“Peace, Purpose, and Power”
April 27, 2014
This Sunday after Easter is our little secret,
We get together—just the few of us. We can
stretch out in the pews and enjoy a little more elbow room. We’re not quite as well
dressed—although you all look pretty good to me. Our expectations are slightly
lower—there’s neither the build-up nor the let-down. No one ever asks me, “So,
did you make it through the Sunday after Easter?”
We get together—and then we talk about those
who were here just last week but didn’t come back today!
Of course, in way, who can blame them? They
show up: it’s crowded and brassy and everyone looks so fresh and crisp and they
must wonder how we can stand it, Sunday after Sunday, packed in here like
sardines! Once—or twice year a year,
maybe. But every week?
Now, for me the problem with this Sunday after
Easter is always, what to preach? We
can’t go back to the empty tomb again—we’ve been told that Christ is not there.
What to preach? It’s such a problem that most clergy take the day off—as I have
Actually, what to preach is a problem and an opportunity every week for
ministers like me in our free, Congregational tradition. No scripture texts are
assigned that must be used.
You might know that over 20 years ago the Revised Common Lectionary was published.
It is an ecumenical table of readings that includes an Old Testament, Epistle,
and Gospel lesson along with a Psalm for each Sunday in a three year cycle. In
the United Church of Christ no one is required to use these readings. We
preachers have the freedom to choose whatever texts we want. Sometimes I follow
the lectionary for several weeks or even months. Often I don’t. Deep within me
I have that Congregational spirit that says: “No one is going tell me what
scripture lessons to read and preach.”
A curious thing about the lectionary: it gives
different texts for each Sunday. But for all three years, the Gospel lesson for
this Second Sunday of Easter is the same—those words from the twentieth chapter
of John that we heard this morning. This is, no doubt in a large part because
this lesson is an account of what happened when the followers of Jesus got
together a week after Easter. It fits well with this day.
And even in my fierce Congregational independence
I sometimes think that if representatives of more than twenty denominations in
the United States and Canada regard this text as important enough to be read
every year on this day, well, something must be going on and maybe we should
listen to it.
This morning’s lesson from John seems
especially appropriate for those who weren’t
here last week but who showed up this morning, wondering what they might find a
week after all the hoopla and
halleluias. So if you we’re here on Easter, I’m glad that you are here today.
This is a wonderful story, isn’t it?
In the evening of that first Easter day,
after Mary Magdalen had found
the stone rolled away from the tomb,
after she told Peter and
James and they raced each other there only to find grave clothes but no body,
after Mary Magdalene
encountered Jesus, first mistaking him for a gardener—
in the evening the followers of Jesus gather in
a house and lock the doors.
Jesus appears among them, saying: “Peace be
with you.” He shows them the wounds of his crucifixion and again says: “Peace
be with you.”
Unexpected actions and unexpected words. Yet the
wounds of Jesus confirm both who he is and what he says. The One who was
crucified can speak words of peace to those who follow him. There is an authority
in his wounds.
Christians have always understood Jesus as both
resurrected and wounded. He has
always been portrayed as both risen from death and still bearing the marks of crucifixion. He comes to those who
are afraid, he comes to those who sorrow and suffer. But he does not come as
one who says, “Don’t worry. Look, it will all go away.” No. He comes and shows
his wounds. Then he still says, “Peace be with you.”
And this is how he comes even to us, even
We Christians make very strange, very specific
claims. We say that God vindicated Jesus in raising him from the dead. That is,
the resurrection is God’s announcement that the way of Jesus Christ—the way of
love, the way of peace, the way of healing, the way of confronting the powers
of this world—the way of Jesus Christ is indeed the way of the universe. God
vindicated Jesus. God raised Jesus.
But God did not restore Jesus to some pre-Good
Friday wholeness. The risen Christ speaks to us in our suffering from out of
his own. Only when this happens do the disciples recognize Jesus and rejoice.
Only when we hear the crucified and
risen Christ do we ourselves find reason to rejoice even in the midst of all
that wears us down and threatens us.
John tells this story and the fifty days
between Easter and Pentecost collapse: Jesus at that moment breathes the Spirit
into the disciples in much the same way as God breathed the breath of life into
the first human being. The similarity is not coincidental. John wants us to
know that in the risen Christ God is beginning a new creation.
Then there’s Thomas. And most of us know where
all of this is going when we hear that name. Doubting Thomas. The ancestor of
all our neighbors to the south in the “Show-Me” State. The patron saint of all
who wear their skepticism like a badge of honor.
Please don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing
wrong with doubt. There is even some good in healthy, holy skepticism. But, you
know, it’s not that Thomas doubted the power of God to bring life out of death.
Thomas doubted, not the power of God, but the word of all those other followers
of Jesus. And sometimes when we look around at those followers, well, who could
That was Easter.
