Sermon for the Second Sunday of the Resurrection
11 April A.D. 2010
Resurrection Lutheran Church
“When God Appears in the Anxiety of our Doubt”
Grace to you and Peace, from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus the Risen Christ. Amen.
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!
Our Savior Jesus Christ has abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel!
Here we are nearly two thousand years after this wondrous and seemingly incredible day at the crossroads of history and hope. The Holy Gospel – the Good News – for today written by Saint John recounts the experience of the Apostles on that first day of the Resurrection and the week following. So what is so Good about these events, and is it still News for us today? Three things I’d like us all to thing about: 1. What? 2. So What? 3. Now What? I’m quite sure those questions were in the hearts of the disciples on that first Easter Sunday.
How many of us read the Free Lance Star this past Easter morning? In case you missed it, here’s a copy. The Front page story shows images of Christ crucified and Risen. The headline reads: “Easter’s meaning varies to faithful.” And then this in the Viewpoints section: “Witnesses to the resurrection.” So it seems to me that the Resurrection of Jesus is still news. But just reading these articles in the paper doesn’t do much for me. In fact, if the only way I had learned of this miraculous event was from the newspaper, I would probably be like the 53% of Americans reported on the front page as not relating Easter to the Resurrection of Jesus. Did I read that right? 53% of Americans don’t relate Easter to the resurrection??? So while this good news is so familiar to us, there are plenty of folks whom we meet every day that have not yet heard of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus! All too often we assume that everyone knows about this, but that assumption is flawed. It is our calling to share this good news with those who don’t yet know it right here in our community!
I find these articles hollow and filled with anxiety. They seem to imply that the biblical accounts of the resurrection are inconsistent, leading to ambiguity and incredibility. So you know what I did? I went and reread the accounts in all four Gospels, looking for these inconsistencies. I encourage you all to do the same. Our seventh grade confirmation curriculum starting next year will be a very focused study on the four Gospels in parallel. Now the first three Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke are known as the synoptics. They are a synopsis of the life of Jesus. They recount the HISTORY of WHAT happened. Paul Tillich is one of the greatest Lutheran Theologians of the 20th century. In his book The Theology of Peace he writers that “all history is remembered history.” The synoptics are written records of the remembrances of Matthew the tax collector; Mark the young teenage follower, and Luke the scholarly physician and historian. All different people with different experiences writing for different audiences. All remembering different facts of their encounters with Jesus. And all testifying to the truth of Jesus as the risen savior of the world.
So I got my nose in the book and read the accounts. You know what I found? I found that the accounts of this remarkable, seemingly incredible event of the resurrection are very similar and all lead to the same very convoking conclusion: that Jesus who was crucified, died, and buried on Friday, was alive again on Sunday. Mary and the ladies go to the tomb, find it empty, are told by angels that Christ is risen, run back and tell the apostles… who don’t believe them. But Peter and John run to the tomb and find it empty. Jesus appears first to Mary of Magdala, and then to the Apostles. And what does Jesus find the Apostles doing that Sunday evening? They were in Jerusalem behind locked doors “for fear of the Jews”. The Pharisees and probably some Sadducees, and maybe a few Zealots. These were the folks who killed Jesus by hanging him on a tree as we heard in the Acts of the Apostles. These were the Chief Priest and the Sanhedrin and the rest who wanted to put the Apostles to death because they too were in fear of Jesus “the king of the Jews” who was drawing more and more people to himself, and had condemned them publicly. I suppose both the Sanhedrin and Rome were anxious about their fate with the ever-increasing influence of this Jesus on the people – even after they had crucified him.
And on that Sunday evening I suppose the Apostles were very anxious. Anxious about their own fate and death, anxious about their guilt and condemnation, and mostly anxious about the emptiness and meaninglessness of their lives now with Jesus crucified and dead. Can’t you just feel the anxiety and the insecurity and the doubt on that evening. It seems most everybody in Jerusalem was talking about the events of Holy week.
And into all this anxiety and doubt enters Jesus. And what does he say to his shocked and amazed disciples? “Peace be with you.” And the apostles rejoiced! All except Thomas of course, because he wasn’t there. And when the others tell him, he says he won’t believe unless he sees and touches for himself. And a week later Jesus appears again this time while Thomas is with the group behind locked doors. And seeing for himself, Thomas responds “My Lord and my God!” Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." That’s us folks… blessed are we who have not seen, yet we believe!”
The Gospel according to John puts it all together for us and answers the question SO WHAT? What is the meaning of what has just happened? “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
And then there’s the NOW WHAT? Knowing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by his own example he has proven the promise of eternal life for all who believe on his name, now what are we supposed to do? The Acts of the Apostles and all the rest of the books of the New Testament help us discern the NOW WHAT for our lives. The synoptics are the WHAT? John is the SO WHAT? and from Acts on is the NOW WHAT? Knowing that there is life after death as Christ himself proved, we who know the fellowship of sufferings with Christ and believe on His name will surely experience for ourselves the power of His resurrection. Knowing all this truth, what are we each called to do with the rest of our lives? Let’s get our noses in the Good Book and start prayerfully figuring that out.
Let me leave you with one last thought for your consideration. I mentioned Paul Tillich before. In 1952 he published this little book called “The Courage to Be.” If you haven’t read it in fifty years or so, go ahead and read it again on-line! It’s all about how we muster the courage to overcome anxiety by trusting in the God who appears even when we feel God has disappeared in the anxiety of our doubt.
On Easter Sunday we had over 300 folks here at worship. On Good Friday, we had 92. For those who might have missed it, at the ninth hour Jesus cries the cross: Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani! My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Jesus, in his fullest humanity expresses the anxiety of doubt. Yet in this painful moment of fear Jesus also expresses his faith and belief: Father, into your hands I commit my spirit! And Our Father raises Him from the dead!
And now after the resurrection, the disciples – especially Thomas – share in the anxiety of doubt. I’m sure they are thinking, Jesus, our Lord and our God, why have you forsaken us? And it is here that Jesus appears in the midst of this anxiety and says “Peace be with you”, “do not doubt but believe” and “blessed are those who have not seen yet they believe.” It is this Jesus, the risen Christ who in his fullest divinity as the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the one who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty says to each of us anxious doubters sitting here today:
“Peace be with you, do not doubt, but believe!”
May the Peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in the Risen Christ Jesus. Amen.