(Acts 2:14a, 22-32 Psalm 16 1 Peter 1:3-9 John 20:19-31)
“The Fire of Easter Forgiveness and Love!”
If, as we heard pastor Jeanette so eloquently remind us last weekend, that “…we tried to nail Jesus down. . . and he got loose,” this weekend might we now wonder what is this resurrected Christ, who is on the loose, up to in the lives of his disciples.
Well, we know Jesus pays a surprise visit to that group of steadfast, loyal, and reliable followers, all huddled together behind closed doors, looking and acting anything but steadfast, loyal and reliable to this man they called Teacher and Friend.
In all fairness, these disciples have been frightened; they have misunderstood; they have misinterpreted Jesus’ words; they are confused about the events that have taken place. Jesus comes to them bringing the assurance of peace.
“Peace be with you,” says Jesus, his first resurrection words to these nonplussed followers, speaking directly to their fear and anxiety.
These guys sound an awful lot like you and me—constantly misinterpreting the word of God, persistently living in apprehension and fear for the future, locked away most often behind doors of trepidation and dread. We are, also, those disciples needing to hear that in the risen Christ we will know peace.
Incredible words to truly believe!
But the real excitement is only beginning! Because…connected to Jesus’ promise of peace is a directive to go out into the world.
“Go!” “Go!” He says! “Go! You can’t stay here, locked within yourself, locked behind doors, locked in your fears and uncertainty and confusion! Go! Having received the Holy Spirit, spread the Good News of the mercy and grace of God in the forgiveness of sins, as you, yourselves know your sins forgiven.”
And Jesus then comes back a second time to Thomas, and Jesus comes back a second time for us, and a third time, and a tenth time, and a fiftieth time and a thousandth time for us to know we are forgiven; and Jesus brings the peace that comes in knowing we are loved and forgiven in Him.
And tell me, we can hardly imagine such a love, a love which refuses to stop loving because we’ve fallen short.
The gift of the Spirit brings peace, as we live in the Spirit’s blessings, and the gift of the Holy Spirit gives courage and confidence because Jesus has work for us to do! We have been set loose to do the work of the Kingdom among God’s people!
Now may I mention the Royal Wedding for just a moment? I suspect there are some of you who paid very little notice to the Royal Wedding between Prince William and Catherine Middleton. At the same time, I know there were some of you who were up before 4am Friday and glued to the television from the first moment of seeing a glimpse of the dress to the moment the newly-married couple kissed twice from the balcony.
Surprise and surprise, what was most intriguing to me (even more so than seeing the couple drive away in a dark-blue Aston Martin Volante) were the words of the Anglican Bishop of London, in his homily 1 for the occasion. I was fascinated by the way he was able to weave an Easter message into such a public event.
He began with the words of St. Catherine of Siena, that 14th Century nun, mystic and spiritual writer, saying: “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.”
Then he probes more deeply as to what that might mean within the context of marriage, and (as I heard it), what it means in the context of Christ being raised from the dead.
I will quote him directly:
Many people are fearful for the future of today’s world but the message of the[se] celebrations…is the right one—this is a joyful day. . . a day of hope!
He continued: The spiritual life grows as love finds its centre beyond ourselves. Faithful and committed relationships offer a door into the mystery of spiritual life in which we discover this: the more we give of self, the richer we become in soul; the more we go beyond ourselves in love, the more we become our true selves. . . . committed to the way of generous love. Of course, it is very hard to wean ourselves away from self-centeredness.
This was more than a wedding homily. These are Easter words of hope that yes! we can be joy-filled, even in a weary world, not to blind us from the work to be done, but rather, to give us, first the wisdom and the vision, and then the courage and the energy to not be paralyzed by our fears, preventing us from doing the work of God’s Kingdom.
The Easter message Christ brings to his disciples “…when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week…” is the message of peace in the midst of a fearful and fear-filled world. It is the exhortation not to hide behind doors of fear and confusion, but to come out, to go beyond ourselves in love, to become our true selves, to set the world on fire with the forgiveness and love of the Risen Christ.
I know it seems as if daily we see new reports of yet another area of our country or of the world torn apart by natural disasters or human conflict. It seems as if daily we hear yet another friend diagnosed with disease and sickness. And I know how easy it is to hunker down, to be overcome by our perceived inability to make any difference in such situations. I know how easy it is to question the gift of the Holy Spirit who gives us peace.
So what is the Resurrected Christ up to?
At times when our doors are locked for fear and sadness, this is precisely when the Risen One stands among us, showing us that our woundedness are his wounds, calling us to believe that He is alive, that He walks among us! After all, if Jesus got loose, we, too, have been loosened into God’s Spirit!
Christ is risen! Christ is risen, indeed! Alleluia! Amen.
1 This Homily was given by Dr. Richard Chartres, Anglican Bishop of London, on the occasion of the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton at Westminster Abbey, London, 29 April 2011.