Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Sermon, Second Sunday of Easter

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

He is risen indeed! Alleluia!


We came last week to church on Easter Sunday and heard the good news of what we did not find – Jesus’ dead body in the tomb. But what of after Easter Sunday morning? Does the absence of Jesus’ dead body end the story?


Over the next six weeks, we will explore the unfolding implications of Easter. We can start in the Upper Room on Easter evening. To their joy and wonder, the apostles discovered that despite his death, his resurrection meant that they still had the relationship with Jesus they had before – and that in fact that relationship was not static, based on the past, but dynamic, grounded in the present. It was after the resurrection that Jesus bestowed upon them the Holy Spirit that they might act with authority in his name.


But it isn’t only that the people who knew Jesus before his death can maintain their relationship with him. Because he is not among the dead, Jesus can inaugurate new relationships with people. This is what he does with us. He claims us as his own, he forgives our sins and calls us to live with him in his life.


You may or may not know people who ask if you have a ‘personal relationship with Jesus.’ I don’t necessarily have a problem with that kind of language, because Christians believe Jesus is a living person, not a concept. And, if Jesus is a living person, then we can only be in personal relationship with him.


But what this phrase may miss is the idea that I did not initiate the relationship with Jesus, but Jesus initiated it with me. The relationship never depends on my faithfulness, but Jesus’ faithfulness. And the personal relationship we have with the risen Jesus is never private. It’s never just ‘me and Jesus.’ It’s ‘Jesus and his people, and I am one of those people.’


On Easter evening, Jesus appeared to the apostles in community. It was because Thomas was not among the apostles that evening that he did not see Jesus. The next week, when he was among them, he did. Jesus comes among his people whenever they are gathered in community. ‘Whenever two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’


This is why the Church gathers each Sunday, on the day of the Resurrection, to praise Jesus as our Lord and our God. And it is more than an opportunity to praise. When we gather in his name, Jesus himself is among us in his Word and Sacrament, just as he was to the gathered apostles. The absence that we found at the empty tomb is completed by the presence of Jesus that we find in the community of his disciples.


Those who love Jesus long to be among his people on the day of the Resurrection. For them it is truly as Psalm 84 says,


How dear to me is your dwelling, O Lord of hosts!

My soul has a desire and a longing for the courts of the Lord;

my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God.


Although we treasure this building, it is not the dwelling place of which the Psalm speaks. Neither is it the temple in Jerusalem, as the writer of the Psalm originally meant. We believe that Jesus’ resurrection brings this Psalm to fulfillment, for when Jesus’ people gather together in his name, they become his dwelling place.

We are so grateful for the livestreaming which allows us and has allowed us to worship together during the pandemic. But even those who cannot be with us now for health reasons must admit that it is not the same as gathering together. We plan for and greatly desire the time when all of us can be together again in the same space, to see each other and hear each other and embrace each other as the body of Christ, to sing in chorus and share the peace and kneel at the altar rail to receive the body and blood of Christ together. How good and pleasant it is when brethren live together in unity!


The book of the Acts of the Apostles shows us the early Christian community together. They listen together to the Gospel which the apostles preach: the resurrection of Christ. Not only this, but they support each other in their need. They no longer see life as a competition for scarce resources or their circle of concern limited to those who are their relations by blood or marriage or nationality. Instead, they use their goods for the good of the others in the community, and even for those outside of the community, for love of Jesus and by no other compulsion.  


It’s a beautiful picture, and one that is not always realized by a Church weak in faith and myopic in vision. But the risen Jesus is still among us, through his Scripture calling us to the baptized life, the life which he has prepared for us, the life inspired by the Holy Spirit.


Jesus told Thomas, ‘Do you believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’ If your response is, ‘Lord, I believe, help my unbelief!’ look to the community that is built upon Christ. Yes, it is weak. Yes, it is filled with those who do not seem to reflect the glory of Jesus, or reflect his glory only dimly. But it exists. And the fact that it exists at all, the fact that all kinds of people in various places on the way are called into community with G0d and the other, is its own testimony to the good news that he who was not found at the tomb is indeed found when his people live together in unity. 


Alleluia! Christ is risen!

He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Preached on April 11, 2021

The Rev. Maurice C. Frontz, III