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Friday, March 21, 2008

“When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’” (John 20:19)

“SOUL-SURFING” – March 30, 2008
Second Sunday of Easter
(John 20:19-31)
Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC

The winter mid-morning’s blast shook the studied calm of the place. Hushed professional conversations ceased mid-sentence as eyes, otherwise focused, darted with neck jerking speed toward the explosion’s place of origin. For a millisecond it seemed the whole world focused on the resounding blast. But the aftershock was even more stunning: a roar of laughter beginning at the epicenter and encompassing all of us in its pure joy. Then, before the echo of laughter had faded away, the proclamation of a healing: “Look, I scared you right out of your arrhythmia!”

It was a typical morning in the hospital’s medical ICU. Groups of doctors and medical students were quietly conferring outside patient rooms about treatment plans. Nurses were either at bedsides implementing treatments or bent over charts completing documentation. X-ray technicians, respiratory therapists, dieticians, social workers and chaplains, I among them, added to the hovering crowd in the central area around which were arranged the 18 open-fronted rooms. A multitude of hushed conversations, complemented by the sounds of medical machinery, provided the white noise in which we all worked. It was on this otherwise typical morning that the blast rocked our world.

Veteran nurse Jacqueline, assisting the patient in Room 366 with a bath, could be heard conversing with her charge about the futility of watching TV while the screenwriter’s strike wore on. Though the curtain around the patient’s bed was closed, a sardonic mumble indicated the patient’s agreement with Jacqueline’s assessment. Because I’d been leaning on the countertop just across from Room 366 completing a chart notation, I half heard what was going on inside, but I dropped my pen and spun around to face the still closed curtain when, from behind it, the blast shook the mid-morning routine of the ICU. Loud as a gunshot but distinctly human in origin, Room 366 became the immediate focus of every conscious patient, family member, and medical professional within earshot.

Alert to something awful happening behind the pulled curtain, our held breaths immediately relaxed when Jacqueline’s roaring guffaw signaled the all clear. “Lord Almighty!” she exclaimed. “Didn’t even feel that sneeze coming!” Then just as the ICU was settling into its pre-eruption routine, Jacqueline, still behind the curtain and with no idea that she’d rustled up quite an audience, continued. Addressing her patient who’d been under treatment for an irregular heart rhythm, Jacqueline proclaimed a healing: “Look, I scared you right out of your arrhythmia!”

Indeed, in the high-tech environment of the hospital’s medical ICU, all it took was something as simple and as human as a gargantuan sneeze to return a heart gone awry to a healthy rhythm. “Lord Almighty!” exclaimed the nurse, and with that acknowledgement of God’s presence, something marvelous happened to the patient in Room 366. Such a drama was also played out long ago when the unsteady hearts of the disciples, encountering the risen Jesus for the first time, exclaimed “Lord Almighty!” And with that declaration of faith, hearts were calmed, faith was strengthened and the church took seed.

As the gospel passage we hear today begins, we encounter hearts pounding in fear, shuddered away against light and life. “When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’” (John 20:19) Just like that, like Jacqueline’s colossal sneeze shivered bedside curtains and echoed off walls, Jesus broke through locked doors and fear-frozen hearts to be with his chosen few. “Peace be with you,” he spoke to their terror. “Lord Almighty!” they responded. And shaking knees took strength; hearts took courage; a church took seed.

Truly, Jesus still comes to us in dramatic fashion, breaking through doors locked against all those intrusions that threaten the fragile microcosms we’ve constructed for ourselves. How many of us spend lives locked away in worlds so small! How many have bolted hearts and minds against anything that would interfere with personal comfort! Indeed, many choose still to live in dark, dank tombs though the bloom of vibrant life beckons. All it took was a tremendous sneeze behind the curtain in Room 366 to shake the confined world of the medical ICU. “Lord Almighty!” prayed Jacqueline. And even those who quickly returned to their former concerns had to confess that something nearing miraculous had occurred when the now laughing nurse continued. “Look, I scared you right out of your arrhythmia!” And perhaps even a skeptic doctor silently had to admit, “Yeah, a healthy sneeze and a hearty laugh did what I couldn’t do. Lord Almighty!”

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