A sermon preached on Easter 2, April 28, 2019 at St. John’s in Kingston, NY. To read today’s scripture, please click here. If you’d like to listen along, click the play button below.
It had been 3 days since Jesus was taken away by the police. 3 days since he had been with his friends. Those 3 days in Jerusalem had been tumultuous for this movement, This movement that Jesus led. A movement whose message is love of neighbor, and justice for the poor and disenfranchised, and peace for all of creation. Love, Justice, Peace.
But Jesus, the leader of this movement, had been killed. They saw the death. And, as far as the Jewish tradition of the messiah coming to free them, this fact annulled his messianic claims. This put his friends in danger. The worldly powers, it seemed, had won. His disciples went into hiding. They holed up in the place that had become their home in Jerusalem. Too afraid to be seen in public, they dug in… maybe to figure out what to do next, maybe to make plans to leave, maybe even to pray.
That morning, as we heard in the Easter message last week, their friends (the women) came to tell them what they saw at the tomb, that is, the empty tomb. So they knew the state of affairs, even if they thought it to be an idle tale. This must have made the fear worse for them: not seeing, not understanding, not knowing who or what to trust.
Their situation was now more desperate. They had been in league with their teacher who was executed by the state and now, the legal seal on the tomb had been destroyed. The law had been broken again. Who was going to be held accountable?
The conversations carried on as it grew dark on the first day of the first week in the cramped house, the walls closing in on them. Since we have no Gospel account of those conversations, I’ve always wondered…
Were they fearful? Were the disciples wondering things like: Would they be blamed? Should they run? Go back to the country? Wouldn’t it be easier to just keep their heads down now that their teacher had been killed?
Or, had they really heard the words of Jesus? And, even in their fear, were they prepared to carry on his mission in the world? Were they capable of sharing his message of Love, Justice, and Peace?
And then… Jesus came and stood among them in that small space, and showed them his flesh in the dim light of evening, and said, “Peace be with you.” And they rejoiced, their spirits uplifted, to be in the same room with their teacher again, to be touching his flesh, to be breathing the same air.
This breath he breathed with them, that he breathed on them in that room, became the blessing of the Holy Spirit. Breath brings calm and nourishes our bodies. Breath signifies that life is present. The inhalation and expiration of our breath. The animation it creates. The inspiration it brings to us.
In the beginning God breathed, God spoke creation into being. God formed humanity out of the dust of the ground and breathed life into our nostrils. And here is God, once again, breathing us back into life. Inspiring us to become Christ in and for the world. To take this message of Love, Justice, and Peace into the world. To continue Jesus’ work, continue his mission.
The cards you received are from our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, and they outline a simple set of practices for the Way of Love, a path that puts Jesus at the center of our lives to keep us focused on his mission in the world: Turn, Learn, Pray, Worship, Bless, Go, Rest.
And today’s Gospel message is most certainly about Turning, about taking a breath. Breathing new life. That moment of choice where we pause, and we listen, and we choose the Way of Love, instead of the way of the world. The way of Justice. The way of Peace.
We do this every week when Deacon Sue reads the Gospel. She walks to the middle of the congregation and we turn and face the Gospel, This is the moment of breath, the moment of turning. WE are demonstrating that we are reorienting our life around Jesus, around the Gospel message. Every week, we make that choice.
The disciples in that small room in the evening of the first day of the week, were making a choice. The same choice that we are always called to make – do we choose to look for the living among the dead? The challenge from the angels at the empty tomb? Meaning, do we choose the methods of worldly power over love? Do we choose to allow death to be the final word?
Or do we choose the Way of Love? Do we choose Jesus for our teacher? Are we prepared to follow through on Jesus’ mission, to bring his movement of Love, Justice, and Peace to the world?
This isn’t always an easy choice. Following Jesus means a lot more than being nice to people. It means we understand the Sermon on the Mount to be a set of principles that articulate God’s preference for those that the worldly powers have made vulnerable – the poor, the homeless, the prisoner, the immigrant, the marginalized, the abused, the oppressed. God stands with these people because the worldly powers have made them vulnerable.
It means we believe God’s Love manifests in the world as Justice, as Peace for all of creation and that this faith informs our actions and our decisions.
It means we believe that the 2 commandments Jesus gave us – love God, love your neighbor as yourself, that these two commandments actually calls us to change the world.
Turning offers us a breath, a moment in which we start to question the everyday assumptions of the world in which we live. Because of this, Turning is meant to be performed over and over again – we start to see things anew when we turn and see things through the eyes of Jesus. And the next time we have an opportunity to turn and take a breath, we see things anew yet again. Always challenging our assumptions.
It is what the word “repent” actually means – we turn to God, we turn to listen to the teachings of Jesus, we turn to listen for the whispers of the Holy Spirit.
Even Thomas eventually turns, eventually finds his way to belief. Thomas is an example that drives us all a bit crazy and, if we’re honest, makes us all thankful. Thomas doesn’t just comply, Thomas demonstrates that faith requires our full engagement. This means, we don’t just say yes. We bring our doubts and our questions and our skepticism. We bring all of who we are to this mission. Thomas shows us the full range of what it means to be human. And just how full our faith can be, how free we can become.
God’s promise, God’s hope that comes from making that choice is one of true freedom – being free from the bondage of the world, the death-dealing of the world. Bp. Michael always describes God as Loving, Liberating, and Life-giving. Because when we keep turning ourselves toward our teacher, just as we do when we turn to face the Gospel during the liturgy, we begin to realize that in liberating others, we are actually liberating ourselves from the death-dealing ways of the world.
And we see that, even when we are at our darkest moment, when it seems that the world has defeated the way of Love, God’s Love comes to us – unbidden. And we’re unprepared for how that comes: incarnate and whole, with wounds fresh from the world, to breathe on us and inspire us again. To liberate us and bring us back to life.