A sermon for the second Sunday of Easter, April 28, 2019
Trinity Episcopal Church of Morrisania, Bronx, New York
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the tombs!
Easter continues. The disciples were gathered in a locked room for fear… And the risen Jesus just appeared in the midst of them. Christ is not just risen because the occasion is cheery and the flowers are blooming.
Christ appears and the wounds of his crucifixion are real. In the real world, the powers of death are very real indeed. The powers of hate and intimidation have their effects. But God has raised Christ from the dead and that changes the meaning of all of these things.
“Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him” … even those who pierced him… We have life, not because we have made an agreement with earthly powers, so that they don’t take it away from us. We have life because God, in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, has given us the gift of life. It is easy to fall into believing that the real world gives us life when we obtain status or wealth, or if we work for somebody who has those things. I used to think, “Oh, I’ll be able to fix things, if I can just get to being an important enough leader…” Others think that large amounts of money will help them to fix things for themselves and their families. There’s nothing wrong with having money and there is nothing wrong with serving in an important position; but when we focus just on those things, when we believe that achieving those things will give us life, it’s at that point that we start to compromise with the powers of death. Sometimes people try to justify getting more advantage by thinking it will somehow be good for everyone. They think: This is just a small manipulation of the truth, or I’m just trying to gain an advantage for my organization, or my political party, or my company. This isn’t unusual at all—and in our national politics one of the parties has pushed this to the point of being a cynical parody of itself.
The Way of Death is seductive, it masquerades as the way of the Real World. But it is not. The real world is the Way of Life. The Resurrection of Jesus binds us together, we have the life of generosity extended and received, of community where we are bound together in good times and in difficult times, with people that we like, and especially, with people that we don’t get along with, yet they are part of us. The Resurrection shows that life is not dependent on compromise with death—God gives us life in love, not in outwitting others and maneuvering to the top.
The crucifixion and the resurrection confirm that what Jesus’ opponents said and did was real. They could kill him and defeat any worldly plans that he or his friends might have had. The way of death is powerful, but it does not give life.
Jesus’ friends had locked themselves in a room because they were afraid. They did not know what to do. Despite the lock and the barred door, he came to them. “Peace be with you. I send you into the world just as I myself have been sent.” He sends us forth in life, to bring life and to give life. The forces of death are there, but God will defeat them. In Christ, God has defeated them. Receive the Holy Spirit; if you forgive the sins of anyone they are forgiven—sinners though they have been, imperfect and fearful as they might be. And whoever you hold fast, they are held fast—it does not matter if they aren’t with the program, or if they are fearful or angry or compromising with the world. You hold them fast and they are part of you. (A few years ago, I preached a whole sermon on why I translate this sentence this way. It’s a mistranslation and a misunderstanding to think that Jesus’ disciples are retaining the sins of others—it’s their brothers and sisters themselves that they are holding fast).
This Gospel includes the story of Faithful Thomas. Not Doubting Thomas. While his friends were locked up and afraid, Thomas was out. Somewhere, away, doing we know not what. And he came back and he had not been there when Jesus brought peace and his spirit to his fearful friends. They could not make him understand, and they disagreed. But they held him fast with them. He was their brother and they remained with him and he with them. They shared in receiving the power of life, though they did not understand. And, a week later Jesus appeared. Thomas said, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus brings life to Thomas, and as the Gospel lesson ends, it says, “These are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”
We rejoice in life, in the freedom that God gives us and the opportunity to be bound together in his love. As our lesson from Revelation says:
“Jesus Christ [is] the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever.”