In the days after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, his disciples struggled to make sense of the events that had happened. While Jesus appeared to the women and to the disciples on the Emmaus road, other disciples gathered in fear behind bolted doors. I can imagine that I would have been among the group cowering behind locked doors. And, like the skeptical Thomas, I would have needed proof to believe the outlandish stories. How could the disciples go on after such a devastating loss? And how could they have the courage to proclaim Jesus’ resurrection when the story was so unbelievable?
So much was happening in and around the disciples in the aftermath of Jesus’ death. Though we see their fear, we also see their resilience. In our society today, there is a lot of talk about resilience—the ability to recover from difficulty. A common characteristic of a resilient person or entity is the ability to face one’s fears. In my understanding, this characteristic is courage. “Courage. From the Latin, cor, which means ‘heart.’”
These disciples of Jesus practiced resilience and courage when they overcame their fears, trusted, and followed the Risen Christ. Our spiritual ancestors, they modeled courage for us. They formed a community of love that survived persecution of their movement by the Roman authorities. Perhaps the words of Jesus echoing in their spirits enabled this faithful endurance.
Jesus said in the Gospel of John, “Take courage, I have conquered the world!” And part of me wonders … Where are you, Jesus? And where is the evidence of your victory over death? In recent weeks, we have watched, with hopeful hearts, the beginning of the end of the global pandemic of COVID-19. But as hope rose, our spirits were flattened by news in the U.S. of mass shootings and an increase in cases of the virus. What does the courage that John describes look like amidst a relentless litany of suffering?
Courage shows up in many creative and often unassuming ways. We have seen so much courage in the world during this past year. The courage of health care workers who went to work every day facing the unknown perils of a new virus, working, often, without adequate protective equipment. The courage of prophets speaking truth to the injustices of the world. The courage of parents who took on the schooling of their children and teachers who learned to reach out to students using new technologies. The courage of people with Asian features venturing out into a hostile world. The courage of those who suddenly find themselves without jobs or places to live. The courage of those living in isolation getting up each day and continuing to live.
Courage isn’t always daring action, like entering a burning building. Sometimes a courageous deed is as simple as leaving the house to drive to the grocery store; logging onto Zoom for the first time; saying to someone else, “I need help.”
John Mogabgab wrote in Weavings, “Jesus embodies the fullness and freedom of a courageous heart, a heart in which love has displaced fear.” This is the essence of courage—that we would open our fearful hearts to the Holy One. That we would trust in the power of God to replace our fears.
Courage is believing that Christ has conquered the world despite all the evidence to the contrary. Mogabgab asks, “How can we live courageously in the midst of such distress? … Through participation in the heart of Christ.”
May we live with the heart of Christ—Christ’s courage—beating inside each of us. Filling us with love, hope, trust, and courage.
Beth A. Richardson serves as the director of prayer and worship life and Dean of The Upper Room Chapel. Her latest release from Upper Room Books is Walking in the Wilderness: Seeking God During Lent.
I could not have found The Upper Room Moments of Prayer (on Facebook Live) sooner. For it is during these moments of centering spiritual practices, meditating on the words of scripture, praying with and for the world, that I find moments of transcendence, hear whispers of peace and hope, see glimpses of truth and justice, behold visions of love and beauty amid all the stark realities that are around me.”