Or that was how Easter ended—not with trumpets
and joy and shouts of “Christ is risen,” but with doubt, with dissent, with
those final words of incredulity, “I will not believe.” Things were not off to
a good start.
John doesn’t tell us what happened over the
intervening seven days—how the stunned disciples spent their days, whether they
spoke any kind words to Thomas or spoke to him at all, what Mary Magdalene did
as she replayed that encounter with Jesus.
The Bible often doesn’t tell us what we want to
But it usually tells us what we need to hear
and shows us what we need to see.
A week later in the same house, behind the same
locked doors, we listen as Jesus once again speaks those Easter words: “Peace
be with you.” A peace this side of crucifixion seems to be central to the risen
Christ’s desire for his followers.
We look as he shows his wounded hands and side.
It is enough for Thomas, who confesses: “My
Lord and my God!”
Then the narrator, who has been telling us this
whole, wonderful story, stops, and turns to speak to us directly: “Jesus did
many other signs in the presence of his disciples,” John says.
And Jesus did do many other signs:
Water turned into wine
The sick healed
A blind man’s sight restored
The dead Lazarus brought back
And finally the appearances
of Jesus on Easter and a week later
In the Gospel of John these are all called “signs.”
They are not miracles—or if they are miracles that is only secondary.
They are signs—events that point to something beyond
what happened; events that point to the ways of God in the world.
The empty tomb points to Jesus’ victory over
death and the destructive powers of this world.
His appearance to Mary points to his continued
presence with his followers.
His appearance on Easter evening points to the
continuing gift of God’s Spirit.
So Thomas—even doubting Thomas—sees that the physical
miracle he demanded has become a sign that points to Christ as the full
revelation of God.
We can doubt a miracle.
To a sign we can only respond, “My Lord and my
It was for this purpose that the entire Gospel
of John was written—so that you and I, and countless others who did not see any
of this might not just “believe,” but so that we might find life. We are
fortunate indeed to count ourselves among those who believe even though we have
not seen. But that is not the end of it.
Confessing with the Apostles’ Creed that “on
the third day Jesus rose again from the dead,” confessing that “I believe in
the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting,” is not the end of this.
You may be able to say these things. You may not. That is not the point.
The point—the desire of God—is that we should
be fully alive, able to do in our day just the kind of things that Jesus did in
his: to love one another, to bring peace into the world, to be agents of
healing, even at times to do the frightening work of standing up to the powers
in the world that would destroy. And it is just that we might live such lives that
these signs of Jesus have been handed down to us today—that we might see in
them the way that God continues to act in the world and in our lives.
So let me modify my original statement.
This Sunday after Easter should not be our
little secret—for on this day we hear a message of life not only for us in our spacious
and comfortable pews but for all people.
It is a message of peace. When we face the most
difficult, the most trying, even the most brutal situations that life can throw
at us, God is not far away, distant and removed. God is close at hand, knowing
our sorrow and our fear, yes, but also sharing our wounds and even showing the
same. This word of peace is not spoken lightly. God’s word of peace has been
tempered with fire so that it can support us even when the foundations are
shaking. This is a message of peace.
This is a message of purpose: “As the Father
sent me, so I send you,” Jesus says.
What is the meaning of life?
What is the purpose of our days on earth?
Jesus tells us. It is to go into the world as
he went into the world. We are to love one another in this community of faith
as Jesus loved us—no small task—and in this way show the love of God to the
world. We are to forgive as we have been forgiven—for who said that life after
Easter would be easy? We are to confront the powers of greed and death around
us. We are to bear witness to the God who is made known to us in Jesus Christ
so that others may also find the life we have found. This is a message of
And this is a message of power. So that we
might be those who love and forgive and bring peace Jesus gives the Spirit of
God to us. This Spirit, the Gospel of John tells us, is the “Comforter.” Now
this does not mean that the Spirit is the One who pats our hand and says,
“There, there, everything will be all right.” No, the comfort of God is
different from this—and far greater. Comfort, remember, comes from the Latin fortis, strong. To “com-fort” is to
strengthen much. And would we dare attempt to be those who love, who reconcile,
who speak truth to power if we did not have the strength of God? This is a
message of power.
All these were given to those dispirited,
disappointed, and dejected people who gathered together after that first Easter
This Sunday after Easter, as we find one
another again, after all that has happened or hasn’t happened to us in the past
week, as we bring our own sometimes dispirited, disappointed, and dejected
selves to worship, there is good news.
It is the good news of Easter. Not the Easter
long ago, but the Easter that continues to occur in our lives, in our
congregation, and in our world. Peace, purpose, and power are still given to us
Receive what is offered.
Take what is given.
That may be more than you were expecting on
this Sunday after Easter. It may be more than you asked, more than you
imagined, but then, that is the way of God in our world.
Use the gifts of God that you might have life
and have it abundantly.