Power is a tricky thing. John is clearly showing in the resurrection story we read today, from John chapter 20, that Jesus is powerful, and that his desire is to share that power with his followers – faithful, fearful, questioning, wherever they are on this journey of discovering the truth of the resurrection. But what’s the nature of this power that Jesus wants to share with the Church? And what does that mean for us now, 2000 years down the road?
Again, power is tricky, and largely so because it’s so often abused in our world. I’m reminded of the many memes that make their way through social media these days showing Jesus, arms raised, standing on a hillside surrounded by listening crowds as he says something like: “What part of ‘love one another’ wasn’t clear?” Fallen, as we are; Captive to sin and completely unable to free ourselves, as we are; Sinners all, as we are, we are all curved in on ourselves. We look out for number one, meaning ourselves. We say things like: “Well, after all, charity has to begin at home” as if that somehow excuses our sinfulness, excuses our being curved in on ourselves, excuses our hiding ourselves away in fear like the followers of Jesus on that first Easter night.
Those of us with power and privilege – says the middle-aged white man, right? – those of us with power and privilege too often, in overt and subtle ways, play the system as it is and use our privilege to our own advantage.
- Call it racism.
- Call it sexism.
- Call it gender-bias.
- Call it xenophobia.
- Call it classism.
- Call it islamophobia or religious bigotry.
- Call it whatever you call it,
but call it what it is: It’s sin! And Christ Jesus has come to conquer sin and death once and for all, by his own most holy and innocent suffering and death and by the power of his glorious resurrection. So when Jesus displays his power by rising from the dead and by appearing to his followers, though the doors are locked for fear of the Jewish authorities who opposed Jesus and orchestrated his execution at the hands of the Roman occupiers, this is a whole different type of power.
Jesus isn’t using power to put anyone down, or to lift himself up on the backs of some supposedly weaker or lesser individual or group. No. Jesus has come to give life and light, love and forgiveness, the power of being free from sin and death, and to give it freely to the whole cosmos. Remember that this is John’s Gospel we read from today, the Gospel that early on, back in the 3rd chapter, tells us that God so loved the world – and John uses the word cosmos, in the Greek, meaning the whole world, everyone and everything that inhabits the world,
which, then, has to include those that oppose God, all that stands in opposition to God’s saving love in Christ Jesus – God so loved that world, the whole world, that God sends the Son, not to condemn the world, but that the world will be saved through him. Now that’s a very different form of power and a very different use of power from how we humans tend to use power.
God has the power over life and death, and chooses life!
- God overcomes death with the power of life
- God overcomes darkness with the power of light
- God overcomes hatred with the power of love
- God overcomes sin with the power of forgiveness
- God overcomes death with the power of life and in God’s great love and mercy grants to us each and all, freedom from sin, freedom from death
God grants to us each and all the gift of eternal life in and through the death and resurrection of Jesus…
When Jesus shows up on Easter night, and again the next week, he appears and stands in their presence, and he speaks familiar words: “Peace be with you” words that ought to recall what Jesus said to them on the night of his betrayal: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you.” The disciples had to hear in his greeting the echo of his final discourse before his betrayal and arrest, and it had to be a mystifying word to hear. I mean, these are the folks who abandoned him in his hour of deepest need, and he’s God, which has to be kind of dawning on them at this point, right? And any rational God is not going to be happy with followers who betray them, deny knowledge of them, abandon them. Really. That God’s probably coming back with an axe to grind, wouldn’t you think? But here he comes, and his greeting is: Peace. And the word John uses here means: quietness, rest, and to set at one again. Jesus is coming and offering a reset.
He’s not coming to kick rear ends and take names. He’s not coming to condemn them for their frailty and failure. He’s not even concerned that they’ve failed to believe the witness of Mary Magdalene and the other early witnesses of the resurrection. You see, it really doesn’t matter to God what the nature of your sin might be. What matters to God, is the nature of God’s forgiveness. And Jesus has come to offer a reset.
Remember back in Lent when we read what God said through Isaiah: Look, I am doing a new thing. Do you not perceive it? Well, this is a new thing. This is God exercising power through the forgiveness of sin. This is God demonstrating power through grace and mercy. We might expect God to exercise power by slapping sinners down, but that’s simply not in God’s nature.
- God in Christ comes and says: Peace
- God in Christ comes and offers a reset
- God in Christ comes and says: let’s set this all back at one again
And God then gives to us – to the Church, that is – the power to extend forgiveness in the name of Jesus. God gives to us, the Church, the power to offer peace in the name of Jesus…
In a few moments, after we sing our hymn of the day, we’re going to welcome Norah Samina Rashid to baptism, through the rite of enrollment and blessing, and she’ll be baptized in a couple weeks, on the 17th of April. And when she’s baptized, she’ll receive what we have all received in our having been baptized into Christ,
- the forgiveness of sin,
- the seal of the Spirit unto eternal life,
- and the call to be part of the Body of Christ that is sent out by God into the world
- Proclaiming Christ’s Lordship, together with Thomas – “My Lord and my God”
- Sharing freely Christ’s peace – As the Father sent me, so I send you
- Exercising the power of the Spirit to forgive sins in Christ’s name – whatever sins you forgive they are forgiven
- And lifting up our voices in shouts of jubilation at the great good news of Easter – Alleluia! Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!