The Gulf Atlantic Diocese is in the process of electing a new Bishop. For more information about this process, please visit gadbishopsearch.org.

From Fear to Freedom

Dear brothers and sisters in Jesus,

Lockdown. It is the tragic and fearful state which we all experienced early on in the pandemic. Everything came to a halt. Sadly, some countries are in the midst of lockdowns again.

What struck me as I considered the story of Jesus appearing to the disciples after the resurrection (John 20:19-23) is that they were in lockdown:

“On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Judean authorities....”*

Jesus had been crucified by the Romans with the encouragement of the Judean leaders, and the disciples were naturally convinced that the same could happen to them. So they locked the doors and stayed in hiding.

Then the miraculous happened:

“Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’” 

Alleluia, Christ is risen indeed! His death for our sins was validated when he was raised!

The disciples’ lockdown ends because ultimately they have no need to fear. Even death itself has been defeated. Jesus has brought the deepest promise of peace ever.

But they do not return to life as they knew it. Jesus defines the new normal for them: “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” Their mission is to get the good news of Jesus out to the world. And Jesus gives the power to tackle this task: “And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’”

We will be coming into the new normal season as the pandemic (hopefully) continues to diminish. This is a key moment for us as Christians. Will we ask the Lord Jesus to send us as good news couriers to others? Will we depend on the Holy Spirit to work through us as we do so?

Many people in the culture have now recognized that life is certainly not under their control, and probably have a new awareness of their mortality. These people may be more ready to hear of the love of Jesus, his purposes for their lives, and his gift of eternal life. Will we tell them?

Let me share one warning. The Enemy would love to tear our churches apart over minor issues such as how long to maintain COVID protocols. If he can get us to fight over such things, we will be in no place to be lights in the darkness around us. The key issue for us is not when and how we change COVID protocols. There are no easy answers. We are not beyond the threat of this pernicious virus yet, although the increasing rate of vaccination is excellent news. (Out of love for your neighbor, please consider being vaccinated as soon as you can.)

No, the key issue will be trusting our diocesan, clergy, and parish leaders to make the right decisions in due time. “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Hebrews 13:17).

At the deepest level, our spiritual lockdown due to fear of death is already over, because Jesus promises eternal life to all who put their trust in him. Ask him to send you to others with this Good News!

In Jesus the Risen Lord,

+Neil

The Rt. Rev. Neil G. Lebhar
Bishop of the Gulf Atlantic Diocese

*John 20:19, my translation. The ESV and many other translations simply say “for fear of the Jews.” This is very misleading because the disciples themselves were all Jews. But the Greek word also means "who are Judeans, who live in and around Jerusalem." The phrase “the Jews” is similar to what we mean when we say “Washington” decided to push back against another country’s decision. We don’t mean everyone who lives in Washington, we mean the governmental authorities there. I share this because much anti-semitism stems from misunderstanding John’s use of the word in his gospel.