Still Resurrection...Still Easter...
Acts 2:14a, 22-32
1 Peter 1:3-9
April 16, 2023
Still Resurrection…Still Easter
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I know it might not feel like last Sunday, but contrary to popular belief, it is still Easter. In fact, our gospel lesson does not take place a week later, but later that evening on the first day of the week. On the day when Mary returned from her early morning encounter with Jesus in the Garden. Where for us, 168 hours have passed since we last have gathered, but for the Biblical narrative, less than 8 hours have occurred. While it might be the case for us this right now, “the theme of resurrection is still predominant throughout this passage. John is not satisfied with only narrating the events of the morning, the message of the risen Christ travels through the day and here, he gives an account of the events of the evening as experienced by the disciples.”
168 hours have passed since we have last gathered and the good news of last week has had some time to settle. For many of us, years have gone by since we first heard the unsettling story about Jesus’ resurrection. But for those gathering in that locked, upper room—very little time has passed for the faithful to process all that they have seen and experience. Where today, we find ourselves feeling at peace with the news of our Lord’s resurrection, for those gathered in that locked, upper room, peace was very much fleeting. The disciples are afraid. They have been afraid since Jesus was arrested in the garden. They all vowed to stay with Jesus but none of them did. If you remember, Peter even made the claim publicly that he would never deny Jesus but even his heart was filled with fear. Mary reports back to the others that Jesus is alive and you got to wonder—are they really afraid of the Jewish leaders or are they afraid of the guy who they all abandoned when he was arrested and denied ever knowing.
“In the midst of their naturally unsettled, fearful state…, they are overwhelmed by Jesus’ appearance…“Without explanation, Jesus is among them speaking directly to them… Regardless of the messages brought by Mary Magdalene, the disciples cannot be at ease, but instead cower in hiding, needing desperately to experience a sense of peace to overcome their fear.”
You know, as a kid growing up, I was scared of the dark. Truth be told, I am still sorta scared of the dark. Before I was married, I always had to sleep with at least a sheet covering my feet because I was afraid a mummy was going to grab me. This (completely irrational) fear dates back to when I was probably 5 years old and I was watching a movie where this guy says some kind of incantation that brings this mummy back to life and the mummy grabs the guy’s leg in the middle of the night. For some reason, my mind made me believe that if I kept my feet covered at night, the blanket would magically protect me from any mummies. For years…into my twenties…I couldn’t sleep unless my feet were covered. After I got married, I convinced myself that they would grab Diane first, she would scream, and then I would have time to run away. I mean, that’s why the Boy Scouts have the buddy system…you want to make sure whoever your buddy is, that you can run faster him. For years, fear of a mummy grabbing me in the middle of the night kept me from a good night’s sleep. On nights when it was so hot and humid, I had to make sure my feet were covered because of this fear. Fear held me back from a good night’s sleep. Fear tends to do that for a lot of things. Sometimes fear is good. It is good to be afraid of jumping out of perfectly good airplanes. We should have some rational fear of injuring ourselves or others. We should be afraid of germs so that we wash our hands. Fear of death is a great motivator for not being a moron. Perhaps maybe that is why it seems like people’s driving skills have decreased…people are more willing to take risks while driving because we have made cars so safe. My Subaru can practically drive itself with all the built in safety features. The fear of death has always kept us firmly grounded in reality and helps us make decisions. Fear made the disciples lock the doors of their meeting place. The disciples were scared for their lives. Someone was trying to do them harm—whether it be Jesus who they abandoned or the people who put Jesus on the cross. Their hearts are filled with fear, but notice what Jesus says to them in the midst of their fear: Peace be with you.
He says it twice probably because as soon as Jesus entered the lock room, they probably all began to loose it. We often read this with a very calm voice and John really paints a calm picture of that first gathering, but I imagine there was probably very little peace and calm actually happening in that room. I imagine the scene to be very chaotic and probably why Jesus needed to say it twice—because they all couldn’t hear it. Jesus had to put on his preacher voice and probably shout over the disciples’ own shouts of fear. In the midst of their fear, Jesus enters the room to bring peace.
