The Easter Effect

Sermon delivered on Easter 3C, Sunday, April 10, 2016, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.

Lectionary texts: Acts 9.1-20; Psalm 30; Revelation 5.11-15; John 21.1-19.

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The past two weeks we have looked carefully at the resurrection of our Lord Jesus. We have seen that when God raised Jesus from the dead it signaled the turning point in history. No longer is sin and death our inevitable fate, at least for those of us who are God’s people in Jesus. We have seen that God’s good but sin-corrupted creation and its creatures matter to God and that they had better matter to us as well. We know this because in Jesus’ resurrection we are given a glimpse of God’s promised new world, where life reigns, not death, a world devoid of all suffering and evil, thanks be to God. Then last week we saw that we as God’s people have work to do, work empowered by the Holy Spirit himself. The resurrection never was meant to be about a private religious experience, designed to make us feel all warm and fuzzy about ourselves and our relationship with God. It has always been about God the Father healing and transforming the world by breaking the power of evil in and through the death and resurrection of his Son. Today, we are given a third look at Jesus’ resurrection, this time with an invitation to see what desired effect it should have on us, and this is what I want us to look at this morning.

In one way or another, all our lessons today point to the fact that everything is different as a result of Easter. We begin with John the Elder’s vision of the heavenly throne room in our epistle lesson. It is important for us to understand that this isn’t some vision of the future, but of the current reality in heaven. And what can we learn from John’s vision? First, that there is a reason for the joyful worship we are witnessing. Jesus, the Lion of Judah, has overcome the dark powers and destroyed their dominion over God’s creation and us. Not yet fully to be sure. That will have to wait until Jesus’ return. But the message is clear: Countless multitudes worship Jesus and celebrate his victory over the forces of evil won on the cross. And of course, Jesus’ resurrection announced that death, the ultimate evil, has been destroyed. That is why they worship Jesus the Lamb. And here is where we are confronted with a startling paradox. Jesus, the Lion of Judah, the strength of Judah, accomplished his victory over evil by his obedience to God’s will in and through his suffering and death (cf. Philippians 2.5-11). Jesus’ victory over evil was accomplished ostensibly through weakness, not conventional power as we all expected God to act. Jesus is the Passover Lamb sacrificed for us. This is Exodus language, folks, reminding us that in Jesus’ death we are delivered from our slavery to sin and death, thanks be to God! That is why Jesus is worshiped as God. That is why there is celebration in heaven right now. The victory, while not yet consummated, is won by the blood of the Lamb shed for us (and this is why it is so important to know God’s story contained in the Bible, our story, so that we recognize and learn the lessons its symbolic language wants to teach us).

This is the God the multitudes are worshiping in heaven. Is this the God you worship? Do you share the unequivocal belief of the multitudes that Jesus has conquered the dark powers and reigns over God’s vast creation? If you do, it must change you, and for the better. You realize that even in your own weakness, in your own insignificance, at least as the world defines both, Jesus is using you to help advance his kingdom on earth as in heaven. It means, for example, the next time you pray for that person you despise or pray for a seemingly hopeless situation, you can have confidence that Jesus is using your faithfulness in ways you can’t possibly see or understand to advance his kingdom. When you really believe that, I mean really believe that, you will discover a great power unleashed in your life, the power of God made known in suffering love. But it is a power made possible only in and through the death and resurrection of Jesus. And if you do not believe this, you can count on limping along through life, trying to use the conventional means of power to get what you want. Good luck with that; you’re gonna need it. This is the first Easter Effect we see in our lessons. We discover we have an indefatigable hope and joy as we follow the ways of Jesus to bring healing to his broken and sad world.

We turn next to the powerful story in our gospel lesson to see another dimension of the Easter Effect—prerequisite forgiveness. As we listen to John’s story we are somewhat perplexed by the setting because we remember that last week Jesus imparted the Spirit to his disciples and commissioned them for new work. So why are they back in Galilee and out fishing? Were they discouraged and lost? Were they waiting for further marching orders? We aren’t told. John simply tells us that Jesus appeared to his disciples again. As with Mary at the tomb, the disciples do not initially recognize their risen Lord. This  reminds us again that the resurrection will change us, this time physically. To be sure, there was continuity. The disciples knew it was Jesus, but no one dared ask him for sure. In telling us this, John reminds us again (and did you catch that this happens yet again at the dawn of a new day?) that there are things about the resurrection body we simply don’t understand. So don’t let their inability to initially recognize their risen Lord confuse or discourage you. Instead, rejoice that God’s got something in store for us in the New Creation that will simply blow our minds because it is so fantastic!

