Sunday, April 23, 2017

Second Easter

John 20: 19-23

“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that, believing you may have life in his name.”

Good morning, and grace and peace as we open into the adventure of Eastertide!  The four gospels lead us in an orderly and solemn procession, step by step through Holy Week.  But the sun comes up on Easter morning and suddenly it’s like fireworks exploding overhead all at once in the sky, light and movement all over the place, in wild and unexpected patterns, surprise after surprise after surprise.

The disciples come to the tomb and find it empty.  The women come to the tomb and meet an angel, or angels.  Mary meets him in the garden.  Two old friends suddenly find themselves in his company as they walk home to Emmaus.  He’s there suddenly there with them in the Upper Room, despite locked doors.  Twice, as we hear this morning.  Or they seem him by the Sea of Galilee, on the shore near the very spot he had first called Peter and Andrew and James and John to join him in this new ministry.  '

In First Corinthians 15 Paul tells of other Easter meetings, some not recorded in the gospels: “that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.  Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time . . . then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles . . . .”  The sky had gone dark.  And then suddenly everywhere things are happening, exploding with light and sound.  Easter.

The Church year devotes 50 days to the season, Easter Day to Whitsunday and Pentecost-- in the same sacred pattern given in Scripture of the 50 days between the night of Passover and the Giving of the Law on Mount Sinai.  And we need those seven weeks to hear the stories, to allow them to rest in our hearts and imaginations.  Most of the time the basket of Easter Eggs and Candies will disappear after a day or two, but we’re going to take our time.  Not to rush.   Taste and see that the Lord is good.  Just to savor it all.

This gathering in the Upper Room on the evening of Easter Sunday in the first part of our reading from John 20--and I’m just going to be looking at the first part of this, verses 19-23.  What a wild moment.  It probably felt like there wasn’t enough oxygen in the room.  Hard to breathe.  Cleopas and his companion must have just returned from Emmaus, rushing in to tell the other disciples they’re strange and really incomprehensible story how they had seen Jesus on their way home to Emmaus, and then all at once, right there, there he is, himself.  Jesus.

The room falls silent.  “Eirene umin”  John’s Greek.  Probably “Shalom, shalom.”  His familiar greeting.  Peace be with you.  And they can’t believe their eyes and ears.  We picture this.  He lifts up his hands to show them his scars, pulls up his shirt to show where the Roman soldier’s spear had pierced his side.  They can’t believe what they are seeing, and yet, can there be any doubt?   He’s right here.

And then he speaks.  “Eirene umin.”  Shalom, shalom.  Peace.  Peace.   And then three things happen, as John tells in these verses.  Three words.

“As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.”  The apostolic commission.  Back in their earlier journey to Jerusalem he had sent them on ahead, two by two.  And on the Mount of the Ascension he would send them again.  “Go ye into all the world.”    It’s a recurring theme of these Easter meetings with Jesus.  We remember how at the Transfiguration Peter had wanted to build three shelters on the mountaintop.  He didn’t want to leave, to go down the mountain and back to the world of conflict and strife.  Just to bask in the glory of the Father, the brilliance of the Son, the embrace of the Spirit.  But that’s not what Jesus had for them.  They took a breath, and then headed back down the mountain.  And so for Easter.  Lord, we would stay here with you.  Remember what he said to Mary in the Garden.  “Don’t hold on to me here, but go tell the others.”  And here again, “as the Father has sent me, even so I send you.”  Getting ready for Pentecost.

And then the second word, also all about Pentecost.  “he breathed on the them, and said to them, receive the Holy Spirit.”  A foreshadowing of what would soon happen in that same Upper Room, when the 50 days had passed, and the Spirit would rush in with the rushing sound of the wind and rest over them like tongues of fire and fill them with the energy that would power their proclamation to the ends of the earth.

And then finally, he turns to them.  This third word.   “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

The Sadducees and Pharisees were absolutely correct when in their astonishment they raised their objection to Jesus.  Preaching, teaching, healing.  That’s one thing.  But: “Only God can forgive sins.”  They’re absolutely correct.  They just didn’t know who it was who was standing before them.  So in this word the whole mystery of the Cross is established in the new reality of Easter.  That as Christ has taken on himself every sin, every dark power, the whole weight of the Prince of this World, and with his death has accomplished a total victory, so now that power of mercy, the triumph of blessing, is expressed fully and completely in his living Body, the Church.  The whole company of faithful.  As we stand at his Cross and offer him our brokenness, we are incorporated into his resurrection.  New birth, new life.  This is how his mercy is to be made known.  This is why he sends us out.   For the same reason the Son was sent from the Father.  Blessing, grace and forgiveness. 

My friend Wes Hill, who teaches New Testament, wrote an article recently to review the new book by Rod Dreher called “The Benedict Option.”  A bit of what he had to stay really stood out for me:  He says, “the beauty of holiness isn’t about us always Getting It Right.  It’s about us striving for holiness while not covering our sin, not lying about our lives.  It’s about us seeking always, again and again, to live lives of repentance and dependence on forgiving love . . . .  “. . . Bare ‘morality,’” he says, “shorn of its rationale and distinctive motivations, isn’t our primary Christian gift to the world.  But there is one distinctive thing we have to offer.  There is only one place in the world where you can hear words of absolution that assure us that God in Christ is a God of prodigal mercy . . . .” 

That place is right here.  In the circle of his church, his Body, those who have beheld his glory, received grace upon grace.  Who have stood at the foot of the Cross, who have laid down the burden of sin before him, and now are filled to overflowing, made one Body with him, one Body, that he might dwell in us, and we in him.  Ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven.  “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” If the world thinks that’s beyond you, it’s just because they don’t know who it is that is standing before them: who you are now, who you have become.”   You in me, I in you, just as I am in the Father, and the Father is in me.  Very members incorporate in the mystical Body.  Through faith in the work of his Cross.

That’s Easter.   Real Easter.  And we are just invited to take some deep breaths and let it begin to sink in. 

“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that, believing you may have life in his name.”

Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Friday, April 14, 2017

Good Friday

Sermon for Good Friday
Passion Gospel of St. John
The Rev. Daniel J. Isadore

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Fifth in Lent, Passion

Sermon by the Rev. Daniel J. Isadore
Assistant Priest of St. Andrew's Church
John 11: The Return to Bethany and the Raising of Lazarus