Based on Acts 5:27-32, Revelation 1:4-8, John 20:19-31
Welcome to the second Sunday of Eastertide! Liturgically we are now in the period called “The Great 50 days of Easter”, that time between Easter Sunday and Pentecost (June 9th this year). During this time in the Church calendar we will once again hear the post-Resurrection stories from the Bible about how the Christ appeared to people and their response to those appearances. We will hear again Jesus telling the Disciples that he’s leaving but is sending the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit to help us do His work in our world. What will happen when the Holy Spirit comes, they wonder? They do not yet know the day it will happen; all they can do is stay together and pray and hope in the promises of Jesus. Additionally, we will consider how it is that we will live into the truth of the Resurrection as Easter people, and what that means for our lives and witness together here in Madison County, Virginia.
I was praying and discerning this week about this message to you all and I was moved to consider how we are to offer our witness in these days following our Easter celebration. Our scriptures today show us many acts of witnessing to the remarkable reality of the grace of God and the Risen Christ. I was also drawn to our Baptismal liturgy and our “renunciation of sin and profession of faith”. I ask you to turn to page 40 in your hymnals now so that you can remind yourselves of your vows and responsibilities as members of the Body of Christ.
Every day since the Resurrection occurred, believers have had to live in paradox and tension. Our profession of faith on page 41 has us stating boldly that we who believe in Him understand that through the Resurrection, the Christ has conquered death so that we might undergo bodily resurrection, forgiveness of sins and have everlasting life. In the meantime, however, life goes on and people suffer, the answers to prayers don’t come, and Jesus the Christ has not yet returned. Much of the world around us acts as if there never was a Resurrection. Those of us who follow Jesus have to stick together. Let us ask God for courage and persistence to witness to all that God has done, is doing and will continue to do…
The writer of Revelation echoes the song of Psalm 150. Here though the focus of this opening prayer is on the Christ “…who is and who was and who is to come,…”. The message here in this brief introductory passage of Revelation is to remind the seven churches in Asia that Jesus promised His return. God and the Christ is, was and will be to all those who believe. The writers of both scriptures today are reminding all believers of these truths so that they can then go forward to speak to how it is that this reality changes everything.
The Apostles, including Peter, are publicly witnessing to all in earshot the gospel according to Jesus the Christ. They have healed many and have quite a following in Jerusalem in the days following the first Pentecost. The Temple leaders round them up and throw them all in jail, but an “angel of the Lord” releases them all and the next morning they are once again in the Temple witnessing to the gospel. The Temple police round them up and bring them before the council where they are questioned (not about how they got out of jail, interestingly) about why they are still witnessing the good news of Jesus even though they have been told not to do so. Peter and all the Apostles answer that they must do what God asks them to do over any human authority. This gets them all flogged, but they were released and in verse 42 it states, “…And every day in the temple and at home they did not cease to teach and proclaim Jesus as the Messiah….”
How can we better understand the miracle of the Resurrection and thus be able to witness to it through our lives and ministries? Walter Brueggemann, noted Old Testament scholar and theologian, has this to say about living as Easter people: “…above all, overflow with the performance of God’s work. That work is justice and peace, security and freedom. It is work that intends to restore the well-being of God’s good creation and bring joy to all creatures – human and non-human – who inhabit God’s creation. Restorative work means to overcome the wounds inflicted by the impact of fear, greed, and violence. That good work is the continuing response to the news of Easter. It is to wrench the world from the power of death by the enhancement of life that is God’s good and continuing gift….” What Dr. Brueggemann is saying here is that the Easter miracle is all about restoration of something God created that was wounded unto death through violence, fear and greed. God’s creative word of love, however, restored Jesus as the Messiah and through Him we all are tasked to carry on the work of overcoming the narrative of death with the narrative of God’s free and unearned gift of ongoing and abundant life.
Fellow Christians, the Resurrection of Jesus and His transformation into the Christ is nothing short of miraculous. It cannot be explained by any science yet discovered. Belief in it is an act of faith. It also requires an act of deeply looking at our lives and seeing how God is at work restoring us to the image of God within us. Through the Risen Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, we are enabled to do God’s work to restore all of creation by removing the wounds of fear, greed, and violence. This is our witness, lived out in many individual and corporate ways when we seek to live peacefully with the land, with each other and with all God’s creation.
More to the point, living as Easter people requires that we pray and worship together, in order to remind one another of this unique, counter-cultural reality we call the Christian journey. Living and witnessing in this way only makes sense if we live fully into how each of us have been restored through the sacrifice of Jesus; that is the belief that His life and death merges with ours and that we are transformed into a new creation. As new creatures who live in this in-between time of when the Christ ascended and when He will come again in glory, what is our witness? I believe our witness is that we allow Him to live through our bodies and voices, and our prayers, thoughts and dreams. Our witness is then that we are the living Body of Christ. This is not merely a nice metaphor; it speaks a reality by which we live out our lives as Easter people. Jesus is always within us – it is what we celebrate each time we partake of the sacrament of Holy Communion. He is also with us, in and through our interaction with others – we meet him especially in relationship with those who need our love, those we can feed, clothe, visit, heal, forgive, and restore as we have been restored. Easter is not just one special Sunday each year; it actually transcends time. Christ is always everywhere and through Him all creation holds together. He lives and breathes each and every day through His Body the Church, until He comes again. This is our witness to the Resurrection, let us share it with the whole world. Alleluia and Amen!