After feeding the apostles (how did Jesus get this food?), John turns our attention to some unfinished business between Peter and his Lord. Peter had brashly shot off his mouth, proclaiming his undying loyalty to his Lord, only to end up denying Jesus three times by a charcoal fire and weeping bitterly afterwards over doing so (John 13.36-38, 18.15-18, 25-27; Matthew 26.75). Each of us understands this background better than we’d like to admit because we have all been there and done that, each in our own way. But now here is the risen Jesus, again by a charcoal fire. Perfect. He asks Peter three times if Peter loves him. Three, the number for completeness, and the exact number of times Peter had denied his Lord.

Do you recognize the beauty in this story? Jesus is doing the hard but necessary work to restore Peter so that Peter can get on with the work Jesus calls him to do. Notice carefully that Jesus does not say to Peter, “There, there. It’s all right. Let’s sing Kumbaya together.” No, Jesus tells him to get to work! Here is a love and forgiveness that is bound to choke up even the hardest person if we grasp what Jesus is doing. He is healing a memory of Peter that absolutely had to be healed. Imagine the guilt and failure Peter felt. He’d run his mouth and then stuck his foot squarely in it by his failure of character. He had denied the man he loved, the most wonderful man he had ever known, and there was no chance to reboot. But now unbelievably there was! Jesus doesn’t browbeat his chastened disciple. He gently restores him. Once again, there’s no glitz or excitement or outright show of power. Instead, Jesus cuts right to the chase and in doing so, equips Peter to be his shepherd on his behalf. Imagine that. Imagine the release Peter must have felt. His Lord, the man he had denied, was now entrusting him for some critically important work on his behalf and for the sake of his fledgling church. On one level Peter was eminently unqualified to do the work. But Peter had found the power of forgiveness and a healed memory that transcended whatever was in him that would disqualify him to do the work.

One of the things that must occur in the New Creation is that our memories must be healed of all their hurt and rancor and whatever else that weighs us down. Otherwise, there would still be evil in the New Creation, and we are promised there will be none of that at all. Here we see another preview of coming attractions in the healing of our memories and the forgiveness of our sins, again made possible because of the blood of the Lamb shed for us and because Jesus is now Lord. This is another reason why everything is different as a result of Easter!

Have you found the healing love and forgiveness that our Lord offers to each of us? It is offered freely to everyone! If not, there is no way you can possibly do the work Jesus calls you to do, whatever that is, because your guilt will cripple you and prevent you from offering and embodying Jesus’ healing love and forgiveness to others. You will not be able to forgive your enemies as Jesus has forgiven you if you have not embraced his tender love and mercy for you and let him heal your memories. Again this is all made possible because of the blood of the Lamb shed for us and because Jesus is alive and reigns over all God’s creation, making his healing love and forgiveness available to you right now and on a continuous basis. And he calls each of us to do something about it in response, to embody and share that love and forgiveness to others. As we have seen, every time we do so, we have confidence that Jesus is using our efforts, messy and broken as they (and we) can be at times, to advance his kingdom on earth as in heaven. But we cannot possibly forgive and retain sins without first repenting and accepting the love and forgiveness of God made known to us in Jesus Christ our Lord.

This is the essential story of Paul in our NT lesson. Here is Paul, who breathed threats and murder against God’s people, forgiven and healed by our Lord Jesus in his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. At first it doesn’t look that way, but that is what’s  going on. It was such a landmark event that Luke reports it three separate times in Acts! And in Paul we see the Easter Effect in spades. He is forgiven and healed so that he can suffer much for Jesus’ people, the Church. We are not called to do the scope of Paul’s work, but we are called to imitate Paul in our own work on behalf of God’s people and the world.

So where are you in these stories? Wherever you are, remember why we are being told these stories. Jesus is Lord and because of his death and resurrection we are a people with a future and a hope, a people who are empowered to do the work our Lord calls us to do. We won’t always see results that we hope for or desire. But it’s not our job to bring in the kingdom. That’s Jesus’ job. Our job, thanks be to God, is to continue Jesus’ work, despite being the messy and broken creatures we are. So let’s get busy, my beloved, and continue the work Jesus calls us to do. Let’s also find time to celebrate the fact that Jesus is risen and we are his new creations, despite who we can sometimes be. Remember, all work and no play makes Jesus’ people dull because we forget why we do what we do when we deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him. So let us always remember and celebrate the fact that we have Good News, now and for all eternity, precisely because we worship and adore our crucified and risen Lord. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever. Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.