A Sermon for the 2nd Sunday of Easter, April 28, 2019
St. Dunstan’s Anglican Church, Largo, FL
The Very Rev. J. Michael Strachan
Revelation 1:4-8; John 20:19-31
When we walk through the drama of Holy Week, we are walking through the drama of our redemption. Now, the story does start far before the events of Holy Week and has continued long since, but the high points of the story, the climax of the covenant, are the events of Holy Week, particularly the death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah, which we have just celebrated and in fact continue to celebrate because Easter is a season and not a single day.
The drama of our redemption, the fact that God has forgiven our sins, made us right with him, brought us into his family, and promised to raise us from the dead on the last day, is a glorious gift for which we should give thanks every single day. But there can be a disconnect between the world around us that we see with our eyes and the way that we expect the world to be. We say and sing that God in Christ has defeated sin, death, and the devil, and then when we look around us what we find is a very different reality, one in which sin, death, and the devil still continue to reign.
Part of the disconnect is that our theology and hymnody isn’t always as precise as it should be. We often speak of God having defeated death on the cross, but the defeat of death happens not when Jesus dies but when Jesus rises again and it happens for us when we rise again the future. Death is the last enemy that shall be defeated, so the defeat of death is a future even for us, even if Jesus’ resurrection guarantees our own.
In the same way, we speak about sin as having been defeated, and yet we all know the role it has in our own lives and in the world around us. But at the cross we find the forgiveness of sins, and not the defeat of sin. Sin didn’t disappear on Good Friday or Easter Sunday, but because of Good Friday and Easter Sunday God can now forgive our sins like any judge could do, but he can do so while being, as Paul puts it, “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom 3:26). Without the cross, God could forgive our sins, but then he wouldn’t be just. Without the cross, God could hold us accountable for our sins, but then he wouldn’t be the justifier, the one who made people right with himself. But because of what Jesus did, God can be both just and justifier, and yet sin continues to roll on in this world, doing its worst in our lives and in the world, despite the fact that we live in a world where Jesus Christ has died, is risen, and will come again.
The devil too continues to prowl around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour, as Peter says, well after the death and resurrection of Jesus, and so we might be excused if we too have our Doubting Thomas moments where we’re unsure what to believe in the light of the reality around us. We want to see something before we believe it. We want our experience of the world around us, what we see, touch, and experience, to match what it is that we are being asked to believe. And we aren’t the only ones to experience this disconnect, nor was Thomas. We name the book Revelation, except that’s not really the title. The last book of our Bile is “the Apocalypse of Jesus Christ,” and an apocalypse is a genre written for those people for whom the world doesn’t quite match up with the reality they confess. In an apocalypse, the veil that separates our dimension from God’s dimension is pulled back for a moment, and we are given a look into the other side of existence. We see things only from our perspective now, but God sees the world differently than we do, and through an apocalypse, we are invited to view that perspective through the lens of the symbolic worldview of the Old Testament.
And so we hear from the opening of the book what is true despite what might appear to be the case. From the world’s perspective, Jesus is a failed prophet; from God’s perspective, Jesus is the faithful witness. From the world’s perspective, Jesus’ life ended in pain and anguish on the tree; but from God’s perspective, Jesus is the firstborn from the dead. From the world’s perspective, it looks like Caesar is Lord, or substitute the word Caesar for whatever political title you’d like, but from God’s perspective Jesus is the ruler of the kings of the earth.
But here’s what I want to ask you today. We believe these things to be true. We believe what John and the rest of the Apostles say about Jesus, even if the world doesn’t match up perfectly with our experience. Even if sin, death, and the devil seem to still have their way every single day, we don’t waver or fall back into unbelief because we know that our God is bigger and more powerful and more victorious than any of those forces could ever be. But, in light of the world we live in, can we blame the world if they, like Thomas, want proof?
Put yourself in the world’s shoes for a moment. Christians make the most incredible claims. We say that a Jewish man, who died on a Roman cross because he was rejected by the world’s empire and by his own people, was raised from the dead by the creator of heaven and earth, and even though we can’t see him or touch him or visit him today, we believe that he is alive, sitting at the right hand of God, and will come again to judge the living and the dead, and that through his death and resurrection, there is forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life thorough the resurrection of our bodies. And I’m not saying any of that is wrong or untrue, I’m saying that I understand why the world around us might be skeptical.
But if the world, like Thomas, wants to see the holes in Jesus’ hands and in his side, then I say let’s show them. Isn’t it remarkable that Jesus, even after he has been raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, still bears the wounds of his death? His body is perfected, and yet wounded. John will say revelation that he saw a lamb standing as though it had been slain. It’s standing, so it’s alive, but it looks as though it was killed. Paul makes the claim in 1 Corinthians that of faith, hope, and love, love is the greatest because love remains beyond this age and continues in the age to come. Faith has no meaning in the age to come, nor does hope, for what we have believed and for what we have hoped will have come to fruition. But love… love transcends even that divide, and the things that we do in love now will carry over from this world into the next, which is why I think Jesus still bears the wounds on his resurrected body. They are a sign of his love, and love remains.
So we can’t show the world Jesus’ wounds, his signs of love for the world, but we can show them ours. If we want the world to believe what we say about the risen Christ, we need to be able to show them his love for them through our love, and if necessary, be wounded for them as well. Paul says that he fills up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ, but the only things that’s lacking in Christ’s suffering is physical presentation of it. The world needs to see and feel and experience the love of Jesus, and if the church is the body of Christ, and it is, then when the world asks to see the wounds of Christ, the proof of his love, then we must show them our wounds, but we can only do that if we have first been wounded. It is love that overcomes the disconnect between the world around us and the Easter world that we confess. It was self-giving, self-emptying, self-sacrificial love that changed the world during Holy Week and continues to change the world today.