4/27/2014 Second Sunday of Easter The text for today’s sermon is John 20:19-31.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Last week, those words were spoken over and over again as we celebrated the most festive day of the year – Easter Sunday. Today is another story as Easter has come and gone for another year. All the joy of last week seems to have faded. The lilies are gone from the sanctuary and so have the crowds even though the Easter season has barely begun. It seems as though today’s disciples have gone the way of the disciples of old – back into hiding and hibernation, waiting for something. Yet, this is the season of our risen Lord, with arms outstretched to embrace the whole world. This is the season that empowers all of God’s people and gives us hope and peace. For Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia and amen!
Like the withering seed that springs forth into new life, our Lord who was dead is alive again. Our Lord miraculously escaped from the prison of the grave. He defeated the power of death and rose from his tomb. And this is great news for all of us who follow him. For, if he lives, we shall live also. Certainly, this is a promise to be treasured.
But it isn’t the end of the good news for us this Easter season. For while there will be life, death and then life again, the quality of the life we live now has also been inescapably changed by the events of Easter. For, you see, while Christ escaped from the tomb, he did not withdraw from us. The miracle of Easter is not so much that Christ rose from the dead – as the Son of God, that is what could be expected. No, the miracle of all miracles is that Jesus didn’t turn his back on us. He chose to remain bound to his followers of every generation. As Jesus chose to remain bound by love to the very people who denied him and who hid in disbelief, he remains bound to us by love even in our doubt, fear, disbelief and apathy.
By right, Jesus could have walked away from those he loved unto death. For, while the women told the disciples of old of Jesus’ resurrection; and gave an eye witness account of their encounter with the risen Lord; the very people who followed Jesus from the beginning of his ministry did not believe. There was no faithful group of disciples to be found on the eve of the Lord’s rising. Instead of shouting God’s redemption at the top of their lungs, they quietly contemplated their future behind locked doors. They hid in fear, not wanting to show their faces. But the disciples of this generation do not have the same excuse. We do not live in fear of crucifixion so we can shout – Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed!
As soon as Jesus broke out of the prison of death, he broke into the prison of fear in which his followers were still trapped. Behind the closed doors in which they trembled in fear, Jesus appeared to them and offered to them his peace, a peace which surpassed the threats of the circumstances in which they found themselves, a peace which touched their souls, dispelling doubts and enabling them to see and proclaim the truth that Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed.
Christ offers to us the same peace today and every day of our lives. For the miracle of miracles is that Jesus still remains bound by love to his disciples. As he came to the disciples of old in their fear and confusion, Jesus comes to be with us in trials, hardships and fears. He comes to us as one who knows pain and death. He comes to us as one who offers us hope for a new tomorrow. He comes to us to calm our souls and give us courage to face whatever comes our way. He comes to breathe upon us the holy and life-giving spirit to sustain us. He comes to dispel our doubts and to take away our apathy and to empower us to shout out the truth at the top of our lungs so that all may hear…Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
Sometimes, we who speak those words with great joy and conviction need to hear them the most. For, today the world is still full of uncertainties – violence and hatred, as well as disasters, unemployment, illness and death surround us. Believers do not escape these realities any more than the first disciples escaped the realities of their world. The world in all its coldness can make us feel alone and insignificant at times. We could be downsized tomorrow, losing our job and income. We or a loved one could be struck down by illness, or by the agony of separation and divorce. These and many other uncertainties and problems of life can fill us with fear and cause us to doubt God. With troubled hearts, we may try to erect a fence around ourselves in an attempt to keep ourselves sheltered, even for God. But, there is no fence high enough, no barrier strong enough, no chain big enough that cannot be broken by the one who chooses to stay bound to us in love.
Jesus chooses to come to us in our confusion, doubt and disbelief. Jesus should have been angry and accusatory with his disciples on Easter, but he wasn’t. Jesus could have said to those huddled in the corner while holding out his torn hands and revealing his pierced side that he was upset by their little faith, but he didn’t. Instead of holding out his wounded hands in accusation, Jesus spoke the words that we speak to each other as a greeting during worship, “Peace be with you.” Jesus offered his followers who were hiding, cowering and doubting, his peace. He forgave them. He understood their plight. He loved them as they were and he breathed upon them the Holy Spirit. And he offers us the same! The very disciples who lived in doubt and fear were commissioned to go forth into the world in order to speak the good news of forgiveness and salvation through the risen Lord. We are to do the same.
Now, I understand that God’s peace didn’t save his disciples from experiencing real troubles in their lives. Even Thomas, who was enabled to go out among the nations after his encounter with the risen Lord, eventually died a martyr’s death in India. No, God’s peace did not and does not stop the distresses and cares of the world, but it gives hope and the promise of the Lord’s presence in the face of distress.
When the cares of the world cause us to lock our faith away, Jesus offers us a means to chase the doubt from our minds. We have more than the eye witness accounts passed down from generation to generation. We have more than a miraculous story. We have Christ’s real presence with us. When we, like Thomas, ask to see our Lord’s wounds, God makes it possible in the breaking of the bread. The body and blood of Jesus transforms us as it throws open the curtains and windows and unlocks the doors of our doubt. For, God is with us. God breaks the shackles and chains of our doubt, apathy and fear and replaces them with forgiveness and peace, a forgiveness and peace that enables us to shout out at the top of our lungs – Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed!
May this peace of the Lord, which surpasses all human understanding, be with you, my friends, this day and always. And may that peace bring you comfort in times of trouble, strength and courage to endure the challenges of each new day, and true faith and life everlasting with him who broke through the tomb to live again. For, Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! And he has chosen to be bound to you by love. Alleluia and amen!