The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
April 19, 2020
Despite our not gathering at church last Sunday, we who worshipped together online were uplifted and exhilarated in the joy of Easter!
Yet, seven days later now, some of us are wondering what difference has Easter made? We find ourselves still in the middle of a terrible crisis, and struggle through difficult and dismal days. Though the curve is flattening, lots of us continue to die. Though government checks and plans for reopening the economy are in process, we remain anxious over making ends meet. And though we’ve developed some coping skills and work-arounds for handling isolation, we feel deeply deprived by being denied of the company of people who matter to us.
So has Easter changed anything?
Matthew’s Gospel tells us that an earthquake accompanied Christ’s resurrection. That tremblor symbolized how His rising from the dead shook life’s foundations and set in motion an endless string of aftershocks altering the course of human history. These ground-shaking reverberations from Easter continue to topple the structures of our status quo and change the spiritual topography of earth.
These aftershocks rocked lives from the very start. Easter evening, the risen Lord startled His followers who had fled the house of faith to hide behind the locked doors of the house of fear. But Jesus met them there, and gave them four gracious gifts: 1) peace to keep them constant and resolute in the face of opposition rising up against them; 2) purpose to keep them focused and on track amidst people lost in the darkness of ungodliness; 3) power to keep them brave and bold before their penchant for cowardice; and 4) proof of Christ’s resurrection reality to keep them centered and dependent on Him for doing the job He’d assigned them.
When Jesus showed up that evening, He greeted them with the conventional salutation, “Peace be with you”, but they had to hear it as something more: a confirmation of the promise He’d given three evenings prior when He said He’d put into them His own peace of heart, His settled serenity of spirit that made Him so steadfast and strong in the cause of God.
Jesus then gave them their mission, their purpose in life. He said, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” He charged them with the task of carrying on the work He had started: to seek and to save the lost – by sharing the good news too good to keep to themselves and by demonstrating the justice and compassion that gives others a sense of the One who is Himself the good news.
Next, Jesus gave them His very life force, His spiritual power. He breathed on them, as once the Spirit of God breathed over the formless void and called forth creation. As they inhaled Jesus’ breath, He told them to “receive the Holy Spirit” who would call forth the re-creation of them into different people. Jesus wanted them to draw into the lungs of their soul God’s life force that it might enable them to become more than themselves, people through whom a higher and mightier life from beyond them would work wonders of grace.
Now one member of Jesus’ inner circle of disciples was missing that evening. When later the others told Thomas what had happened, Thomas believed them as much as they had believed the women who that very morning had told them Jesus was alive. Thomas declared that, before he could believe it, he’d have to see Jesus with his own eyes and touch His warm, wounded hands with his own finger.
Exactly a week later, in exactly the same spot, Jesus gave Thomas the “proof” he needed – and, as John’s Gospel notes, it was a promissory note to future generations that they’d be given the signs they needed – signs that, without removing the possibility of doubt, would give them enough confidence to dare to believe in a reality whose only “proof is in the pudding” – that is, in the risk of staking one’s life on it and discovering first hand if it does make everything different.
Easter was an earthquake that shook up life and its possibilities, and people have been feeling its aftershocks ever since. And we too may feel them!
If we are just open and receptive, we can know up-close and personal this risen Savior who now stands before us and awaits our response. Will we ignore Him? Will we dismiss Him as a fantasy? Or will we take a chance on believing and give Him the opportunity to rock our world – even if we, like Thomas, are halfway between belief and unbelief. If we show up where Jesus might, we will, I believe, at some time or another, encounter Him and experience the earthquake of grace that will shake us loose from our status quo and reshape our spiritual geography. Like a river whose course an earthquake jolts into a new channel, Easter can change the flow of our life and bring us into an ocean of peace, purpose and power – and so make us something of a proof that Jesus still lives and sets people alive! Let us pray.