Posted April 21, 2014:
Okay, it is The Second Sunday of Easter coming up on April 27, 2014. The bells and whistles, great choral anthems, Easter breakfasts and all are behind us, but Easter and Jesus are still out ahead of us. Easter is a 50 day, 7 Sunday season. That doesn't mean we try to pull out all the stops again this Sunday. But it does mean we preach the resurrection to a believing/ disbelieving church and world.
Acts 2: 14a, 22 - 32
Eastertide, the great fifty days from Easter to Pentecost, is the one time in the church year when we have a sustained reading from the book of Acts, and this text continues the series begun last week with Peter's speech in Acts 10. Here too, it is Peter in the pulpit, preaching on the Day of Pentecost. Often we associate Acts only with Paul as it features his dramatic call and subsequent ministry and journeys. But the first ten chapters have a good deal more to do with Peter, who initiates the Gentile mission, as we saw last week. Well, really the Holy Spirit initiates that mission and Peter stumbles along after trying to keep up.
The intro verse, 14a, locates us on Pentecost Day, Peter preaching after the disciples explode from the upper room speaking of God in all the languages of the known world. Now, after the text from Joel, Peter preaches, beginning in verse 22. He doesn't mince his words, saying to his Jerusalem audience, "you crucified and killed (Jesus) by the hands of those outside the law." Then, "But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held by its power." The same thing is repeated following a citation from the Psalms, "This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses," being the verse that concludes the reading. So here Easter is neither flowers blooming in the spring, nor a triumph of the human spirit, but God's grace in the face of human sin. God's grace and power are not undone by our sin, whether Peter's denials, the disciples desertions, nor Jerusalem's complicity. "God raised him up." Thanks be to God.
I Peter 1: 3 - 9
More Peter. More proclamation of the Easter faith. "Blessed be God who by great mercy has given us a new birth into a living hope." I wonder if one can really preach the resurrection without acknowledging the way in which it is both judgment and grace? It is judgment on our sins, our failures of courage and faith, our desertions in the face of danger, our betrayals of those who have professed to love.
Only when we look into the depths of our own death and entrapment by death, does the resurrection really become good news of a new birth. Like any birth, this is not something we do for ourselves. It is at the hands of another power. It is gift and grace, the intrusion of a new creation. Peter preaches here, much later, to those whose lives have been shattered and transformed by this new creation and yet still await its final consummation. "Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice, with an indescribable and glorious joy."
John 20: 19 - 31
And now for something different, at least different from the first two lessons from Peter, we return to the Easter Day story from the Gospel of John. This is the second half of John's carefully worked out Easter narrative. We shift from Mary at the tomb, the first half, to the two scenes that follow. The first is the gathered group of the disciples, "behind locked doors." The second, Jesus' pastoral call upon Thomas, who missed the group portrait. Preachers seem drawn to Thomas, perhaps because of his doubt, perhaps because of the one-to-one focus on that story.
But don't neglect or overlook the possibilities of the earlier scene, verses 19 - 23. This is John's, on Easter, Pentecost as Jesus breathes life and Spirit into the dis-spirited and discouraged disciples. There's lots here. Jesus comes to them, saying "Peace be with you." God's initiative and God's grace. He comes bearing his wounds, the risen one is the crucified one. He breathes into them, a new creation. He charges them, "As the Father sent me, so I send you." Their ministry has something to do with bringing/ announcing forgiveness. Again, this seems to me at the heart of the Easter message. Grace to our sin. Mercy to our failure. Home to our exile. Freedom to our bondage. One might wonder, also, if the church today does not suffer from a kind of "respiratory failure." That is, we do well at the rational (the thinking side of it all) and pretty at the functional (the organizing). But we seem a bit out of breath on the spiritual side, the God breathed side. So our churches, end up, to use Graham Standish's terms centers of "rational functionalism," but spiritually under nourished and suffering "respiratory failure." "Breath on me breathe of God."