Year A — The Second Sunday of Easter

Commentary for May 1, 2011

Click here for today’s readings

Acts 2:14a, 22-32
Peter — he who had so recently stumbled in his own faith — is now energized to speak boldly in the name of Christ. The Apostle gives us a bit of Hebrew scripture exegesis, quoting from the text of Psalm 16, another of the lections for this day.

David couldn’t have been speaking of himself, Peter reasons, since we know where he is buried and his tomb is not empty! But Jesus — well, that’s something completely different! You all saw the miracles Jesus himself performed while he was alive, didn’t you? Well, the greatest miracle of all was performed after he died…God raised him up, for it was “impossible” for death to hold him.

Gotta love that word “impossible.” We use it in all sorts of circumstances…winning an impossible victory, overcoming impossible odds, describing a sight that is impossible to comprehend. Easter is THE demonstration of the God Who Does the Impossible.

(Not sure of the Hebrew equivalent name here — a la Yahweh Yireh, “The Lord Who Will Provide” יְהוָה יִרְאֶה , as in Genesis 22:14 — so if somebody can figure it out, please post as a comment!)

Psalm 16
The early church came to interpret this psalm of David as “prophecy” regarding Christ (see above.) God did not give Jesus up to the grave.

Apart from this messianic interpretation, the psalm makes a number of powerful and important statements about the life of the faithful person, whose hope is in God as Refuge (v.1.)

  • God protects
  • God gives what is good
  • There is delight in the fellowship of the “holy ones”
  • God gives counsel (wisdom, discernment)
  • God gives a “heartsong” in the night
  • God shows the path of life
  • God’s presence brings joy and pleasure 

Verse 8 makes a great prayer for the week, something I often suggest to my congregation as they depart from worship: ” I keep the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.”

1 Peter 1:3-9
Peter describes the “Thomas Dilemma” (see below) that all of us who were not alive and present at Jesus’ resurrection must overcome. “Although you have not seen him, you love him….” Hmmm, just how do we do that?

It is a bit of a sticky wicket when sharing our Easter faith, isn’t it? Often, we hear from those currently outside the faith, “But how do you know this story is true? You haven’t seen it with your own eyes, have you?”

Certainly true, that; we have not seen him, nor have we directly experienced any of the events upon which we base our claims of faith. Our only real claim is for what we have received and believe, that which Peter names “the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

It’s a soul thing. And a faith thing. Always has been, always will be. Pretty strong stuff, really, when you think about it — 2,000 years, several billion believers and counting!

John 20:19-31
Ah, Thomas…”Doubting” Thomas, at that! I’ve often wondered if it wouldn’t be more accurate to call him “Just Barely Missed the Boat” Thomas.

After all, his whole experience of the risen Lord wasn’t all that different from anyone else’s. The others didn’t believe at first, either. Thomas just wasn’t there when Jesus popped in through the walls (or however it was he made it through locked doors.)

“I’ll believe it when I see it for myself,” Thomas intones when confronted with the enthusiasm of his brothers and sisters. This is not doubt; this is reality. This is feet-firmly-planted, no-nonsense pragmatism. Thomas is just honest. Most likely, any of us would have said the same if we had been in his sandals.

The real story is not Thomas’ doubt or his pragmatism, though; it’s the presence of Jesus. When he does see Jesus a week later, all of the “let me put my hands in his side” bravado is gone. When in the presence of the Christ himself, it is enough for Thomas. Now, he is Thomas, the worshipper and servant.

“My Lord and my God!”

Thomas speaks our Easter response, does he not? What else can we really say?

by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

I remember the first time I “went away.” It was 1972 and I was going away to college. My family is pretty low-key about things like this and there was no special dinner or anything like that. If I remember correctly, I milked the cow as usual that morning, worked in the field with Daddy until noon, then we went to the house for dinner. (On a southern farm, at noon, it was always “dinner.” Lunch was something you ate in the cafeteria at school.  And supper is after dark.) I took a shower, loaded my box of books and my laundry basket full of clothes in the back seat of the car and drove the hour and a half down to Guilford College.

But, I did receive a few “going away” presents. Daddy handed me $10, the first time I remember him giving me money that I had not earned working. Mama gave me a couple of shirts she got on sale. And my cousin Julia (an English teacher) and her husband Sam (a librarian) gave me a Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary. I spent the money on gas and wore out the shirts but I still have the dictionary sitting on my bookshelves.

The best going away presents serve two purposes. They are a link to the past and they propel us into the future. Every time I look up a word in that old dictionary, I remember Julia and Sam’s encouragement of my goal of getting a college education; and that dictionary, in its own small way, helped me to achieve that goal.

Today’s Gospel Lesson is about “Going Away Presents” But in this case, the gift-giving is done in reverse; the one going away, Jesus,  gives the presents. As the disciples gathered in their hide-away room, they were a very disturbed, confused and fearful community. The events of the last week had overwhelmed them, their brains and their bodies were on emotional overload.

The Bible says they were full of fear. The Greek word here is phobon, from which we get the English word PHOBIA. A phobia is an irrational and unthinking fear, emotional terror. These people were afraid of their own shadows, they were seeing monsters in the closets and boogie bears under their beds. Well, not exactly irrational and unthinking. Their world had turned upside down and inside out. They had left their families and their jobs, their lives and their livelihoods to follow this charismatic healer/preacher. And now this glorious revolution had come to a screeching halt, the wheels had come off the Kingdom of God parade, the movement had collapsed; all was in disarray.

If you want to know what they looked like, just think about the TV images of a favored team in the NCAA basketball tournament that gets upset, loses to a team they were supposed to beat. While the winners jump around and celebrate, the losers huddle on the bench, all their hopes and dreams smashed. They sit perfectly still, staring out in space. Or they hide their faces under towels, not wishing to weep on national TV.

