April 28, 2019 Series: Lectionary
Topic: Biblical Verse: John 20:19–20:31, Revelation 1:4–1:18
Second Sunday of Easter[i]
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
John 20:19-31; Revelation 1:4-18
Spoiler alert: Everybody dies!
What did you expect was going to happen? You’re going up against an enemy that seems all-powerful. What real chance does anyone have of overcoming it? You might spend years training and preparing. You could rally your troops. You can make your plans. But when the enemy’s primary goal is to cut you off from the land of the living, to see your flesh and bones reduced to dust and ashes, it’s not like you can hope for a peace treaty or any kind of settlement. The enemy won’t rest until you are gone, gone, gone. This is their all-consuming passion. You’re in for war – it’s inevitable. And your enemy is death.
What are you willing to do to try to win? People have been trying out different strategies for thousands of years. You can make plans to watch what you eat. You can train and discipline your body and mind through exercise and education. You can incorporate any number of skin care and cosmetic regimens into your daily life. You can take advantage of the latest scientific breakthroughs and medical treatments, even having your body cryogenically preserved in the hope of future cures and advancements. But even if you are willing to do whatever it takes to win this war, death still waits in the end.
You can’t cheat death. You know how it goes. People die. Family. Friends. Neighbors. Strangers. Sometimes, we imagine what we might have done differently to have kept death from coming. We might wonder why it happened: Why now? Why them? But that doesn’t do anything to change how things came out. It’s not like people are going to come back from death, right?
You might have heard that this weekend marks the opening of what one of its stars has referred to as a “little, independent film;” Avengers: Endgame. It’s not little. Endgame is massive in scope, even before its three-hour-plus runtime. It caps off the saga of the previous 21(!) movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, bringing to conclusion at story that has been over 10 years in the telling. If you want to know more about all these Marvel superhero movies, including what movies to watch and in which order, simply go online. There are plenty of articles out there right now that’ll tell you how to do just that.
When you’ve got a story this epic, there must be some enemy that can challenge the heroes to their breaking point, and beyond. The Lord of the Rings had Sauron. The Infinity Saga, the first three “phases” of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, has Thanos. This towering, purple despot from another world has been the character who’s been pulling the strings in the overarching story of most of the past 21 films. His goal has been to wipe out half of all sentient life in the universe. Last year in Avengers: Infinity War, he showed that he would do whatever it takes to achieve that goal. If you’ve seen it, you know how it goes. So how’s it all going to play out? Who lives? Who dies? Endgame, as the title implies, marks a journey’s end: for our heroes, for Thanos, and for the whole of The Infinity Saga.
Good Friday marked a journey’s end for Jesus’ disciples. Their beloved Teacher was dead, buried in a tomb. All their hopes died with him. Yet somehow, life carried on. On Sunday, they were together, mourning Jesus’ death. They knew how it goes: you don’t come back from death. They’d seen Jesus raise others who had died, yes, but who could raise Jesus? It wasn’t even a possibility. And then Mary and some of the other women come running to them with this tale that Jesus is alive, and appeared to them? That’s crazy talk, right? But sure enough, as the disciples are gathered together on Easter evening, Jesus comes to be with them! Real. Living. God.
Like us, Thomas wasn’t there with the other disciples that Easter evening. Like us, Thomas knew how it goes: there’s no cheating death. Jesus was dead. His enemies had cut him off from the land of the living. He was gone, gone, gone. And now his friends are telling him that Jesus showed up? That he’s alive? That’s not how things work. Thomas was convinced. Until Jesus showed up and proved that nothing is impossible for God.
Jesus didn’t cheat death. He defeated death. He’s the truest hero that our world will ever know, taking a stand to do what needed to be done, doing what he alone was able to do: living a life in perfect obedience to God the Father’s holy design. Jesus knew that death is a problem for you, for me, for all of creation. He knew that the wages of sin is death. He knew how it goes: that without divine intervention, we would all be cut off from God in our death, into eternity, into infinity. And so Jesus laid down his life for you and me so that we might experience God’s love and restored life with Him.
Jesus is God’s endgame. After Adam and Even had fallen into sin, God declared that He was committed to doing what needed to be done to defeat the enemy and win the war that we humans had begun. He said to the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15) And so the one who is “the Alpha and the Omega… who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty,” would do whatever it takes to bring home the victory that we needed. Jesus “has freed us from our sins by his blood” (Revelation 1:5) through his sacrifice on the cross so that we need not live under the shadow of death.
This epic – the saga God’s infinite love for His Creation – doesn’t end with death. Jesus overthrew that towering despot with his resurrection on Easter morning, snapping the grave’s tight grip on us and setting us free, for life.
We live in a time where cathedrals burn, where churches are torched in hate by arsonists, where Christians are murdered in attacks on Easter Sunday. Death and the devil continue to lash out. We cry out to God to be avenged. And God answers, in Jesus. Christ is God’s response to all the hate, all the violence, all the evil of our human race: Jesus carried all of that into death for us on the cross. If that’s where the story ended, though, how could we have hope?
You know how it all turns out – and it’s far from a spoiler! God wins.
Jesus rose! He is the firstborn of the dead, who died and is now alive forevermore. And he will return. On that last day, you will get to see with your own eyes the end that is the beginning, for you have life in Jesus’ name. [In Oprah voice:] You get resurrection, and you get resurrection, and you get resurrection!
With Easter, with Jesus’ resurrection, death is not the end.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
[i] [i] Passage for memory:
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” – Revelation 1:8