23 April, 2017
“Blessed be the G-d and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” Amen
Do you believe those words from The First Letter of Peter? Blessed be the Holy One, our Creator, the one Jesus called Father, the one who has already given us a new birth into living hope.”? It’s a bold statement. The apostle Peter likely penned it sometime between A.D. 70 and A.D. 90. Things were much different then. In the Roman provinces, Christianity was the despised foreign religion. Roman society was suspicious that Christians posed a real threat to society. In particular, most Romans feared that Christianity would challenge a long established hierarchy of relationships and cause women to misbehave. There was significant worry that Christianity would cause adultery to increase, that insubordination within households would become rampant, and that, in the end, sedition against the state would result. Peter speaks against those fears by emphasizing that Christians are to imitate Christ, doing good and not retaliating against what no doubt felt like slander at the time. Things are much different now. Now, we who call ourselves Christian stand in the place of those Romans. What do the scriptures say to us now, all these long years later, and in entirely different circumstances? Sometime ago I came across a short meditation on the empty tomb written by Brother James Koester from the Society of St. John the Divine then posted on Facebook by Father Jason Emerson.
Brother James says this: “It is our time to lay claim, not just to the message of the Cross but of the Empty Tomb as well. Now is the time for us to lay claim to hope and health and life. Now is our time to lay claim to Jesus”. Do you dare to lay claim to Jesus in the fullness of the resurrection? The thing is, if we really do lay claim to Jesus now it is time, even past time, to follow him right on out of that empty tomb and into the new life God has already given us. It’s just as counter-cultural now I think as it was back then when Peter wrote his letter to the churches of Asia Minor or when the author of the Gospel According to John was written to the community gathered around the Apostle John.
Think about it, Easter was last week. Easter in our world has gone on sale. Easter baskets and candy, the bunnies and chickies, and colored eggs are relegated to quick sale baskets. It’s just that on a deeper level the season has only just begun. Easter day is just the beginning. We have the entire rest of our lives to celebrate the resurrection. Did you hear that call to faith in each of this morning’s readings? In Act’s we heard Peter proclaim the resurrection as an act of God, the act that forms the basis for Christian community. The epistle provided a vision of our faith in Christ and our love for Christ as signs of our salvation. Then we have this intriguing gospel story. Remember? It was evening on the first day of the week. Mary had encountered the risen Christ that very morning, she had told the disciples all about that visit. Now we hear that they had gathered fearfully behind locked doors. Then Jesus stepped into their midst and gave a blessing. Peace be with you he said. Shalom, the word conveys a sense of happiness and inner health, that are gifts of God alone, gifts that the world can neither give nor take away again. Now, one important thing about blessings in the Biblical world. They are gifts but they are gifts that call the receiver to pass the blessing on. The one who is blessed is to become a blessing for others. So Jesus also gives a commission. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
Jesus said more of course but these words are foundational. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Listen again to the last two lines we read. “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of God, and that through believing you might have life in his name.” (John 20: 30-31). Let me offer part of another brief meditation. Again, I found it Facebook, this time on the page “Radical Discipleship Movement”. Let me quote. “So then Jesus started making appearances to the disciples. Some didn’t recognize him because they were too consumed with their own situation. At least one wanted proof that it was really him and not some imposter. At least one other wanted to embrace him and never let go of him again.” That all sounds really familiar to me. Does it to you? The meditation ends with this intriguing question. “And you and I? How do we respond to the living Christ? He is risen and going before us.” I wonder. Can we still rejoice in the power of God with “indescribable and glorious joy” as we, day to day, receive what God has promised to us, new life in living hope? Do we dare? That tomb is empty. Jesus is no longer there. Will you stay locked in that upper room out of fear? Because, honestly, that notion of following the Risen Lord into new life by doing good, by not retaliating against others who we perceive as “wrong”, is just as challenging today. It’s a way of living that still stands in opposition
to what most people experience much of the time. For sure, it’s no easier to take that stance now than it was back in the first century. And yet, it’s still our best witness to the power of God’s love alive and active in the world around us.
So, I’ll ask it again. Because this is a critically important question for us. Will you follow our Risen Lord into new life as Peter did? Can you say with him: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” We have been given such a blessing here. There is no better gift. Leave that tomb now and share it. Celebrate the resurrection today and always. Amen