Filed under: Sermons | Tags: easter, fear, Jesus, locked room, resurrection, thomas, tomb
Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
We enter the Gospel of John on the first Easter evening. In John’s Gospel, Mary Magdalene is the first to reach the tomb and find it empty. She runs and tells Peter and another disciple that Jesus’ body is missing. Then Peter and the beloved disciple also go to the tomb and find no body. All they see are the linen wrappings that had covered Jesus in his death. At this sight, they remember the scripture and Jesus’ teaching that he would rise from the dead. Then, believing, they return to their homes. Mary stays outside the tomb. There, in the garden, Jesus meets her. Jesus sends her back to the other disciples, to share the good news of his resurrection and impending ascension.
All that brings us up to speed for our reading for this morning. Are you ready to continue to explore this exciting story? Well, it takes a bit of a twist. The scene we meet is hardly the scene I’d expect following the revelations of that first Easter morning.
I’d expect something like the joy I experienced here on Easter morning. Or the feast I had on Sunday evening. Or the wonder of discovery I see in children on Easter egg hunts.
Instead, this twist in the story plunges us to an abrupt stop. The excitement of Jesus’ resurrection hasn’t burst forth into the world, it’s been shuttered up. We find the disciples gathered together behind locked doors, with fear in their hearts. Despite hearing the good news, the disciples are still trapped by fear. We can understand why they’d be afraid. Their friend and leader was just killed. The religious leaders and the government may be ready to kill all of them. Those leaders want peace, not an insurrection fueled by Jesus’ martyrdom. Certainly these disciples are on the watch-list. They are likely in danger!
But I have to say I feel sad for the disciples because they are trapped in fear. I feel sad mostly because I know how easy it is for us today to be trapped in fear, just like them. We can be trapped personally, as well as congregationally. Setting aside the issue of mental illnesses which can bind and trap people, for whom professional treatment can work to free and heal, basic fear can hold us back from living fully in the joy of Jesus’ resurrection.
We’re trapped in fear when we forget that Jesus has already won! When avoiding death is our greatest goal. When we feel a need to create a legacy so that we are not forgotten. When we seek to protect ourselves above all else. When we try to accumulate as much stuff and money as we can. When we try to make ourselves important according to the values of this world. When we lose sight of how very much Jesus loves and values us. When we exclude instead of welcome. We’re trapped in fear when we forget that we’ve already been brought into the kingdom of God, so that we can live this life and eternal life in the joy Jesus has won for us.
As a congregation, we can become trapped in fear when we see scarcity rather than abundance. When we try to protect the in-group rather than going outside of our boundaries. When we stop our joyful joining in God’s work because we don’t see a change in the world.
We’re trapped when we don’t allow the resurrection to change our lives. People often wonder with me how those who don’t believe in God can get through hard times, or have hope in the midst of grief. What I want to wonder with you is how your living is different from your atheist neighbor. How do you not just get through life, but live life, live resurrection, each day? How does your trust in a life-giving God change your priorities, your values, and your goals?
I talked last week about how Jesus’ resurrection is life breaking into the death of our world. Easter is the sign of God’s kingdom here and now, even as we know it’s not fully here yet. I asked you to look for signs of resurrection and kingdom in your neighborhoods and your lives. I hope you take some time during coffee hour to share those sightings.
As we consider how to live resurrection-changed lives, I think it’s worth recognizing that most of the stories of resurrection-sightings I found deal with God’s work among the poor and powerless. They included coffee-drinkers who paid for extra drinks so those without money could enjoy something warm on a cold day. ELCA Missionaries June and Phil Nelson witnessed to the healing of a burned boy, who was driven to the protestant hospital by the bishop, and received necessary treatment free of charge. Kingdom transformation is found where is it most desperately needed. Those are the places we are called to join in God’s work.
Even as we recognize the not-yet-ness of resurrection healing in our world, we are called to live as if we are fully in the kingdom now. That means we take courageous and bold steps to join in God’s work to bring life and healing to all the world, sharing the good news of Jesus’ resurrection. It means we share the abundant forgiveness we have received. Our vision of the world is changed, so that even when we look death and despair in the face, we see God’s work to bring life and hope.
The disciples did not stay locked in the room, because Jesus came to them. Into that space, heavy with fear, Jesus came and stood, declaring, “Peace be with you.” He calms their hearts and reassures them that the empty tomb was truly a sign of God’s work. But he does not let the disciples stay locked in their room. Jesus says, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” The disciples are to go out, continue the work of the kingdom, declaring God’s love and forgiveness, and enacting God’s healing. As Jesus was sent into danger to do this work, so the disciples will be. Some will be killed for their work. But Jesus’ resurrection is the promise that sustains them through danger. And, they are given God’s very presence to be with them. Jesus breathes on them, and says,“Receive the Holy Spirit.” They do not go out into the world alone.
The reading from John closes with a delightful editorial remark. The central point is that the author has written what he hopes will work trust and belief, so that we will cling to Jesus. Thomas needed to touch Jesus’ wounds before he could make his declaration of faith. What is it that you need? What does Jesus need to do in your life so that you can live a freed life of resurrection joy?
God is working to build faith in you. This pattern of being welcomed, meeting resurrected Jesus, being sent into the world, equipped with the Holy Spirit, is the pattern we experience at worship every Sunday. We come into this space, perhaps filled with fear, or conformed to the values of the world, having forgotten the joy of resurrection. Jesus comes into our midst with water, word, wine, and bread.
Jesus gathers us into one community, so that we would share our own stories, and thereby help each other “come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God.” Having been filled with the Holy Spirit, God sends us out into our week, to live our daily lives as people who know they are already in the kingdom of God.
We are sent out of this church to be “little Christs” for the world. Jesus calls us to continue in the work he began: to bring good news to the poor, heal the sick, lift up the oppressed, welcome the outsider, and point to the ways the kingdom of God is here. The joy of Easter is meant to propel us forward in our lives of discipleship. Jesus has unlocked the tomb of fear, so that you can live in joy and hope.
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