The Gospel parade had come to an inglorious, confusing, disarrayed halt. Their season was over, and the Jesus team was left fearful, confused, inept and clueless, groping for a way to make sense of it all.

And Jesus, the Risen Christ, came into that locked room with “going away presents.” He brought to them the things they needed to recover and go forward.

Jesus comes to them in the midst of their fear and the first words out of his mouth are “Peace be with you.” This greeting is very important and he repeats it three times in our lesson. In Hebrew, Peace is Shalom – and means “completeness, welfare, health.”(1) It is a state in which everything is as it should be. In Greek, Peace is Eirene – which in this case means, “harmonized relationships between God and (humanity).”(2)

1 and 2 – Vines Expository Dictionary

Jesus comes into the midst of these most “unharmonic” and incomplete folks, and gives them the gift of being at peace with themselves and the world. This Peace is a most mysterious thing, for it is not tied to nor dependant upon external circumstances; it is not linked to how well you’re doing in your job or how well you’re getting along with your family or how much money you have in your savings account or how well your retirement fund is doing in the stock market.

Paul calls it, “the Peace that passes all understanding.” It is a peace that descends upon on our hearts and spirits as a gift from God. This Peace is at the core of our Christian worship. In the standard ELCA Lutheran Communion service the first three prayers of the Kyrie start with “In Peace . . .” Between the prayers and the communion, we pass the Peace. The Post-Communion Canticle begins, “Now, Lord, you let your servant go in peace. . . .”  The pastoral blessing begins, ”The Lord look upon you with favor and give you Peace. . . . ” The dismissal says “Go in Peace.”  Other Worship Traditions use the word in similar ways. It is vital that we understand the source of the peace that we are praying and passing and singing.

It is not OUR peace, not our love, not our goodwill, not our friendliness, not our serenity; in those moments we are sharing with one another the Peace that Christ has given to us, the same peace that Jesus gave to his disciples as a going away preasent.

After Jesus has comforted the disciples, after he has calmed their fears with His peace, Jesus give these directionless people a PURPOSE, a reason to keep on going. In verse 21 he says, “As the father has sent me, even so I send you.”

Jesus knows that they think that the mission has ended with his death, but he proclaims to them that it has only just begun. Dietrich Bonheoffer was a German Lutheran pastor who worked against Hitler. He was arrested and imprisoned and eventually hanged. As he was led out of his cell to go to the gallows, Pr. Bonheoffer said to his cellmates and friends, “I know to you this seems like the end of life, but to me it is just the beginning.”

When Jesus tells his disciples that he is sending them, he is saying to them, “I know that you thought the Kingdom of God movement was over, but I’m here to tell you it is just beginning.”

Jesus comes to this disheartened and directionless group and gives them a reason for living. He defines for them a purpose, lays out for them their future, sets in front of them their mission. When Jesus shows them his wounds, it is not just a way of identifying himself, not just a way of proving to them that it really is him. NO! In showing them his wounds, his scars, Jesus is telling them who they are, and who they are to be.

Suddenly, things he said began to make sense. Things like “take up YOUR cross,” and “losing one’s life for the Gospel,” things that seemed so peculiar when he said them, began to shout out their meaning as the disciples stared at his wounds. “Now I get it, now I understand. We are called to serve the world, to live for the world, to die for the world if necessary, because that’s what Jesus did.” Jesus came into their midst and gave them peace and gave them a purpose and then he gave them provisions for their journey.

I have preached, not this sermon, but this outline a couple of times in the last 30 years and I used to make point three POWER, but I’ve done a lot of thinking about that, and I think PROVISION is better. Verse 22 says, “He breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.”

Christ provides what is needed to fulfill the purpose given us. That is not the same thing as giving us power. It means that the Spirit will work through our sometimes feeble efforts to accomplish God’s will in the world. This is demonstrated by Christ on the Cross, which was not an exercise of power, but a demonstration of humility and obedience and faith. God’s promise is to fill us with the Holy Spirit, to provide for us that which we need to do what we are called to do.

Look at Peter. On Good Friday we read about how Peter fearfully denied Jesus three times, scared to death of a serving girl. In today’s lesson from Acts we see Peter preaching on the streets of Jerusalem, afraid of no one.

Look at these disciples, huddled behind closed doors. Then look at Church history, where of the 12 disciples who became known as the Apostles, the “Sent Ones,” only one died a natural death. The rest went to the far corners of the known world, preaching the Gospel.  And they were all tortured and executed for their efforts.

What made the difference? What changed them? The Risen Christ breathed on them the Holy Spirit, providing them with the faith and courage to live a life devoted to God’s will and God’s way in the world.

The Risen Christ comes to us today. Comes into our locked rooms filled with fear and confusion, comes to us with the healing words and sure promises he had for the disciples.

Jesus comes and calms our fears with God’s peace.
Jesus comes and shows us the way to live out God’s purpose in the world.
Jesus comes and breathes into lour lives the Holy Spirit, providing us that which is needed to live a life of faith.

3 thoughts on “Year A — The Second Sunday of Easter

  1. Praise God for your message. I have preached this text often,entitling it, "Peace Responsibility and Power." I marvel at how similar the content of the messages are. You title and use of purpose and provision seem to be more on point, so I will revise my message and credit you as the one whom our Lord used to help me hear the message of this text in a different and even more helpfulmway for me and hopefully my heares. The peace of Christ coninue with you and your people as you labor to fulfill your purpose with the provision of his Holy SpiritRoscoe D.Cooper Jr Pastor Richmond VA

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