Monday, April 24, 2017

The First Sunday after Easter - Low Sunday

Dear Fathers, Friends in Christ,

I John 5:4-12 and John 20:19-23

Jesus said to his disciples, "Peace be with you.  
As the Father has sent me, so I send you."  

 
This Sunday after Easter Sunday poses a bit of a difficulty for a priest to preach a sermon simply because last week was so special. What is it that I could say to you that you could carry away today as you leave church? Fortunately, this Church of ours presents to us such a rich bill of fair in the Scriptures today that it shouldn't be too difficult for all of us to carry away something to enrich our lives. 

Today, we think about the night of the Resurrection, Easter Sunday night, when these events in today's Gospel took place. The doors being shut, Jesus appears to His disciples in the upper room, the same place where they had celebrated the Last Supper with Jesus on the previous Thursday. Now he stands before them and says, "Peace be with you." The doors were locked, but that was no problem to Jesus. After all, if a stone in front of a tomb couldn't hold him, neither could a locked door. 
There are some, of course, who would say that the Resurrection of Jesus is merely symbolic; that Jesus didn't rise from the dead. Rather, it was only a "faith statement" on the part of the disciples. We don't believe that. The Scripture is very clear on this. Jesus showed them His hands and his side. He showed them the wounds. They were marks of victory. As a warrior king, he had entered into the battle with the powers of darkness and he had defeated them. He wore those wounds proudly and he showed them to his disciples. The disciples believed and understood. It is the Lord! This is the name that was given to Jesus after his resurrection. They called him Lord, for so he is. 

This appearance of Jesus before His disciples is an interesting one for many reasons. First of all, if you remember the Gospel readings last week and the story of the Resurrection, we had Peter and John running to the tomb. Peter and John looked in, saw, and believed. 

Now that same night, here they are in the upper room, behind locked doors cowering in fear. It doesn't seem to quite fit with what they did in the morning. But, for John, this does point out that they had not received the fullness of the Holy Spirit. In John's Gospel, when Jesus died on the cross, He cried out with a loud voice and handed over His Spirit. He handed over the Holy Spirit to the Church. But they had not received the fullness of the Spirit and it would be this night that they would receive the Holy Spirit in a new and special way. (St. Luke describes it as fifty days later, on the feast of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit would come upon the Church.) But here they receive the Holy Spirit in a very special way this night. But before they received him, they would cower in fear behind locked doors; fearful that something awful might happen to them. Not very brave people! 

The next thing that we see in this narrative of John is the way in which he speaks of the disciples. Who were the disciples? The apostles were disciples; they were the followers of Jesus. Disciples are followers. But these were more than just the ten. After all, there were only ten at this point. Two were missing: Judas, who had gone out and hanged himself. And Thomas. Thomas was - we don't know where. Because of Thomas' absence, Jesus appeared to him a week later to deal with him in matters of faith. 

But there were more than just these ten there. For John, the whole Church was there. That's the point of his Gospel this morning. The whole Church could fit in an upper room. 

Jesus says to them, "Peace be with you." When he's saying that word to his disciples, it's much more than "Hello", or "Hi, guys, here I am." Peace is what he had promised to his disciples the previous Thursday. 

In the fourteenth chapter of John, Jesus said this: 
"Peace is my farewell to you. my peace is my gift to you. I do not give it to you as the world gives peace. Do not be distressed or fearful. You have heard me say, I go away for awhile and I come back to you.' If you truly love me, you would rejoice to have me go to the Father, for the Father is greater than I." 

Peace is his farewell gift and now he is saying to his disciples, "Yes, you have that peace that is grounded in your faith that I am truly risen. You can be at peace with your God for I have reconciled you to your Father." That's really what he is saying to these disciples. You can really be at peace. "I told you," Jesus said, "that you can trust your Father. You can trust him precisely to the point that even if they kill you, you can trust your Father. I have the wounds in my feet, my hands and my side to prove it. This is my peace that I give to you." 

Then Jesus says, "As the Father has sent me, so I send you." These are disciples. They are followers and now he is making them apostles. He is sending them out. "As the Father has sent me, so I send you." The Father sent Jesus into the world for one purpose: reconcile all of mankind to the love of our heavenly Father. That ministry of reconciliation was the reason why He was born. For this he came into the world. For this he suffered and died on a cross. The vindication of that sacrifice is the fact that the Father raised him up on the third day. Now he could say, "As the Father has sent me on this mission of reconciliation, so now I send you. You are to be apostles, ministers of reconciliation, one to another." Now this is what the Church is for. Priests and laity alike, all of us, are involved in this ministry of reconciliation. Jesus is saying this, not only to those apostles in the upper room, but to all of us as well. 
We have the ministry of reconciliation. How do we do that? Many, many ways! You don't have to go down to the main street  and stand on a soap box and say, "Jesus Christ is Lord." Some special people might do that. But you don't have to. There are simple ways in which you and I can work out this ministry of reconciliation with one another. People will see you and ask, "Why is she so joyful? Why is he so peaceful and happy? What is there about this person?" Joy and peace can be signs of the presence of the risen Lord in your life. That is what can be so attractive that people say, "You must have found something. Tell me about what you have found." They may not articulate it. But you can tell when they want to know, and you can say it. Maybe a word here, a word there, something you share with a friend or a neighbor or relative. In one way or another, you work out that ministry of reconciliation; you have been sent. 

This is the reason why you received the Holy Spirit. He breathed on the disciples and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive men's sins, they are forgiven them; if you hold them bound, they are held bound." This is reconciliation, forgiveness of sins. This is why the Church exists: to reconcile all of mankind, in Christ, to the Father. We are the Body of Christ and therefore, it is our role. As the Father has sent Christ, so he sends us. 

Jesus breathed on His disciples and here is where John wants us to hearken back to the Old Testament. In the second chapter of Genesis, when God formed man out of the earth, he breathed life into his nostrils. Now Jesus breathes on His Church and breathes life into it. This is the life of grace; this is the life of the Spirit that he has given to each and every one of us. 

There is another wonderful example of God breathing and bringing to life. It's in the thirty-seventh chapter of the Book of Ezekiel. You know the story. It is the story of the dry bones. In a field, the plains of Esdralon, were the bodies of those slain in battle, their bones bleaching in the sun, according to the vision of Ezekiel, and the Spirit of God breathed into those bones new life and they rose up as a great army. 

What a beautiful image for the Church, a Church that in so many places is moribund - dead, if not deadly. The Church needs a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit, that new breath of life that only God can give in order that it can rise up as a mighty army to do the work of God, to bring about reconciliation. There are so many things that you and I can understand in that short passage of John's Gospel today. It doesn't even get into that dialogue with Thomas. Thomas wanted empirical evidence, sensual evidence, that Jesus was truly risen, "Put your fingers into the place of the nails and your hand into My side and do not persist in your unbelief," he says to Thomas. "Become a believer." All Thomas has to do is profess his faith, to say, "My Lord and My God." 

We are a people of faith, like Thomas. You and I can say, "My Lord and My God." Because of that living faith that has been breathed into us by the Holy Spirit, we can accept the commission that Christ our Lord gives to us this day to be reconcilers. We can forgive the sins of those who sin against us. We can bring all people together under the headship of Christ. Let that be our prayer as we offer our sacrifice to the Father this day. 

Father Ed Bakker
Anglican Catholic Church / Original Province
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne
Launceston
Tasmania
Australia

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