John 20 19-31
The 177th Annual Parish Meeting
of St. Andrew’s Church
Again good morning and welcome on this Second Easter Sunday and of course the 177th Annual Parish Meeting of St. Andrew’s Church. I thought about this last Sunday as the ushers were setting up extra chairs for some of the 245 folks who came to this place for the 11 a.m. Easter service in the bright spring sunshine last Sunday morning. [I didn’t go fumbling in the archives, but in the records of the current service book, going back 8 years, the highest recent Easter Sunday attendance at the later service, anyway, and then with another 65 in attendance at the 9 a.m. Pretty exciting!] Old friends and new. Kids home from school. The extended family—and a few from the neighborhood and beyond who woke up on that one great Sunday morning of the year and ventured to this place for the first time. Prompted by some inward motion of the Holy Spirit.
Certainly my prayer for them especially but for all of us that the Good News of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was presented faithfully and in a lively and gracious way in the reading of scripture and in the beautiful music and anthems and hymns, in preaching, and in the offering of the great prayers of the church. And with continuing prayers for opened hearts and renewed and reformed and transformed lives.
Eastertide 2014 opening for us as every Easter would begin, with an assurance of God’s faithfulness. The Daily Office lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer shapes this long season on Easter morning as it assigned for the first gospel reading of Easter Day the same reading appointed for Christmas Day. John 1: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son of the Father.” In the calendar of the year we have this Easter before us for 40 days, until the Thursday of the Ascension, and then another 10 days, Ascensiontide, until Whitsunday and Pentecost. But truly the whole life of the church, all Easter, all the time. “Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast. Not with old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”
The reading for our service this morning, Second Sunday in Eastertide, giving us these two snapshot moments. The evening of Easter Day. Disciples gathered in the upper room. We imagine all the jumble of their thoughts and feelings, or we try to. The catastrophic hours following their Passover meal in the Upper Room, the Garden, the Trial, the nightmare of Good Friday. And now this wild and unexpected turn of events. The reports of the women, followed for some of them with their own eyewitness experience, the stone rolled away, the Tomb empty, dazzling bright angels, brief confusing tender, breathtaking encounters with a Jesus who is alive, alive again, and somehow even more alive than they had ever experienced before.
They gather in the Upper Room again, doors and windows shut tight, and then, here he is, speaking to them, demonstrating beyond any doubt his real presence and helping them take these first steps to make sense of what truly is beyond their understanding. Then the reading continues with a second story, the same place, the next Sunday, and the account of Thomas, who was away that first evening but now is present and in the presence of Jesus converted from doubt to faith, from fear and confusion to worship and dedication.
I think it’s a great reading for us this year, our 177th Annual Meeting. As I say in my Rector’s Report, the 20th that I’ve had the privilege to chair as rector. Christian people, disciples, gathered in love and fellowship, at a moment of change, with a sense of God acting in a new and powerful way, alert, listening for his direction. A moment rich with potential. Things happening! A moment for discernment. Not about holding back, but about opening doors, moving forward, with fresh energy and with confidence and joy. The Church Calendar follows the timing of St. Luke in marking the occasion of Pentecost with the Giving of the Holy Spirit, and certainly there was something important that happened on that 50th day.
But Pentecost in John’s gospel is all embedded in this first rush of Easter, as we heard just a moment ago. The Risen Lord in their presence. “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And he breathes out upon them. Dramatically. Emphatically. ”Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” And the disciples become apostles. The ones who followed--now the ones who are sent, commissioned, on assignment, filled with Spirit and with Power.
And what a power it is. To announce the gift of God’s grace in Jesus Christ, the power of the Cross, forgiveness of sins, blessing and reconciliation. To be agents of blessing. Preaching and teaching, in the midst of a broken and sinful world. Communicating God’s hope, his desire and love for everyone--not only with our lips, but in our lives. The old hymn, “Breathe on me, breath of God, fill me with life anew. That I may love what thou dost love, and do what thou wouldst do.”
Just to say, we’re at a moment like that. I truly believe we are. And I’m not just talking about six new restrooms, or a new floor in the church, or an elevator, or a ramp, or new meeting space. And we’ll hear about all these things later.
But a moment of expectation. A sense of the real presence of Jesus in our midst, the experience of his powerful Spirit. That in and around all this, there is a word for us, a call for us to listen for, to discern, to lean forward. What new thing he has in store for us.
You know what I say about St. Andrew’s. If someone calls for directions, I just tell them to follow the signs to the zoo. Cross the Highland Park Bridge and look for the one that says, “One Wild Place.” That’ll take you right here. Where we have every breed of cat. No place more interesting, more exciting. And never more than now.
It has been said, when God gives you a hammer, expect to see some nails. We have been saying for some time now that as we look toward this summer and to the completion of all these projects around us, that if we say, “we can hardly wait for things to get back to normal,” we’re missing the point. When the Lord appeared to the disciples on that first Easter evening, that wasn’t what they thought: “Jesus is here again: now things can get back to normal.”
It’s a new normal. The improvements around this place are not gifts we have purchased for ourselves, not for our aesthetic and emotional pleasure and personal convenience. We can be sure instead that this is all about God’s purpose. About what would be necessary for him to do the work he is ready to begin doing here. Most of all not about what we’ve done to the buildings, but what this whole process of reflection and dedication and creativity has done to us. All about renewal. Refreshing a 177 year old instrument of God’s grace and power, which is what we are: so that we might meet the opportunities God is bringing in our direction with a renewed and refreshed confidence and expression and impact of the gospel message.
I do think about those men and women and boys and girls back in the spring of 1837 who met for the first time on that Easter morning in a concert hall on Penn Avenue. On one hand, they could have had no idea what great things God was beginning with them. But they knew it was something important, I’m sure of that. And their hearts would have been full. The fun of that new ministry. Expectation. That the good work God was beginning in them would be realized in months and years and generations to come, in wonderful ways. They couldn’t have pictured us in any specific way. But I think that in the choirs of heaven they are very pleased this morning, a great cloud of witnesses.
We have this marvelous inheritance. From Jerusalem on that first Easter to Pittsburgh 1837, and now here this year, this summer, and hints already, these doors opening in Highland Park. I thank you, and I know we would thank one another and smile and applaud for all the prayer and devotion and creativity and stewardship of time, talent, and treasure, for friendship, for a life together as we would continue to seek with all our heart and mind and strength to know the love of Jesus thoroughly in our lives, and to make that love and all his Good News known in this neighborhood and in all the world. As we would know first and always: it’s all his doing, and all for him.
Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.