Second Sunday of Easter John 20:19-31

They watched the crucifixion and fled. Jesus was buried.  They agonized through another day of utter despair.   Now it was the evening of the third day and the disciples were again in the upper room where they had celebrated Passover with Jesus.  They didn’t understand when he gave them his body, first in the bread, then, on the cross.  They had been changed, not only as individuals, but also as a group. 

Peter set the tone, but now he was less sure of himself, ashamed of his denial. Thomas wasn’t there, but he had heard the stories. The first people at the tomb found an angel saying, “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?  Could life go on without him?  If they had any idea of trying to stay together, who would take his place?

Not one of them was a dynamic leader, a fearless fighter, great statesman, or golden-tongued orator. They were strictly low income, without status, or prestige or position.  All hope was gone. Have any of us been in a similar situation where the world has come crashing down and we see no hope for recovery?   Rather, how many of us have not been there?  Do we know about an incurable illness, a broken relationship, the unexpected end of a career?  A sudden death? or loss of income?  Have you ever been crushed?  Rather, who has not been there?

While Peter wept in his remorse, while Matthew, who had given up a promising career in taxes, reviewed his vanished past; while James and John, sons of thunder, wondered why Jesus had not used his power to prevent his suffering, while Andrew wished he had never involved Nathaniel, and while the rest turned away from their dreams, Jesus came and stood in their midst.

“Peace be with you,” he said, and everything changed. Once again their feelings, their hopes, their fears, their ambitions, their careers, their reflections on God — everything changed.  Jesus was standing 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.  When Jesus is present, he brings light to darkness; he brings assurance in despair.  He brings hope to failure, and peace to the disturbed.

If we are isolated and alone, we find company. Do any of us live where everything needs to be changed?  Do we have fears, failures, hopes and ambitions?  Is anyone stuck with the disciples on the evening of the original Easter before Jesus appeared?  How many of us live as though he was not resurrected to bring us help, to bring us love, to give us God’s power to see beyond the grave?

But the impossible becomes possible because Jesus Christ is alive and our living has meaning. Just think that Jesus might have taken a throne, precisely as the Romans and the Jewish leaders were afraid.  But he didn’t.  Or in coming 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.   Instead, he takes these bedraggled fishermen, and says to them, “The Father sent me into the world and now I’m sending you out in the same way.”  What a holy purpose for living!

He breathed on them exactly as in Genesis when the LORD God created a being from the dust of the ground, and breathed into that creation the breath of life. Just so, the Son of God breathes new life into his disciples.  He tells those frightened disciples – and us — that his spirit will remain.  He empowers us all to share in his resurrection, so that the story of Jesus of Nazareth is life for each one of us.  The resurrected Christ tells us that God has done the unthinkable.  God has taken on his archenemies of sin, death, and evil to show how much the Creator loves his creation.

He might have said to his first 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 and pretend it doesn’t happen.”  No, he sent his son to receive what we deserve. He sent his son to show that God will have the last word.  God in Jesus Christ provided a way to overcome sin on our behalf, dying in our place.  He lives again in resurrected glory, ready to welcome us into that same eternal life.

In the meantime, how shall we live? An old 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 our purpose in life. Jesus Christ has come to stand in our midst, to give us his peace, and send us back into the world. We have inherited a 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 Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to be his people, and into this room, today.

He gathered his people on the long march from Egypt, and then enlightened the world with the coming of Jesus Christ. In the same way, God has called, gathered and enlightened his holy family on earth so that his followers and believers can face whatever  problems of this age, because we have life in his name. We are pleased and proud, humbled and thankful that we are part of that unbroken train.  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.   We are now and forever washed by the blood of the Lamb of God, and we are the family of God.  Because Jesus came to his followers, we have a clue as to the place of the church in God’s mind.  It is this: the spirit of the risen Christ lives in the on-going life of an ordinary congregation – be it the smallest  or the largest.

When the writer of the epistle of John wanted to describe how Jesus Christ is known, he wrote 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 and certified on the cross.

In other words, Christ’s resurrection comes to us in the sacramental life of a standard, ordinary, average congregation, which is an extraordinary reality. In the preaching of the word, however poorly it may be done, in the sacraments of re-birth with water and its cleansing refreshment, Jesus Christ lives in our midst.

He is always calling us to be involved in his mission – bringing the love of the Father to all who need him, providing help to the poorest of the world around us. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus is pictured on the last day standing at heaven’s door,  admitting those who saw him in the world’s hungry and homeless, and saying to them, “inasmuch as you were kind to others, you were being kind to me.”

We have all been symbolically bathed, made clean and ready for a newness of life. We all 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, those who need help.  The risen Christ lives not only in us but also in others in our midst.

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 He is alive in us, each one of us, here and now.

Each of us must ask and answer the question: What does that mean for me?