Sermon for the second Sunday of Easter (Mark Smms)
11th April 2021
It was the evening of that first Easter Day. We don’t know how many of Jesus’ disciples gathered together that evening, but it was probably more than just the eleven remaining apostles. Perhaps they were in the large house of one of Jesus wealthy supporters. Perhaps they gathered in the large courtyard in the centre of a typical Middle Eastern city house. There is one thing that John does tell us though. They had locked the doors. They were afraid.
Peter and John had been to the tomb and seen that it was empty. Mary Magdalene had told them of her meeting with the risen Christ. The disciples were still scared. They did not understand what was happening. They doubted the stories they were hearing about the resurrection. Fear, confusion, doubt. They gathered together in fear, confusion and doubt.
This was when Jesus came to them. Huddled behind their locked doors, Jesus stood among them. In their fear, confusion and doubt, Jesus was with them. This changed everything. Their fear, confusion and doubt were changed to joy, understanding and confidence. Maybe they remembered all the things Jesus had said about his death and resurrection. Maybe they understood the things the Old Testament said about the Messiah. One thing we do know. They rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
It was into that rejoicing that Jesus said three things.
Jesus started with “Peace be with you”. Shalom, peace, is a common greeting, even today, in the middle east. But it means so much more than just hello. It means much more than the English word “peace”, which we use to translate it. It reflects a sense of wholeness and integrity that reflects an inner peace in a turbulent world. It has a sense of safety and security beyond what the world can give. It has sense of health and good fortune that is what it means to be blessed by God. It is the peace that comes from trusting that, even though there is much to fear, we can trust in the bigger picture we see in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
Jesus continued with “I am sending you”. The disciples’ newfound joy was not to be kept to themselves. They should go and share it with those around them. They had good news to share, and everyone should have the chance to hear it. The joy and peace they found in Jesus was something they could not hide. It overflowed to all who met them. Even in trials and persecution, their joy and peace would be a witness to the gospel message being good news for all people.
Next Jesus said, “Receive the Holy Spirit”. Jesus did not send the disciples out in their own strength, but with the support and guidance of the Holy Spirit. The journey ahead of them would be difficult and there would be many challenges and obstacles. The disciples would need all the help they could get. At the last supper, Jesus had told them that he would ask the Father to send another to be with them, the spirit of truth, who would lead them into all truth. Jesus reminds them that the Spirit will be with them and that they will never be alone.
For us, there are many things that have been frightening and confusing over the past year. Many of us may feel a bit like the disciples in our gospel reading, staying behind locked doors because of our fears. With lots of conflicting stories, opinions and advice, it is easy to feel confused and full of doubts. As with those first disciples, Jesus comes to us through our fears, our doubts and our confusion. He brings joy to our hearts and speaks those same words to us.
First, Christ wishes us peace. He wishes us the peace that comes from trusting in him and in his strength. He wishes us the peace that comes from knowing his victory over sin, evil and death. He wishes us the peace that comes from realising that there is a bigger picture that we cannot see. It is a peace that comes from knowing God’s forgiveness. It is a peace that comes from knowing that God loves us and wants the best for us, and that no power on earth or in heaven, not even death, can separate us from that love.
Then Jesus sends us to carry out the mission for which the Father sent him, as he sent those first disciples. He sends us to witness to him in all we way and do. He sends us to strengthen the faith of one another. He sends us to help and support those in need. He sends us to fight for justice and to challenge violence. He sends us to protect the world that the Father created through him. This is God’s mission, for which Jesus came into the world and for which he sends his church.
And, as with those first disciples he sends us in the power of the Holy Spirit. We are not alone, and we do not have to rely on our own strength. The Holy Spirit is alongside us as our guide and help. It is in the confidence of relying on the power of the Spirit that we can go in Christ’s name to live and work to his praise and glory.
This Spring look around you for signs of the resurrection. Amid the pain and suffering, the fear, confusion and doubt, seek out where the love of Christ is building God’s kingdom. See the love of God in his creation. Rejoice in those who look after their neighbours. Support those who seek justice for the weak and vulnerable. Help those who try to protect the environment. Then go in the peace of Christ and the power of the Spirit to be his witnesses in the world. And know that Christ will be with you, even to the end of the age.