Our Easter visit to Pelican Bay Maximum Security Prison gave us a sunlit view of the yard from inside the cement chapel walls. Almost like looking out from a tomb onto a new world. We gathered in a circle and pictured Jesus standing in our midst as John recorded in his gospel. Jesus, the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow showing the marks in His hands and feet, showing the wound in His side and asking us to not be unbelieving, but believing. He breathed on the gathered disciples and they received the Holy Spirit. John records what happens next in chapter 20:21 "So Jesus said onto them again, "Peace to you! As the Father sent me I also send you."
My guest minister, Mark Gordon of Teen Challenge, and I went around the circle, placing our hands on each inmate, to reiterate both Christ's grant of peace and His commission. It may seem strange to consider yourself as sent by God if you can't go anywhere, but we're not asked to judge the significance of our influence as much as to acknowledge the opportunities to witness hidden in the ordinary exchanges of our day. For an inmate the briefest contact may shed the most light on a dark situation, a letter from home, a song echoing in the corridor, a guarded smile, maybe an actual conversation on the exercise yard.
As ministers we go inside to equip the locked up saints living as examples to their incarcerated communities and their families. Today we practiced praying for one another. One brother would step forward to receive, as another takes the time to pray for insight and encouragement. We prayed for a sister dealing with diminished eyesight, we prayed for a smooth upcoming transition for an inmate's release date. Sometimes the request is just one quiet word, "Family." Sometimes its too personal to be expressed in public, sometimes its too funny not to be.
A few days after Jesus appeared in the upper room He came across the disciples fishing and, upon learning they had not caught any fish during the night, He instructed them to cast their nets, once more, off the other side of the boat. The ensuing catch was so great they couldn't haul all the fish into the boat.
We may be earnest in our attempts to pray for others, or to influence them positively and have nothing to show for our effort. This business of grace and mercy always returns to receiving what we don't deserve from Someone we can not see. At His suggestion our nets too will be so full they nearly burst, and the folks we labor with to haul them in will become brothers-in-arms.
Our relationships are the operating arena for the miraculous. We are to live our lives as if gathered in an upper room, awaiting a visit from a Holy Guest, praying that when the stone of our isolation is rolled away we rise to the occasion of compassion, conviction, and community. The traditional Easter greeting of He is Risen can expand to include us, we are risen, we are risen in deed.