“Peace not only brings calm, but it also brings light where darkness once reigned, it helps to restore order when there has been disruption in our lives…“Jesus’ words of peace are necessary and critical to the disciples on that Easter evening.”
Often the tradition is to read Thomas as doubting his faith, but what if his request to see Jesus was made out of fear. Thomas is expected to take the word of his scared-friends sight unseen. Thomas, even though he is late, is scared out of his mind just like the others. Thomas is no different from them. Notice, the next week that the church gathers, they don’t leave the door unlocked. Instead, they lock the door because they still fear what lies on the other side. They are still afraid of being taken away like their Lord was taken away. The fear that the disciples had the evening of his first appearance didn’t magically disappear. It is still there. And it is into this fear that Jesus appears to the gathering of his church again that Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”
The disciples remained scared for a long time after his resurrection. It wasn’t until Pentecost that Peter and the rest of the church really start to come out of their locked rooms to proclaim the good news. The speech that Peter makes in our first lesson is a post Pentecost speech. The reality here is that the church remained very scared and isolated immediately following the resurrection. Maybe that is how you feel this day.
One thing I have notice about Zion is that we love Lent and that is not a bad thing. Last year and this year as well, we have seen a steady climb in our weekly worship attendance throughout Lent. We had nearly 60 people every week participate in our Wednesdays in Lent gathering as compare to 30-40 at Advent. And then last week, almost 400 people came here whether online or in-person to worship the resurrected Jesus. Now this week, the pews are looking a little sparse. We will start to talk about the good olde days when every Sunday felt like it did on Easter Sunday this year. “Back in my day we use to have to get folding chairs and put them in the aisle each week because we had so many people attending worship. Even in the summer, we still filled the place. And maybe that was the case but I have been around for a while in the church and the Sunday after Easter is usually the most depressing of all the Sundays in Easter. The energy is just not like what it was last week. And I get that. It is a lot of fun to preach to a filled congregation—to look up from my notes and see people sitting eye level with me in the balcony.
Truthfully, I am feeling a bit afraid too. Was last week the last time we will fill the place? Am I leading the congregation to their own demise? Is the low attendance this week proof that I am indeed doing everything wrong and I am risking my family’s livelihood by continuing this course? Truthfully, I am bit afraid myself. Truthfully, I feel a bit like blessed Thomas—scared out of his mind, listening to the others talk about what I never got to experience myself and wondering if what the others are saying is actually true or just some idle, gossip. Perhaps you feel that way too. Perhaps you yourself are terrified too.
And you know something, I think we all are a bit terrified of our future. For a people who believe in Jesus, the same Jesus who promised that his holy church would always prevail and that not even the gates of Hades could take it down—we spend a lot time worried and scared about the future. Today, 2000 years later—17,520,000 hours later the news of Jesus’s resurrection and conquering the grave is just as terrifying right now as it was back then—but despite our fear, Jesus Christ continues to enter into our locked, upper rooms and calm our fears with peace.—a peace that surpasses all human understanding..
What is the thing we say before we celebrate the Eucharist—the thing where Jesus actually shows up in bread the wine? Peace be with you. Do you understand why we do that now? We are still all very scared and terrified just like we were back then. Yet Jesus promises his holy church that he would always be with us. He promised in this holy meal that he would show up and be present with us—strengthening our faith through this holy sacrament. But before he does that—he first must calm our hearts.
It is okay to be scared. In fact, it is okay to be like Thomas and demand to see him—to see the wounds of his gruesome crucifixion. It is okay to be scared and to come with your doubts and fear because despite all our fears, Jesus will always show up and bring us peace. Each and every week as we gather, he show ups and the way you know he is present is through that simple phrase, “Peace be with you.” “The answer to all our fears lies with Jesus. Upheavals and disorder are a natural part of life, but with the peace of Christ in our hearts, we can face these disruptions of fear” like those early disciples faced same disruptions—and like blessed Thomas, we too then may boldly proclaim even in our fear, “My Lord and my God.”
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.