Easter 2 + Year C
Sermon Preached at Messiah Lutheran Church on April 15, 2007
Grace to you and peace from the One who is and who was and who is to come.
Easter 2 is often referred to as low Sunday. The BIG celebration is over. The guests and members who worshipped last week have not returned as you can tell by looking around. But low? After our Alleluias raised, cross lifted high, eggs found, chocolate devoured, flowers bloomed, finest clothes wrinkled and put away… perhaps there is a bit of a post- Resurrection lull after all. And if the realities of the world around us aren’t reminder enough that we need Jesus in our midst, we need only to look at the texts this week for confirmation that the initial joy has subsided and our old selves have returned.
The gospel writer of John shares the experience of the followers of Jesus after his death and resurrection. The disciples are described as fearful, behind locked doors, not wanting any visitors. They are far from the joy of a life remembered and miraculously raised. And we can not only imagine their grief, but remember what it feels like when our lives are turned upside down. The disciples (well most of them) are seeking security and comfort locked in their own tomb of grief, loneliness and confusion.
And then, Jesus is suddenly in their midst… He breaks through not by literally knocking down the door, but by bringing what they need most at a time when they least expect it… his very identity and sharing His Peace with them. Peace be with you… not once He says this, but twice! He is Risen. He is Risen indeed!
More remarkable is that after offering His peace, He empowers them (and us), breathing into them the Holy Spirit and tasks them with being His hands on earth… forgiving one another as we have been forgiven. The old Adam, our sinful selves is dead and there is a new beginning, new life. This text is referred to as John’s “Pentecost” where Jesus literally breathes “into” his followers the Holy Spirit. This action evokes God’s breathing into Adam the breath of life as John uses the same verb and tense as the creation story to fill and empower all humanity.
You see it isn’t about the disciples… or us for that matter. God came in the form of Jesus. The parent, our eternal mommy and daddy breaks through when we least expect it, and yet when we most need it. Like any loving parent God through Jesus doesn’t come to scold us… tell us to get over it… or even to stop our grieving. In his revealed identity and presence, he brings what we need… peace, one which passes all understanding. The Word brings words of comfort to the grieving. Holy presence to the lonely… filling and sustaining us all.
Now Thomas was not there when Jesus came. But you know the story, the others in their Spirit breathed excitement filled him in… “The Master was here… among us!” And Thomas’ reply was of course that he will have none of it unless he see’s for himself… “Show me, Put up or shut up” he might have said raging in grief and anger. Well I’m curious about where Thomas was? In his grief was he so overwhelmed that he chose to be alone, away from even his closest friends? Was he trying to avoid any reminders of Christ’s death? Was he trying to deal with the uncertainty of this resurrection the folks were talking about in Jerusalem? Perhaps Thomas was confused about his faith and went off alone to pray and try to make sense of it all?
Then Jesus returns a week later, stands among them and offers his peace again. Knowing of Thomas’ response to the disciples, he instructs him to touch and see, “do not remain in unbelief but believe.” And in response, Thomas full of faith and recognizing the fulfillment of God’s incarnate Word answers “My Lord and my God!” Jesus replies with a statement of reality, “Because you have seen me, you have believed.” Jesus then proclaims in a sort of benediction for all who did not have the opportunity Thomas did, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
Peace is knowing Christ despite our worldly doubts. Peace is knowing that this life and all the earthly pain and challenges are only temporary. The peace Christ graces us with is the faith that sustains us and blesses belief by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Lucille taught 7th grade Church school every Monday night for more than 20 years. In addition to her “batting clean-up” getting wayward teens’ ready for confirmation class for the Pastor, she chaired the altar guild and had a beautiful voice that filled St. Timothy’s most every Sunday morning. I got to know her well when she became my regular ride to Monday evening church school as a 6th grader.
I loved riding to church with her and her son Drew in their big copper brown Pontiac station wagon. Drew who was two years older than I was and we were in the same scout troop patrol together. She would ask how school and scouts were going and was one of the first adults who didn’t treat me “as a kid.” I relished that time away from my three younger siblings during those weekly rides.
She got sick during the springtime and while I didn’t see her much over that following summer, I did look forward to her class and our rides to church. It was late August when my parents sat me down and explained the seriousness of her illness and that she probably wouldn’t teach that fall. But September came and she was feeling better, so my last year of church school was off to a great start.
She struggled though the fall and when November got cold and grey, was no longer able to teach. She slipped fast and in early December as we practiced to sing Christmas carols for the Lutheran Home and shut-in’s at St. Tim, Pastor told us somberly that things were not well for Lucille. We would meet the following Sunday moving-up her visit, rather than wait for the fourth Sunday in Advent as we had originally planned.
We car pooled to Lucille’s and gathered around her hospital bed which was set-up in their first floor family room. Lucille was pale, her head covered in a hideous wig and she was barely able to sit up. We sang as best we could and she smiled and when we were done, then asked if we would take a request. She wanted to know if we knew SBH #92 (that’s LBW 151 or ELW 365 for the younger of you). Pastor smiled and then handed out mimeographed words to all of us… he knew what her favorite hymn was and we were going to sing it for her.
Well if you don’t remember those SBH hymn numbers, #92 was Jesus Christ is Risen Today, the great Latin Carol and Wesley Easter hymn we sang here last Sunday. We sang our hearts out…
Jesus Christ is Risen today, our triumphant holy day. Who did once upon the cross, suffer to redeem our loss…
and amidst the alleluia refrains, adolescent voices cracked, tears streamed, and hearts broke. She thanked us, but I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.
Lucille rallied as terminally ill often do and she was determined to attend the Christmas Eve candlelight service. I looked for her when we went in but they must have arrived late and sat in the back pew. On my way out I saw her, a shell of her former self wrapped in a coat that was now too big and a white wool hat covered her head. She called to me, grabbed my hand and in her spirit filled way, whispered a thank you for the caroling visit. While I wished her a Merry Christmas, for years I’ve wished that I said Happy Easter instead.
The theologian Paul Tillich wrote that courage is working past ones doubt. Clearly saints like Thomas, Lucille and dear ones from our own community had great courage in the face of life’s greatest uncertainty… working past their doubts, knowing that their redeemer lives. I am truly grateful for the witness of all the faithful…
Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.
We are both a people, still basking in the glory of the Resurrection and yet a people who also doubt, struggling with grief and uncertainty. Seeing and not yet seeing. Believing and disbelieving. Saints and sinners. We live between faith and unbelief and our faith is constantly under attack. We are broken and conflicted by the burdens of this world. And sin has a self-asserting power that comes from the fear of death.
But into our being is breathed the Spirit and we are made Holy. I am reminded of our profession of faith in the 3rd article of the Apostle’s Creed, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting” and Luther’s explanation from the Catechism, “I believe that I cannot, by my own reason or strength, believe in my Lord Jesus Christ, or come to Him.”
The Gospel today reveals the core of God’s grace and mercy through Jesus, God’s only Son, through whom God chose to redeem our lives from sin and death. This is the message of Easter, that we may believe, even though we do not yet see… and that in believing we have eternal life in His name.
Jesus offers peace and hope in the face of death, and the fear of death is broken. The good news is that God breaks through when we least expect it and breathes into us God’s own Spirit making us an Easter people… People washed by the waters of Baptism and marked with the Cross of the Risen Christ forever.
· We have comfort knowing that God is at work in our daily lives… breaking into our tombs with what we need most.
· We have comfort knowing that God takes care of everything.
· We have comfort knowing we do not need to do anything.
· We are saved by grace through faith, and that faith is a gift from God!
In the name of our Redeemer, the Crucified and Risen Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.