Riverside United


Dancing in the Dark

When I met Terrance sixteen years ago I had no idea the impact that he was going to have on my life. Our time together only lasted a few days, but the exchange that we shared over those few days has stayed with me all these years. Our chance meeting took place during a service trip I took with some youth and adults from St. John’s Presbyterian Church in Devon, PA.  The trip took us to one of the most impoverished counties in the entire United States. This particular community in Coastal Virginia is known for having one of the highest percentages of people living below the poverty line. When we arrived at Terrance’s house the first thing that I noticed was that his house could use a good paint job. It made sense that we would be doing this for him. The second thing I noticed ended up being one of the images that has stayed with me all these years—it was the ramp leading up to the front door of the house. When Terrance came out on that ramp to greet us, I quickly realized that painting the exterior of his house wasn’t going to be the best use of our time. Upon our arrival, Terrance came out the front door and immediately grabbed the railing connected to the worn down, tired looking ramp. He then began to navigate around a giant hole that rested directly outside the door. It was clear that over time the non-treated plywood sheets that provided the base for the ramp had worn too thin, to the point that Terrance must have fallen through the ramp weeks, months, or even years before we met him. When the host of the service organization introduced me to Terrance I quickly realized just how useless it would be for us to scrape and paint the exterior of his house.  Terrance was visually impaired. The most impactful thing we could do for him had nothing to do with the curb appeal of the house. We needed to fix that sorry-looking, human trap of a ramp that he used to move in and out of his house. 

When our host finished giving us instructions for the day, he hopped in his truck and left to go visit one of the other project sites. I stood there next to one of our other church leaders and we talked about the absurdity of following through with our assigned task while the most important (and impactful) thing we could do would be to get busy building a ramp. After some initial discussion, I walked up to Terrance’s door and knocked. When he came out I asked him about the ramp. He told me that his neighbour was going to help him fix it, but that was quite a while ago and he didn’t want to press him on helping—the neighbour had just lost his job. I asked him if it was okay if we attempted to fix it. He gave us an enthusiastic, “Yes!”.  And so, we made a quick trip to the local lumber yard and picked up all the supplies we needed—including enough pressure-treated deck boards to ensure that Terrance would never have to worry about falling through the ramp ever again. 

Our crew worked all day on the project. The timing couldn’t have worked out more perfectly as we drilled the holes in the final two deck boards... our project coordinator pulled up in his truck. I wasn’t sure how he would respond to our team “calling an audible” that day, but to his credit he greeted us like heroes.  When we returned the next day, Terrance saw me and motioned for me to come meet him on the newly-renovated ramp. He put his arm around me and said, “Do you know what I did around midnight last night?” I had no clue. So I replied, “I have no idea. What did you do at midnight?” He smiled and said, “I came out on my fabulous new ramp and I danced.” We both had a good laugh in that moment and I sensed God’s Spirit moving around us and through us as we celebrated together. 

I don’t know what it would have been like for the the disciples to encounter the Risen Christ, but I suspect that it would have been a little like that moment I had with Terrance—where he smiled and told me about his late-night jig. This was a resurrection moment! Terrance taught me what it meant to dance with God (with Jesus) from the darkness and into the light of the resurrection. He was like Christ to me. That is exactly what happens when the resurrected Christ comes to see Thomas and opens his wounded arms to him. It’s not a moment of doubt that God pre-arranges and uses to make a point about faith and disbelief.  It is simply a resurrection moment that teaches Thomas to dance, to truly dance, in the light of a new day.

At the end of this passage from John, we hear these words: "...These things are written so that you will believe that Jesus is the Christ, God’s Son, and that believing, you will have life in his name.”

Some people of faith get so caught up in the first part that they neglect to hear the words proclaimed at the end. Why did Christ come? What was God up to when it comes to the resurrection? Jesus comes so that we might have LIFE. Not simply so that we might worship him and sing our praise to the name of Jesus.  Jesus comes so the we might have LIFE—so that we might COME ALIVE. 

In the exchange that I had with Terrance, he taught me what it meant to COME ALIVE. Our crew may have responded to the Spirit and felt pretty good about what we did, but it was Terrance that taught us what life in the Spirit looks like. What it means to come to LIFE.  In the midst of this quarantine, the God of Resurrection is calling to us, inviting us to see the holes in our world. 

The wounds that Christ bears are visible in the world today. For Terrance, it was more that just a hole in his house ramp. The problem of poverty left him with a hole that we could not fix on our own—and certainly not in one day’s work. Right now, our world is applauding those health care workers, delivery people and others (who, to be clear, are heroes we should celebrate). But if all we do at the end this time of self-isolation is become more appreciative of them it won’t be nearly enough. To follow in the way of Thomas is to be someone who seeks out those wounds and longs to touch them. These past few months have been a time where many of us have seen the holes in our society. We must, as people of faith, be willing to risk as Thomas did and profess as Thomas did in order that we might find a way for all creation to dance in the light of the resurrection. We can do that by comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. In the light of the resurrection, God is calling us to end poverty and hunger. God is showing us the wounds in our world and urging us to pick up the tools that  we need to walk with the Risen one in the light of the Resurrection. Can you hear the Risen Christ urging us to “Go?”; inviting us to truly COME ALIVE?
Will Willimon shares a story from a woman he once knew. She was someone who worked in his office building. He enjoyed chatting with her when they occasionally ran into one another at the coffee bar.  “How are you doing?” he asked her. “Okay,” she said. “We’ve gone through a tough time. Our son stormed out one night in a rage. We didn’t know if he was dead or alive for the past three months. Last night when my husband and I were having dinner, suddenly the front door burst open and in bursts our son, curses coming out of his mouth. “‘Thank God you’re home!’” I said. “‘Please, sit down and I’ll fix you whatever you want for supper.’ “My son stomped through and headed down the hall to his room. He slammed the door and we heard him lock it.  My husband does what he always does. He folded his napkin and silently got up from the dinner table, went into the den, and turned on the TV. “I sat there and prayed, ‘Lord, show me your way. Help me know what to do.’ And it was just like Jesus told me to get up and walk down the hall and out to the garage to my husband’s workshop. I looked on the workbench and immediately my eyes fell upon his biggest hammer. I picked it up and walked back in the house, back down the hall, and stood before the door to my son’s room.  “‘Son, I just want to talk. Please unlock the door.’ He shouted curses from inside the bedroom. But it was like—it was like Jesus was guiding me. I drew back that hammer and came down with a strength not my own on the doorknob. In one blow I knocked off the whole doorknob and lock. Just split the door from top to bottom.  What was left of the door swung open. There was my son, sitting on the bed, terrified. “I lunged at him,  ‘I went into labor for you! I will never, ever let you go. Understand?  “‘I think he eventually got the point!’”* Like Willimon, I truly believe that God is like this—prepared to knock down that door in the name of love.

In this world that we live in there are locked doors that we need to open. There are holes that need to be repaired. A life of faith that honours the way of Jesus (the way of Thomas) is one that longs to have all creation COME ALIVE… to experience the love that is on the other side of the door… to experience the joy that comes from a midnight dance. All of these give us a glimpse of the Risen Christ.  May our response to that loving presence be one that moves us to say… “I believe.” One that moves us out into the world to speak God’s words of love to the world and to dance together in the light of a new day.  AMEN.

*TAKEN FROM: Will Willimon, From: “Stories By Willimon” (Abingdon Press, ©2020)

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