April 27, 2014 Series: Lectionary
Topic: Biblical Verse: 1 Peter 1:3–1:9
Second Sunday of Easter
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
1 Peter 1:3-9 (John 20:19-31, Acts 5:29-42)
If you were with us last weekend for Easter Sunday services, you heard mention of the candy that’s such a large part of the holiday for many people. Once the day’s come and gone, though, ever notice how quickly that candy disappears from store shelves? There are few things in our culture that stick around as reminders of Easter. My wife and daughter got the opportunity to go to this year’s White House Easter Egg Roll. This event takes place each Easter Monday, but it doesn’t really have much to do with Easter. After that, though, the bunnies and eggs and candies mostly disappear until next February or so – when stores will bring to bring out all their Easter stuff right after St. Valentine’s Day has passed. If you want your Cadbury Crème Eggs, you’d better get them before they’re gone. Taking a “wait and see” approach here will just leave you empty-handed.
Each of our three Scripture texts today follow after Jesus’ resurrection. In each, you can hear a guarded response to what took place on that first Easter morning, a “wait and see” that turned out differently than people had expected.
For us, the Second Sunday of Easter most always includes the story of Jesus’ appearances to his disciples from John 20. On that first Sunday that followed Jesus’ death on the cross, the disciples were definitely taking a guarded, “wait and see” approach to life. It’s not that they were waiting for the risen Jesus to stop by and greet them; they were gathered and had the doors of the place locked because they were afraid of what might happen to them. Would the Sanhedrin hunt them down because they were Jesus’ followers and see to it that they were put to death, too? The disciples’ guarded position on that Sunday evening came from fear. And then Jesus stopped by. After that, “wait and see” would become their refrain as they told Thomas what had happened. Fear and doubt kept them locked away until Jesus entered in.
Wait and see. That’s the approach which the Sanhedrin decided to take weeks later, after Peter and the other disciples had been going about proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection and his identity as the Savior. Right before the events you heard in today’s reading from Acts 5, the chief priest and the Sadducees had the apostles arrested and thrown into prison to keep them silent. But now, somehow, they were back in the Temple courts, teaching the people about Jesus. Unbeknownst to the members of the Council, an angel had miraculously freed the apostles and sent them back out to share the good news of Life with God through Jesus. These leaders of the people now suspected that the problem of Jesus’ disciples was worse than they’d thought, that they might have sympathizers and allies who could even get them out of jail. The members of the Sanhedrin had to be careful in bringing the apostles back in; using force could alienate them from the public whose support the apostles seemed to have. But once the apostles had been brought back to the Council to give account of their disobedience, Jesus’ followers could not be silent, again proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah who God sent, who the Council had crucified, and who God had raised from the dead. The leading members of the Sanhedrin would have seen the apostles stoned right then and there, but another voice spoke up and counseled caution. Gamaliel, a very highly respected Pharisee and teacher of the Law, the one at whose feet Paul studied, had the apostles taken out of the meeting place so that he could speak freely to his fellow members. He gave the rest of the Council something to consider. Echoing the wisdom of teachers past, Gamaliel reminded the gathering that God would have the final say here. God is in charge, and He does not need the help of men to accomplish His purposes; leave it to Him. To do otherwise could even be acting against God. Gamaliel encouraged the Sanhedrin to wait and see, rather than doing anything rash. So they had the apostles whipped and released, hoping for their silence but not getting it. The guarded approach that the Jewish leaders took reflected their uncertainty. If they killed these followers of Jesus, would they lose public support? And are these people telling the truth, that God raised Jesus to life on Easter Sunday, even that he is the Savior? They didn’t know, so they waited.
Fear, doubt, and uncertainty: each can lead you into a “wait and see” mindset. They make it seem like doing nothing can be safer than doing anything. This kind of guarded response can make sense, though, when you don’t really stand a chance of making things better on your own.
There are a lot of parts of life that lie outside of your ability to control – suffering and death are two of the big ones. Sometimes people suffer because of tragedies, disasters, and illnesses, events comes from outside mankind’s sphere of influence. But maybe even more suffer because of what people do to each other: fear, doubt, and uncertainty have prompted human beings to bring suffering down on each other since our earliest days. How can those who suffer respond, especially when that suffering is outside of your control? Death is an even bigger problem than suffering – in time, it touches everyone. You can’t prevent it. At best, it can be delayed. But “wait and see” won’t really make things better, will it? When you’re suffering, when you’re dying, and there’s nothing you can do about it, fear, doubt, and uncertainty will rush in. How could anybody have hope?
Simon Peter was one of those apostles who stood before the Sanhedrin that day. Decades later, he wrote to his fellow Christians who were suffering under persecution, even dying. That letter, 1 Peter, opens with a completely different response to Easter Sunday than the first two “wait and see” episodes we’ve encountered today. His message to them and to you is that Easter means everything. Peter – who knew suffering firsthand at the hands of the Sanhedrin for the sake of Jesus’ name – points you and me and all Christians to the reminder of hope that we have because of Easter. In his words, we are “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3).
It’s a week later, but Easter hasn’t gone anywhere. Though the festive candy might be gone from store shelves and egg- and bunny-themed decorations have come down, Easter is still very much here. In contrast to the 40 days of Lent, the Easter celebration runs for 50 days as we remember and rejoice in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. By the working of the Holy Spirit, we have come to know that Jesus is, as the apostles declared to the Sanhedrin, the “Leader and Savior,” who give us repentance and forgiveness of sins. And because of that, you and I have life with God, life which suffering and death cannot destroy. Because of Easter, you can have hope.
Jesus’ resurrection on Easter Sunday is the sign of his ultimate victory, his vindication as Leader and Savior. As Peter wrote, you who have been given to and live in Jesus’ name are guarded by God’s power through faith. You are and will continue to be sustained by God. Suffering and death remain a part of reality for God’s people, but you will not have to respond to them on your own, under your own power. People may stand against you because of your faith. You will know times of hardship and even, eventually, death. But you can have joy, both now and in all your days ahead, even in the middle of the grief of suffering, because Jesus is your living Leader and Savior. You are guarded by God, and He will see you through it all, bringing you to salvation: restored life with Him, your imperishable, unfading inheritance.
For people who trust in the risen Christ, we can have another “guarded” response to what took place on that first Easter morning: confidence. “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:8-9) Celebrate Easter. Celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. Celebrate your hope.
Christ is risen!