April 8, 2018 The Second Sunday of Easter (Year B)

 

Acts 4:32–35, Psalm 133, 1 John 1:1—2:2, John 20:19–31

The Rev’d Dr. Jeffrey S. F. Nelson+

Alleluial! Christ is risen!

The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Not long before my mother died, she shared something with me that I suspect she didn’t share with many people through the years. She told me that shortly after her mother died (almost forty years ago now), my mother saw visions of my grandmother periodically for about a month afterward. Sometimes she just saw her, sometimes she spoke with her, but always my grandmother’s presence brought my mother much joy and comfort in the midst of her grief. About a month after her death, my mother had one final vision of my grandmother in which my grandmother told her that it was time for her to go. Her final words were that my mother would be alright; and then she was gone and my mother never had another vision of my grandmother again.

Now, I don’t tell this story to make a point about the mysteries of the afterlife; and I am fully aware that sharing such an intimate detail about my mother runs the risk of casting her as a bit off-balanced in the minds of some. (I admit, I had hoped after my mother died in 2014 that I would have similar visions of her. I never have, however, my aunt Lola, my mother’s youngest sister, has claimed to feel her presence strongly at times, particularly in my parents’ house, which has now been sold.) Be that as it may, those are risks I take to make a point, and the point is this: my mother’s vision of my grandmother shortly after her death is strangely similar to the visions the disciples had of Jesus after his death and resurrection.

Our Gospel reading for this morning picks up the Easter story on the “evening of the day of Resurrection, the first day of the week.” The Gospel writer John tells us that the disciples were locked away in a house “for fear of the Jews,” that is, for fear of the religious leaders who had a hand in the execution of Jesus and wanted to be sure that his followers would not become problematic. They wished to stamp out the Jesus movement once and for all, so it is not unreasonable for the disciples to think they were hunted people. Suddenly, in their midst stood Jesus. Twice he speaks a work of peace to them. The word used for peace means more than simply the lack of conflict; it is an active word meaning health and wholeness. The first time Jesus speaks such a word, he combines it with a vision of his wounds. This combination serves to let the disciples know that Jesus is indeed alive; they are not left alone to face an uncertain and scary future. Jesus is with them. Doubtless they remember Jesus’ words from just a couple of nights before when he said to them, “A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while and you will see me…Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn to joy.” (John 16:16, 20) And this is what came to pass: Jesus was executed, and the world—that is, the secular and religious leaders—rejoiced thinking they had eliminated the problem. But Jesus rose, destroying the way of the world, and indeed the disciples’ grief was turned to joy that evening, for “the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.”

The second time Jesus speaks peace to the disciples is to empower them for mission in the world. Once he shows them he is alive, he breathes on them the Holy Spirit, that is, the continuing presence of the risen Christ, and charges them to be about the work God began in Jesus. With the wholeness Jesus brings in his word of peace, and the gift of the Holy Spirit, Jesus emboldens the disciples to extend their joy in the work of reconciliation. As they now boldly go into the world to proclaim the risen Christ in all they say and do, they are at the same time announcing that the powers of the world no longer hold sway; that as people come to faith in the risen Christ, they are reconciled to God, turning their backs on the ways of the world and living new lives after the way of God; indeed, not just people, but the whole creation is reconciled to God in the resurrection of the crucified Christ. The ways of the world are done. They are over. God in Christ was victorious, and God’s kingdom has come.

If my mother’s vision of my grandmother emboldened and sustained her for the rest of her life, how much more the vision of the risen Christ emboldens and sustains us. Some people, like my mother, are fortunate to have actual visions. Some followers of Jesus through the years have had visions of Jesus actually calling them to some specific work or task, not unlike the vision of the disciples on the first Easter evening. Most of us have no such vision; and few of us have such clarity.  But all of us, through the waters of Holy Baptism, have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit, the ongoing presence of the risen Christ among us, and so, like those disciples on the first Easter, are given the same ministry of reconciliation and peace. We, like they, are charged to go into the world and speak a word of peace—of health and wholeness—to people broken by the powers of the world who seek to marginalize and crush them. We are charged to expose the powers of the world for what they are: petty idols that have no real power, but whose power is only an illusion, for God in Christ is victorious over them. And we, like the first disciples, are charged to go into the world and in our actions bring about the wholeness and reconciliation of which Jesus speaks: to bring good news to the poor, who so often hear only bad news, to proclaim release to captives from whatever binds them, to open the eyes of the blind from whatever obscures their vision, to free those who are oppressed from whatever dominates them, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor—that God in Christ is victorious over the ways of the world.

We may not have visions of the risen Christ appearing to us behind locked doors like those disciples on that first Easter evening; nevertheless, like them, we are called out of our fear to move into the world and proclaim:

Alleluial! Christ is risen!

The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

 

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