The Third Sunday in Easter,
April 10, 2016
Acts 9:1-6, (7-20) Psalm 30, Rev. 5:11-14
Light, Cracked Bells, and Resurrection.
It has been a couple of weeks of roller-coaster emotions for the disciples. They have gone from the triumph of Palm Sunday, to the mysterious last meal in which Jesus told them to eat bread and drink wine in remembrance of him, and that the bread was his body and the wine his blood! What was that all about? Then there was the anger, the betrayal, the sorrow, the fear and bewilderment of Good Friday. Were all their hopes for the kingdom of God going to end up in the grave? And then, on Sunday, those strange and disturbing reports from the women that Jesus was no longer in the tomb, that he had risen! Still incredulous and fearful of the religious authorities, they gather and Jesus appears to them and shows his hands, feet, and wounded side. Then the Scripture says, the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. (John 20:20).
Then more time goes by, and they must have begun to wonder what’s next? What does he want us to do? How will we live when Jesus is no longer physically here with us? Joy and faith might have become mingled with questions, uncertainty, and doubt. Gradually the immediacy of Jesus’ presence began to fade away, and they may have begun to wonder what had really changed. In today’s gospel, Peter, who is still living under the shadow of his denial of Jesus, may be at a loss as to what to do next. So he does what he knows, he goes back to his work, to fishing. It seems like it is back to business as usual.
Have you ever felt that way? We just celebrated the joy of Easter, with baptism, with flowers adorning the church, with lots of people, and joyful music that sent our spirits soaring. And yet, life, with its demands, its sorrows, its problems, its fears and disappointments, still waits for us. Easter is here, and the bills still have to be paid, we still have to deal with the disagreeable boss or neighbor. Easter is here, and still we may know illness, or depression, or fears about our future. Easter is here, and yet people we love dearly still die, and from the deepest part of our being we cry out in pain and longing, why? Easter is here, and still there is war and religious violence and poverty and homelessness. Easter is here, and yet sometimes we forget, and it seems like it is just business as usual. Have you ever felt that way? I know I have.
Well, friends, what happens next in our Gospel passage for today says a resounding NO, it is not business as usual. For what happens next is great good news, Easter is here, and everything has changed! Easter is about the presence of Christ with us always. Easter is about hope. Easter is about transformation.
Going back to the story, the disciples have been fishing all night, and have caught nothing. At just after daybreak, Jesus stands on the beach, watching them. How he must have loved them, and longed for them to know his presence, and to know the joy of resurrection. Then, as he did in his prior days on earth, he tells them where to cast the net and soon it is teeming with fish, overflowing, abundant. How the weary hearts of the disciples must have been stirred with hope- can it be, no it can’t be- it is the Lord! The always tempestuous Peter, realizing he is naked in the presence of Jesus, hurriedly puts on some clothes and then dives into the sea! The scene is one of joy, hilarity and hope, with the boat creaking, the nets groaning under the weight of the fish, the bright sun on the glittering water. Then he invites everyone to the wonderful beach breakfast, complete with a fire, bread, and fish. Again he breaks the bread and gives it to them, and it is Eucharist, and they know him once more.
And that’s how Jesus comes to us. He comes to us in the midst of our messy lives. He doesn’t wait until we feel ready, or worthy, or our faith is strong enough. Notice he didn’t ask the disciples if they believed he could fill their nets with fish. He simply told them where to cast their nets. He loves us and shares our laughter, our pain, our joys, our sorrows, our fears, the things we are proud of, the things we are ashamed of. He comes in the midst of the chaos of trying to juggle family, and work, and multiple responsibilities that make us weary and can burn us out. He comes to us in the long nights when we can’t sleep because we are worried how we are ever going to pay the bills and help a child who may be struggling in school. He comes to us when we are devastated with grief, wondering how we are going to go on after we have lost someone precious and dear to us. He spreads his table in our hungry hearts and shares the bread of life with us, and his presence, which is stronger than death, comforts, feeds and sustains us. Easter is about the presence of Christ with us, always.
Easter is about hope. Because Christ has overcome death and the grave, we, too, will rise into new and glorious life with him. In the wonderful hymn “Jesus Christ is Risen Today.”, the people sing: “Soar we now where Christ has led, Alleluia! Following our exalted head, Alleluia! Made like Him, like Him we rise, Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia! In sharing our human nature, Christ is forever joined to us, and in his resurrection, our human nature is healed, restored, and transformed into the glorious image of God that was intended from the beginning. Notice that his wounds are part of the glorified body of the resurrected Jesus. So, too, there is hope for us. All of our wounds, and struggles, and weaknesses somehow become part of the new creation we become in Christ, and are redeemed. And this new hope is not just for the next life. It begins here, and now. Christ’s presence with us, that is stronger than death, gives us hope where once there was only despair. Christ’s presence with us gives us the strength to face fear, suffering, and even death with courage, because we know that he has been through the worst that the world and the powers of evil could do and arose triumphant. Christ’s presence with us helps us to move boldly into the unknown, knowing he walks with us and goes before us.
Finally, Easter is about transformation, about healed, changed, empowered, and restored lives. In our reading from Acts, Paul is dramatically changed from a zealous persecutor of Christians into a believer who would go on to share the message of God’s wonderful salvation to much of the known world of the time. Peter is finally able to move beyond his denial of Jesus, which probably haunted him, and accept the forgiveness that was there all along. How gracious Jesus is in asking Peter three times to profess his love for him. thus freeing him from the pain and shame of the earlier denials! No strings attached, no questions asked, just the invitation to love and follow him.
Well, friends, Jesus is ready to heal and transform us, too. The great good news of the Gospel is that no matter how broken we may feel, no matter what we may have done or failed to do, we have a special purpose in the Kingdom of God, and Jesus needs us, all of us, to carry his message of love, forgiveness, and reconciliation to our world. He is ready to help us to move from living in the confines of fear into trust and faith. He is ready to touch us and reach those wounded places inside that we hide and transform the wounds into sources of joy. He is ready to help us forgive ourselves and others, and to change resentment and mistrust into respect and kinship. We don’t have to try to make ourselves worthy, or put on a holy façade to come to him. We come with open hands and hearts, wounds, faults, and gifts and all, and he welcomes us gladly. In fact, the wounds are part of the joy. Leonard Cohen, in his song Anthem, writes: “Ring the bells that still can ring, forget your perfect offering, there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”
That’s how the light gets in. This, sisters and brothers, is the Easter message, the presence of the Risen Christ in the everyday, ordinariness of our lives, the hope his life, death, and resurrection bring us in the here and now, and the wonderful transformation that comes through faith. I hope this community at Holy Child and St Martin will continue to be a place “where the light gets in,” and people are drawn to the beauty of life in Christ. So people of God, ring those cracked bells, and let the light pour in, Allelulia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Christ is risen, the Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!