Second Sunday of Easter
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
Rev. Braun Campbell
John 20:19-31; Acts 4:32-35
Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
It’s a new season. This year, our area has experienced a pretty early spring. Nature is blooming all around us, even here at St. John’s. The fresh greens of leaves and grass has come to fill branches and yards. Explosions of color gather in flowerbeds. They’re alive! It’s been great to just go out and take in the wondrous arrays of yellows and purples and whites that punctuate bushes and shrubs. Birds are chirping new songs overhead while the wind ruffles their feathers. You need only step out our building’s front doors and know by the sights and smells and feel of the world that surrounds you that a new season has dawned. It just makes sense that you’d want to enjoy it.
But you already know that this new season’s not all sunshine and cherry blossoms. In fact, this spring sprang so early that most of the cherry blossoms have already fallen from their trees. The birds are back and in those trees, including St. John’s very own robin – or one of his descendants – perched outside our narthex window as in years past. And as in years past, he continues to attack his reflection in our window by flying himself into the glass. Trees and flowers are blooming, yes – and they’re putting vexing amounts of pollen out there. That new grass that’s come up is certainly a lovely green, yet it already needs mowing. But when you’re going out to take care of your lawn, you can’t be certain what you’ll need to wear. Will you go out with short sleeves or a warm jacket? If you get a day that’s to your liking, get out there! In a day or two, the weather will probably be pretty different. This spring has been erratic and inconstant. How can you enjoy the goodness of the new season when it might just go back to the way it was before?
Jesus’ disciples didn’t realize that Easter had come. That afternoon, they’d been hiding out in a locked room, afraid that the authorities who had just had their Teacher put to death would be coming for them, too. But should that surprise us? The disciples were pretty inconstant. At one point, they professed their willingness to go with Jesus even at the risk of their own lives. Yet when the Council’s minions came for Jesus in the darkness of Gethsemane, they all abandoned him and fled. That Sunday evening a few days later, they’ve come back together, only to get strange news from Mary Magdalene that she’s seen Jesus. Is he alive? What could her message mean for them? If he is alive, how’s he going to treat the people who claimed to be his followers – followers who turned tail and ran, friends who denied that they even knew him? What might they expect from a risen Jesus?
What can you expect from Jesus? It’s a new season, but it seems like we’re just the same old selves we were before. Like the disciples, you and I can be inconstant. It’s not just that we’re doing things that we should not do, or not doing things that we should: we go back and forth in our attitudes and interactions faster than this spring’s weather changes. Like that robin outside our building’s window, you might go back to the old and familiar. You strike out at that which threatens you. You don’t want to change when you’re comfortable with what you’ve known. You don’t want to keep using what you’ve got when it grows boring or antiquated. You feel that you’re missing something, even when you’re doing the best we can to catch it. Still, you’re not getting anywhere. There’s a fear and emptiness that remain, no matter how much you try to experience or how much you have: something’s missing. Is that what life has to be? What does a risen Jesus have to do with inconstant people like you and me? Well, he’s told us.
Jesus came to his disciples on the evening of that first Easter. He didn’t scold them. He didn’t give them a guilt trip for their self-interest and weakness. The very first words that the risen Lord spoke to these inconstant people were something far from what they could have expected: “Peace be with you.” Jesus’ hands and feet showed the disciples who were there that this man had been crucified. The mark of the spear in his side gave proof that this was the one from whom blood and water flowed only a few days earlier. He was indeed risen – no longer dead, but alive. This is Jesus, their Teacher and friend. This is Jesus, who they abandoned. But he says to them again, “Peace be with you.” And so it is.
It’s a new season. In our life together here at St. John’s, we moved from Lent to Easter, and we need not worry about it changing back to how things were before. Last weekend we celebrated the high point of the church year on Easter Sunday. It’s something that we look forward to, and not just for all the flowers and colors and music and festivities that we enjoy as part of that day. We’ve looked forward to Easter since Christmas, when we heard the angels’ message of “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!" (Luke 2:14) Even on Good Friday, we could look forward to Easter, for we heard Jesus say from the cross, “It is finished.” (John 19:30) You see, the peace that the angels proclaimed at Christmas is the peace that Jesus made possible on the cross. It is the peace that he brings to us at Easter: “Peace be with you.” This is God’s good will towards us inconstant people. This is God’s benevolence.
Benevolence is literally “good will.” God’s good will for us is that we would know peace. In Jesus’ Resurrection, we have the fulfillment of God’s good will for a broken and self-interested world that is filled with broken and self-interested people like you and me. Because Jesus rose, we know that he was not just a teacher who wanted people to love each other. Because he lives, the cross was not his defeat; instead, we look to the cross as the sign of the depth of God’s self-giving love. There, we see just how great His benevolence really is. With a living Lord, we can know the peace of reconciliation and life with God that Jesus brings with him. That’s what we’ve missed. God’s benevolence overcomes the fear and emptiness that we’ve carried as we’ve hidden away, behind the locked doors of the old and familiar patterns we’ve followed in the past. In this new season of Easter, God’s benevolence is here for you, and it is yours to enjoy!
As people who have followed in the faith passed down from those early witnesses of our risen Lord Jesus, you and I share in God’s benevolence. Like those disciples, we are sent to live in the joy of the peace that Jesus brings. Giving them God’s peace, Jesus commissioned his disciples to deliver the gift of forgiveness that he brought into our broken and self-interested world. We bear the same gift of God’s good will today. In worship as the children of God, we greet one another with the peace of the Lord, not just as a “hello” but as a proclamation. (“So be it with you!”) God’s benevolence forms and directs the new life that we have in Jesus’ Easter victory. If you look at today’s reading from Acts 4, we see God’s good will at work among His people some time following the first Easter and the first Pentecost, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Those early Christians were moved to live out God’s love in caring for each other, voluntarily selling some of what they possessed to care for other believers in need. They bore witness to God’s benevolence in self-giving service. Some years later, those Christians in Jerusalem would later benefit from the benevolence of the wider Church when famine and hardship left them needy.
Through His Holy Spirit, God’s good will is living and active, for you and through you. Living in the reality of Jesus’ resurrection this Easter season, think upon God’s benevolence and how He is equipping you to share it. Our broken and self-interested world needs the message of the peace that the Lord has to offer as much as we need it ourselves. He is risen. He is living. And his love, even for inconstant people like you and me, is constant.
This is a new season. Peace be with you!