Date: Second Sunday of Easter – April 11, 2021
Texts: Acts 4:32-35; Psalm 148; 1 John 1:1-2:2; John 20:19-31
Context: Easter is a season as well as a specific date. Our Lord rose three days after his crucifixion, and this unparalleled event in human history is given a liturgical season to better flesh out more of the nuances and implications of this reality. At eight full weeks it is the longest liturgical season of the Church except for Ordinal Time which is not reallly a season in the same sense of the word. The readings continue to declare our Lord’s resurrection, with the Gospel relating events that occurred later that first Easter Sunday and afterwards. The Old Testament and Epistle lessons flesh out how the resurrection affects not just those first witnesses but all who hold in faith to the veracity of that event and the implications promised by our Lord. The resurrection is not simply a get-out-of-hell-free-card at the end of our lives, but transforms every moment of our lives into something richer and deeper, leading towards a particular reality that will last forever.
Acts 4:32-35 – The implications of the resurrection on the disciples and the early Christian community were profound. It fundamentally changed the way they looked at and experienced day-to-day life. Some would rightly point out that this passage is descriptive, not prescriptive. It tells us what they did, it does not dictate what we must do. This is a true and important distinction, but it is also a quick and easy way to grapple with the reality of this transformed community. Because they had seen personally or trusted the testimony of the apostles that Jesus of Nazareth was no longer dead, just as He had prophecied would be the case, their priorities and lives altered dramatically. How they viewed and treated one another was now no longer dictated by socio-economic and cultural distinctions but rather by the reality they were united for eternity through baptism into Jesus Christ. That eternal fraternity had very temporal implications as well. Could one part of the body live in luxury and excess knowing another part of the body did not? Would not one part of the body care for in very practical ways the well-being of another part of the body? This was not faceless charity or a social agenda, but rather people who saw each other differently now that they saw Christ differently. These are challenging verses for American Christians, but we should think seriously about how they apply to us individually (as opposed to congregationally or as a geo-political entity or on any other level of scale that eliminates or automates our conscious and active participation) today.
Psalm 148 – This is a beautiful psalm of praise, in which every aspect of creation is called to exalt and praise the Creator. What strikes me upon this reading is v.6 – the heavenly bodies of stars and sun and moon are called to praise God specifically for his decree. What is this decree? It is the decree of creation in Genesis 1. God called these entities into existence through his Word and sustains them. Perhaps more specifically, we might wonder if his decree is to be thought of as his approval, declaring his created entities to be good (Genesis 1:14-18). As such, God continues to sustain his created order despite the Fall into sin, a Fall that extends beyond humanity to include all of creation (Romans 8:18-23). But He doesn’t simply sustain us in perpetual sin, rather He has raised up a horn for his people (v.14). God has, does, and will save his people, and for this He is to be praised as well. Creation praises God simply because He has created it. God’s people praise God because not only has He created them, He has saved them!
1 John 1:1-2:2 – Another aspect of the resurrection of the Christ is that the forgiveness of sins is a very real thing, available not through sacrificial rites as the Jewish people understood them. Those rites were given as foreshadowing of the final and perfeft sacrifice of the Son of God on behalf of the people of God. This is God’s Word of life, the Son of God made flesh, which is not only a declaration of life to be heard but an embodiment of it to be touched. It is the blood of the Word made flesh which forgives our sin. Confession of our sin accesses the blood of Jesus Christ. Failure to confess, as though we did not sin and have no need of forgiveness, is to live in darkness and self-deception, cutting ourselves off from the forgiveness won for us by Jesus Christ. Sin is to be taken seriously. We are to seriously resist it, and we are to soberly repent of it, that we may walk in the light of God in whom there is no darkness.
John 20:19-31 – Fear gives way to amazement, which gives way to proclamation, which gives rise to doubt, which is put to flight in confession, which is received with blessing. The progression of this short set of verses is a visceral demonstration of the power of the resurrection. Fear of the world – whether from religious oppression or pandemic or political chaos is overcome in proclamation – we have seen the Lord! This naturally should create doubt. After all, to die and rise again truly is miraculous! How can we be sure? Isn’t there a more rational explanation? For centuries such alternatives have been proffered, but each requires a greater suspension of disbelief than the simple but astounding reality of resurrection. The heart of the Christian message is Christ crucified and resurrected, and it is here that doubt must be either clung to tenaciously or abandoned to embrace confession. The eyewitness accounts are credible. The reasons to doubt them rest not in the quality of the testimonies themselves but rather our attachment to a purely material explanation of the universe which leaves no room for God and no room for miracles and ultimately no room for life itself. Confession acknowledges that such a tenacioiusly materialistic view is in itself an act of faith, certainly no less so than embracing the simple testimony of simple people saying what they saw and heard and touched with their own senses. Independently corraborated and certainly, given the outrageous nature of the claim, easily demonstrable as false if such were the case. Yet the tomb remains empty 2000 years later, and we are confronted with that powerful confession – we have seen the Christ! And that confession of faith draws us into the direct blessings of the resurrection both here and now as the other readings have pointed to, as well as eternally. He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!