory. Possessing energy means possessing power in our current global economy.[2]

How can we hope to be resilient in times when things seem so bleak? When some of us can’t even bare to look at the news because it only seems to be going from bad to worse? When we’re already experiencing the effects of global climate change – droughts, wildfires, flooding, pandemics – and it feels like it’s too late? When we find ourselves trapped in a metaphorical locked room afraid to face what is on the other side of the door?

Resiliency is thought to come from a variety of sources. Building connections, fostering wellness, finding purpose, and seeking help when needed, all help us through difficult times.[3] We see some of these in the disciples through their gathering and relying on one another in the absence of Jesus, and then their motivation to go out into the world to spread the word of his life and ministry to others. Coming together offers us the opportunity to support one another through challenging times, to have diverse perspectives and ways of approaching problems, to work together to make a way out of no way. Coming together with the Earth helps us to better understand its systems and the ways our actions impact it. The Holy Spirit binds us together to make care of the Earth a priority. Jesus’ ministry provides an example of seeking justice and healing for our neighbors, and our faith in his ministry bolsters us to face the challenges of today.

This past Friday was Earth Day. Earth Day generally encourages us to appreciate the Earth for how it supports us as well as cause us to examine the ways we interact with it and its many systems. A celebration of our shared commitment to the Earth while also bringing attention to the harmful and exploitative injustices tied to our use and misuse of Earth’s resources. COVID brought into sharp focus the ways in which our global community is deeply connected. Not only has the specter of the virus caused us to change our lives in drastic ways, it made social and economic disparities even more apparent. A pandemic itself can be the result of loss of biodiversity, harming the Earth’s own resiliency in preventing the ways in which natural systems can heal themselves. Earth’s health affects our own health and continuing to disrupt those systems will only bring harm to ourselves. Failure to see ourselves as a part of rather than separate from “nature” will diminish our ability to aid in its resilience.

If we do not learn some climate resiliency now and attempt to dampen the effects of climate change, we will find ourselves forced to adapt. As people of God, of the resurrected Christ, we are a resilient people. We are a people who through faith, have hope for the world. We also acknowledge the ways we fall short and the responsibility we have to care for one another. As the Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, stated on 2021’s Earth Day “it is central to our holy calling to treasure the earth and care for it as our home, fully integrating creation care into our love of God, neighbor and all in the environment.”[4] Despite how deeply distraught we might feel in light of climate change or other global challenges, we have the ability to find resilience in a world that will inevitably change and have more challenges in coming years. The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, head of the Orthodox Christian Churches, also known as the Green Patriarch offers these words of hope and resilience:

“It is never too late. God’s world has incredible healing powers; and human choices can change the tide in global warming. Within a single generation, we could steer earth toward our children’s future. With God’s blessing and help, that generation can begin now. For the first time in the history of our world, we recognize that our decisions and choices directly impact the environment. It is up to us to shape our future; it is up to us to choose our destiny. Breaking the vicious circle of ecological degradation is a choice with which we are uniquely endowed, at this crucial moment in the history of our planet.”[5]

My call to you this Earth Day Sunday is to find ways you can become resilient and create change in this world. Acknowledge the ways you have fallen short in your care and concern for the Earth, repent of those sins, and work to remediate them. Find something you are passionate about and start there. Want to feel closer to nature or God? Schedule time to spend outside and see how it makes you more aware of your surroundings. Feel God’s presence in creation and the intricate ways we are connected to our environment. Find ways to connect with others around environmental issues and ways you feel motivated to address them. Are you passionate about economic or racial justice issues? Find out how these are connected to environmental justice and how they influence each other. Speak truth to power by holding government officials and corporations responsible for failing to protect and actively harming the Earth. Help communities of color and low-income communities gain access to climate resiliency planning so that they don’t have to bear the brunt of climate change effects.

There are ways we can build our resilience through our faith and help to envision a future full of hope adapting to the changes in our Earthly home. Even though we may be fearful about the future, we are not helpless. We are at a pivotal point in Earth’s history in which we can effect change. We trust in the risen Lord who forgives our sins and promises the establishment of a new creation, one in which we can aid in bringing about, full of justice and righteousness.  Amen.

[1] Miyazaki, Yoshifumi, et al. “A Review of the Benefits of Nature Experiences: More than Meets the Eye,” Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2017 Aug; 14(8): 864.

[2] David Knight Legg “Putin’s Ukraine Invasion Is About Energy and Natural Resources,” The Wall Street Journal, April 5, 2022,

[3] David Palmiter, et al. “Building your resilience,” American Psychological Association: Psychology Topics, Updated February 1, 2020.

[4] “Earth Day statement from Bishop Eaton,” ELCA, 4/13/2021

[5] Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church Ecumenical Patriarchate Press Office, “Environmental Justice and Peace: Quotes from His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew,”


-The Rev. Dr. Jessica Chicka, University Chaplain for International Students

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