Second Sunday of Easter, Year A
1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31
May 1, 2011
Christ is risen. Alleluia!
Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!
Grace to you and peace, from the one who is, who was, and who is to come. Amen.
It’s not just last Sunday’s news. And it’s not just something that happens to Jesus.
Resurrection is a promise and a living hope given to all of us
who have found new birth in Christ our Lord.
Like Jesus, each and every one of us will be raised from the dead.
In flesh and blood. For real.
Our Lord’s resurrection represents for Christians
a new birth into a new life in our Lord’s new Kingdom,
a reign of peace that will be realized
when Jesus comes again in glory in the last time.
This hope – the hope of the resurrection,
the hope that, as Paul says in Roman 6, we who have been joined to a death like his
will surely share in a resurrection like his –
this hope was the central hope of the early church.
Resurrection. The promise of a real, flesh and blood resurrected life, like that of Jesus,
is the promise to which those early Christians clung,
and the central promise proclaimed by the church to this day.
And it is the promise that pours forth from our second reading this day.
It is a promise that we need to hear today.
Look at that second reading.
In the English translation that is before you,
the first sentence of our reading sprawls over three verses.
It’s a pretty impressive sentence, chock-full of theologically rich goodness.
In the original Greek, however, the entire reading – plus a few more verses, through vs. 12 –
constitute one incredibly long, run-on sentence.
It’s as if the author of this letter is so excited to proclaim this good news
that he didn’t want to pause, even, to place a period or catch a breath.
You can practically hear him bursting at the seems,
unable to speak fast enough to get all this good news out for the world to hear.
And who could blame him?
He’s speaking about the real promise of life,
to a people who are suffering under the weight of death.
You see, those early Christians lived a life and did church in a way
that would be almost unrecognizable to us today.
Their society was not Christianized in the way that ours has been over the past 1600+ years.
Being Christian was simply not acceptable.
People didn’t wear crosses around their necks as nice pieces of jewelry and signs of faith –
they wore crosses on their backs, as they were being executed,
or in the wounds they suffered from beatings and stonings.
Like the Lord they followed, many Christians were persecuted and martyred for their beliefs.
Living their faith, or striving to in such a difficult environment,
invited attention, and often abuse, from those who did not share their faith.
While it is often challenging for us today to live our faith,
none of us in North America face the kind of persecution and sufferings
for practicing faith that the earliest Christians did.
This is not to minimize the challenges we have in living out our faith
but I say this to put this letter we’re reading in perspective.
It is in stark contrast to the early Christian day-to-day reality of oppression
that this letter opens with such a hope-filled promise.
Follow along with me in that second reading:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!
By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope
through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading,
kept in heaven for you who are being protected by the power of God through faith
for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
Our new birth is in the resurrection of Jesus Christ,
an event that defeated sin and death,
an event that gives a living hope to us all,
since sin and death no longer have an ultimate claim on our lives.
We were born anew, hope was born anew, in that empty tomb of Easter morning.
All that we believe as Christians, all that we do as Christians,
all those promises of forgiveness and life everlasting to which we cling as Christians …
all these hinge on the empty tomb.
We are born anew in that empty tomb,
as if it were a womb of resurrection life.
Our hope and expectation that we, too, will raise from the dead,
that the stones will be rolled from our tombs,
the grave stones will be laid aside so that we might rise,
that hope, that most central hope of our faith,
springs forth from our Lord’s empty tomb.
And so we are called to live in hope,
to live knowing that death is not the end of the story,
that the grave isn’t our final resting place,
but rather a temporary place of respite,
a holding pattern of sorts, until as today’s reading from 1 Peter says,
“the last time” when “Jesus Christ is revealed.”
On that day, we will be raised, and a new Kingdom, a new way of life will commence:
in which all will be gathered at the mountain of the Lord
and will be filled with good things,
as shown in the parables and miracles of Jesus,
and in the prophets of old, notably in Isaiah 25.
This resurrection hope stands in stark contrast to the bleak,
oppressive situation in which the early church found itself,
and in contrast, too, to the resignation and destruction that pervades our society today.
A variety of issues can keep us from being less than optimistic about the world,
whether it is the ongoing wars in far-off lands,
or economic struggles here in our own back yard;
divisions in our society along racial, class, and economic lines,
or our fears that society’s great institutions are failing to fulfill their public trust –
industry, schools, the church, government.
In fact, we can so easily feel like Thomas, in our Gospel reading today,
who couldn’t bring himself to share in the same joy of his fellow disciples.
Having seen the risen Lord,
the disciples knew that something had changed.
They knew that because of what God did in Jesus, the world would not be the same.
They knew that the resurrection represented a new life, a new birth,
not just for Jesus and not just for them,
but for the whole world and all people in it.
They knew, they had seen, the first born of the resurrection,
the first fruit of God’s new reign.
But Thomas hadn’t. And he wanted what anybody in his position would want –
the chance to see what everybody was raving about.
Until that point, however, I can imagine that he felt a bit cheated,
not having seen what the others had seen,
and thus unable to share in their joy and hope
for what God has done and would continue to do.
I think that we can easily be like Thomas,
struggling to believe that which we cannot see,
struggling to believe in new life when we’re constantly reminded of death;
struggling to believe that sin has been conquered,
when we’re confronting sin both within and beyond ourselves every day,
struggling to believe that a new rule of love and peace and abundance
is awaiting us in the time to come
when in this time we are afflicted with division, war, and scarcity.
But our hope and faith isn’t based on what we see;
it is based in the promise of the empty tomb,
a promise that echoes from that tomb to our time today
through the words that we share in this place
and the things that are done in the name of the one who abandoned the grave.
Yet … God does give us something to see.
Our hope is hidden in the sacrament we share here,
a measly meal of abundant grace and flowing mercy and everlasting life
that is freely offered to all.
Our hope is hanging in the Clothes Closet,
where those who have many needs come to have one of those basic needs met.
Our hope is wrapped up in the meal that is delivered to our home when we are sick,
and in the conversation we share during coffee hour,
and in the care extended to us by a neighbor, friend, or complete stranger.
Our hope rings forth in the pounding of nails and hum of power tools at Rebuilding Together
and anywhere where people gather to share love and grace through acts of service.
Our hope rides the Metro to work and is revealed
in the faithful efforts of civil servants whose work safeguards the public good.
We don’t hope for what we can see …. at least not what we can see directly, clearly, or easily.
For, as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians, we see dimly now,
and as this letter from 1 Peter tells us bluntly, we have not seen Jesus.
Yet we believe, because like with Thomas our Lord has given us some things to see.
Jesus gives us glimpses of God’s work of ongoing resurrection,
glimpses of new life that seem to reach from the empty tomb to our lives,
breaking the grip of sin and pain and death,
and giving us a window into the certain future of God’s promised reign.
These glimpses of resurrection and life,
coupled with the resurrection words and gestures we share in this place,
nurture in us a living hope,
a hope that what we see in glimpses and shadows will one day emerge into full view,
that resurrection will come to all people and all the world,
making all things new.
This is the good and wonderful news, dear friends:
all will be made new;
the resurrection God began in Christ will continue in us;
we have an inheritance, imperishable, undefiled, and unfading,
kept in heaven for us,
until that day when our Lord joins heaven and earth
giving us our inheritance, and our life, in full.
That is our promise and our hope,
leading us to rejoice through words and deeds, as 1 Peter says,
with an indescribable and glorious joy of what our God has done,
and of what he promises yet to do.
Christ is risen. Alleluia!
Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!