Apr. 28, 2019 – sermon

Posted by on Sun, Apr 28, 2019 in Easter, Sermons

The Second Sunday of Easter

April 28, 2019

Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come!

In John’s gospel the biggest sin is not about morality but about belief. So when John tells the resurrection story and fills it with one after another of them who don’t believe what is told them, don’t believe the empty tomb means resurrection, don’t believe it could be true, he’s telling us something — but what? We come to this reading a full week after hearing the Easter Day gospel about the resurrection, since then we’ve held a funeral with other readings, some of you were plunged right back into work, some are still trying to recover from Holy Week, and some were at an entirely different service yesterday even as we prepared for this one (but I’ll tell you about that later). I’m saying that it feels like a lot of water has gone under the bridge since our Easter proclamation. If you sit down and read John’s gospel, or even chapter 20 from which our reading is taken, you discover that this scene with the disciples is happening just a few short hours after the tomb was discovered to be empty—on the same day. They are still reeling from what happened earlier that first Easter morning (as are some of us!) and now as they try to reconcile his body gone, their having once again failed to be faithful to Jesus by their doubts. It seems every time someone opens their mouth, they’re all mystified and trying to figure out what really happened, what it meant, who’d seen what and where, and what ‘believe’ even means.

So they lock themselves in a room together. We are told it’s from fear of those who plotted to kill Jesus, and yet it could also be they’re just a little bit afraid of Jesus himself! He’s come back? He knows I didn’t believe—how can I face him!? Has he risen from the dead to tell me I’ve failed him and that he’s ashamed of me, that I’m not good enough to be a disciple? Maybe those who had plotted to kill Jesus will come looking for us now, to imprison or execute! All perfectly reasonable things to worry about, and maybe even enough to distract them from wondering about Jesus’ resurrection. It’s no surprise they lock themselves in a room to sort things out. But Jesus isn’t stopped by locked doors or by fear or shame or embarrassment or even the sin of disbelief. He comes through those doors and through their defenses and fears, not to confront them but to bring them peace. “Peace be with you.” He says. Never has it been more true than it is now, that the peace of God surpasses our understanding, of that the peace from Jesus is given not as the world gives, but as only he can. From beginning to end, and then to the new beginning again—like John says in Revelation, grace and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come…and Jesus’ own words, “I am the Alpha and the Omega.”  Joy floods them, promises confirmed, hearts blazing to share the good news that he is risen from the dead, so Jesus sends them out to do just that. The disciples don’t believe until they see him, and Thomas is like they were, unwilling to believe until he sees for himself. Then a week later Jesus once again enters that locked room where they gather, so that Thomas can see, know. When he does, Thomas answers him, “My Lord and my God!” His seeing is not only believing but also understanding of what this means! He is making a declaration of discovered truth, and also one of the relationship between them. “My Lord and my God!” Understandably these are the words traditionally said by the priest celebrating and receiving Communion him or herself, in affirmation of the Thomas-like moment of seeing the presence of Christ revealed in the bread and wine and knowing what it means to them. Not about disbelief but about joy in confirming belief, and so tangibly present.

I wondered when we began about why John’s Gospel spends so much of those first resurrection hours and days moving into people’s belief or disbelief. I find it oddly comforting that he does so, because if the worst sin he can name is the refusal to receive the revelation of God in Christ – a refusal repeatedly present in Jesus’ own disciples, – then there is certainly room for the rest of us to stumble along in it ourselves. Helping us to move out of our ‘locked rooms’ is what grows us as disciples of the living Christ. Those are the places where racism, hate crimes, bigotry and uninformed bias can grow. How many are afraid to even go to their places of worship today, after yet another hate crime attack? Those foster a spiritual hiding where people can give themselves permission to commit acts of cruelty and violence in the name of self-protection, where we can imagine God’s creation as ours to squander and allow the distortion of the all-powerful love of Christ.

