Jesus died and was buried. The disciples faded from view. They had agonized through a long day of utter despair, and now another day was almost over. Mary came to them with an astounding story that did not penetrate their grief. “You saw him?” At dark, they were again in the upper room where they had celebrated Passover with Jesus. They had not understood when he took bread and said “This is my body” in the ceremony that became the church’s sacrament of bread and wine.
They were considerably diminished, not only as individuals, but also as a group. Peter became less sure of himself, ashamed of his denials. Thomas wasn’t there, even if he had heard the stories.They didn’t understand Mary’s story of an angel at the tomb who said, “He is not here but is risen.” At best, they were confused, frightened, overcome by inconsolable grief.
How could they make sense of the empty tomb? If they had any idea of staying together, could they go on without Jesus? Not one of them was a dynamic leader, fearless fighter, great political leader, or golden-tongued orator. They were strictly low income, without status, prestige or position. Most were Galilean fishermen. All hope was gone. Have some of us, (all of us?) been in a situation where our world crashed and we saw no hope for recovery?
Rather, how many of us have not been there with an incurable illness, a vanished relationship, the unexpected end of a career, or loss of income? retirement plans gone askew, loss of hope?
Then you will understand that while Peter wept in his remorse, Matthew reviewed his promising career in taxes, James and John, sons of thunder, wondered why Jesus had not used his power to prevent his suffering, Andrew wished he had never involved Nathaniel, and while the rest turned away from their dreams, suddenly they realized that Jesus was in their midst.
“Peace be with you,” and everything changed. What a roller coaster! Once again, their feelings, their hopes, their fears, their ambitions, their careers, their reflections on God — everything — changed.
He was right there! He was not dead! Instead he was in their midst and they were together again. Suddenly this collection of broken individuals had their leader back and they were a family again. When we realize that Jesus is present, he brings light and hope and peace. If we are alone, he finds us.
If any of us live where everything needs to be changed, he comes to us. If we have fears, failures, lost hopes and vanished ambitions, he gives us peace. Is anyone stuck back there with the disciples on the evening before he appeared? Do any of us live as though he just died? But he lives in our midst. The impossible becomes possible because Jesus Christ is alive and we can live again.
Just think — Jesus might have taken a throne, precisely as the Romans and the Jewish leaders feared. But he didn’t. Or to the disciples, he might have said, “Listen, I’ll tell you the secrets of the resurrection, and you’ll have something no one else has.” But he didn’t.
They might have fled, but they didn’t. Instead, he said to these burdened and bedraggled fishermen, “The Father sent me into the world and now I’m sending you.”. He breathed on them, reflecting the story of creation when the Lord God formed humankind from the dust of the ground, and breathed into their nostrils the breath of life.
Just so, the Son of God breathed new life into the disciples, he “in-spirited” them, that is, he inspired them, telling them his spirit would be with them. He didn’t just give them a good feeling, he gave them his spirit. He empowered them and he empowers us to share in his resurrection, so that the story of Jesus of Nazareth became part of their lives, and your life and mine,
Believers throughout the world dare not discount God. The resurrected Christ tells us that God can do the unthinkable. God has given himself to death in order to show how he can overcome every obstacle to eternal life. He could not have remained true to himself in all power and might, and just said to his creatures, “Oh, well, it doesn’t matter that you won’t obey me, that you don’t accept my Lordship. I’ll just overlook that, pretend it doesn’t happen.”
No, God sent his own son, who “has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself.” (Hebrews 9:26) He died in our place, meeting our obligation to God. He died to show that God takes sin seriously, and a serious remedy is required.
If there was to be new life for God’s people, then somebody had to overcome sin, death and evil – and on our behalf, rise in new life. Now he lives again in resurrected glory, ready to welcome us into that new life, now and forever.
In the meantime, how shall we live? An old Presbyterian catechism begins, “What is the chief aim of mankind?” Answer, “To praise God and to glorify him forever.” The resurrection of Christ makes it possible for us to live under the banner that says we live for God.
The final enemy has been overcome, and we have been assured that we have the spirit of God. Therefore, we live with faith, with hope grounded in the Son of God, and with an expectation of eternity that can never be shaken. Since the resurrection is true, then we can be strengthened as we meet daily life with a purpose..
Jesus Christ has come to live in our midst, to give us his peace and send us back into the world. We have inherited that legacy from those frightened fishermen in the upper room. From that time until now, there is an unbroken succession of followers and believers, stretching backward to the time when God called Moses to lead his people from slavery to the freedom of the Promised Land.
God gathered his people for the long march from Egypt, and then enlightened the world with the coming of Jesus Christ. In the same way, God has called and gathered and enlightened his holy family on earth so that his followers and believers can face the problems of this age, because we have life in his name.
Not only is life on this earth different for believers, but we look forward to the church triumphant. With all those who have gone before, we will dwell with them in eternal glory. Because Jesus came to his followers, we have a clue as to the place of the church in God’s mind.
The spirit of the risen Christ lives in the on-going life of St. Michael’s and every other ordinary, standard, average congregation, which is an extraordinary reality. We are now and forever washed by the blood of the Lamb of God, and we are the family of God. Jesus lives eternally. His church lives eternally, and so do we. When the writer of the epistle of John wished to describe how Jesus Christ is known, he said that the Son of God is the one who came to us by water and the blood. The references are to baptism and the blood of the new covenant established in the upper room.
In other words, in the reading and preaching of the word, in the sacrament of re-birth with water and its cleansing refreshment, and in the sacrament of Bread and Wine, Jesus Christ lives in our midst. We have all been symbolically bathed for a newness of life. We share in the cup of the new covenant, his blood poured out for the sins of the world.
The family of God includes all those who suffer, those who are uncertain of the presence of the spirit, those who are unaware of the power of God in daily living. The risen Christ lives in our midst on a day-by-day basis. God in Christ has invaded our world in an unthinkable way, proving that new life always lies ahead.
Thank God for that gift.
Jesus Christ lives — and so do we, not only in eternity, but by his living presence — we are alive in his spirit both now and forever.