I’ve had a pretty gentle life all in all, and long known God as revealed in Christ Jesus, and when I encounter those spiritual prisons we can get stuck in, I want to figure out what will make Christ visible to, as he was to those first disciples. I want everyone to have what Jesus promised us and live in the grace and peace he greeted them with that first Easter Day. Today reminds is that Jesus sends us like he did them out, John 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.” This is our work too – Jesus does the heavy lifting here, we have to try to be aware, courageous, and faithful in our efforts and intentions.

In fact, Jesus is relentless in appearing to them again and again until they believe enough to live in it. He revealed himself to Mary Magdalene who told the others but who couldn’t see him herself; she needed his voice to break her free from dark duty and heavy grief. His resurrection was revealed to a pair of the disciples who spread the news even while doubting it, and then a group of them who were locked in a room of fear. He appeared yet again, to Thomas, also locked up, perhaps for fear it was too good to be true, or that he had missed out somehow. Like us, each had to work through whatever kept them locked up. They too had doubts and each was aided in hearing it from others and from seeing him anew. What can do that to you? What fear or anxiety, self-criticism or self-protection, can lock you into a room to hide? Is Christ calling you out, calling you to faith, and are you courageous enough for him to show you just how illusory those walls and locked doors really are?

Anticipating these next months feel both liberating and challenging for me, I’ve got a bit of fear going on and a lot of excitement and even more curiosity — how will Christ be revealed to me when I’m intentionally away from this community I love and try to serve? I’m not a huge fan of some of the all-consuming strides in mass culture communications, and so a theological dive into the topic for a week will mean I have to set aside some of my judgments of what it has taken from our culture, so that perhaps I can see it’s potential for grace. I’m not experienced with a paintbrush at all, and I’m just as clumsy attempting to sketch anything remotely human so an icon painting class is going to invite me out of my own locked room in that regard—the icon carving class feels more in my wheelhouse, but I usually work in wood, not stone, so who knows? The walk on the Camino Ingles, starting with the walk to St. Michael’s Mount, feels like it’s calling to me, and yet I have precious little worked out about what I do beyond the first departure point.

I’ve not once been hesitant to leave for fear of what will happen in my absence, and that’s a gift you all give me and yourselves; you’re an exceptional congregation with Christ at your center, and you have excellent leaders for this time, as you have for a very long time now. You’ll enjoy the Sunday morning supply help of some wonderful priests and the ongoing ministry of our pastoral care team and staff and everything else you all make happen here. Heck, I might even come home and find we’ve got city approvals complete and that awful orange fencing down! Many of you know I delayed my sabbatical for a year because of our parking lot project. It wasn’t something I was willing to be absent from, and yet I also know there’s still more to be done. No, I’m not announcing another work party (but Doug might)! There’s still work to be done to close the fund gap between the initial parking lot capital drive and the end cost of the whole thing, including those add-ons we discussed at the Annual Parish Meeting and the loan interest. But wait – there’s very good news to share also, and I’ll hate to miss seeing it revealed in the coming weeks as you hear more about this from the vestry, and I also know God is with St. Michael’s in this too, and I’ll love hearing about it when I get back.

When we lock ourselves in with our fears or anxieties, it keeps us from doing what God has called us to do, from the mission Christ has given us. Yes, it’s a normal human response to circle those dear to us into protective walls and lock the door, to focus on what we’re keeping out instead of what we might risk as disciples called and sent by our Lord. To the barricaded soul Jesus comes, walks in, and says, Peace be with you. He shows us his wounds and that even so he lives. He breathes the Spirit into us even as we hold our breath in fear. Again and again he returned to them, revealed himself to them, and sent them out of that locked room. Jesus reveals himself to you too, in this loving congregation, the faithful actions of ministry we undertake, the living liturgies, the companionship we give to one another on our Christian journey. He will come again, day after day, in the Word spoken, the bread broken, and the love poured out for us. Amen.

© 2019 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved.

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