A Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter + April 8, 2018

St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church
Chelsea, Alabama
Sunday, April 8, 2018

The Second Sunday of Easter + Year B
First Lesson: Acts 4:32-35
Psalm 133
Second Lesson: 1 John 1:1-2:2
Gospel: John 20:19-31

Now, O Lord, take my lips and speak with them. Take our minds and think through them. Take our hearts and set them on fire for your Gospel. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

30125629_1695621980529051_1437411587_oToday’s lesson from the Gospel according to John picks up right where we left off last Sunday. In the evening on the day of resurrection, the risen Jesus mysteriously appears to his disciples for the first time.

Despite the doors of the house being locked where the disciples have gathered, Jesus appears. He says to his friends, “Peace be with you.” As evidence that he’s truly returned, Jesus shows them the mark of the nails in his hands and his side and he says to them once again, “Peace be with you.”

“Peace be with you.” These are comforting and familiar words to us as Episcopalians. I’m a little surprised that the disciples didn’t respond to Jesus, “And also with you.”

At first, we might assume that Jesus’ words are an effort to calm the fears and anxieties of an already confused and distraught group of disciples. After all, they’ve been through quite a lot in the past three days. Their teacher has been betrayed and killed. Mary Magdalene has announced to them that she’s seen the risen Lord, and now they’re hiding from the people responsible for Jesus’ death for fear that they might be next.

So, when Jesus says, “Peace be with you,” it could be his way of simply saying, “Don’t worry. Don’t be afraid. Everything is going to be ok.”

Another possibility is that, when Jesus says, “Peace be with you,” he’s recalling for his disciples the night before his death, the night when he gathered around the dinner table with them for the last time and said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”

I think the story of Jesus appearing to his disciples for the first time after the resurrection is significant in our understanding of God’s call for us. This simple greeting that Jesus uses, “Peace be with you,” is not just a way to calm the fears and worries of his friends. It’s a call to mission, a call to action. It’s our Lord’s way of saying, “Now that I’ve completed my work in the world, it’s time for you, my followers, to ‘put the hand to the plough’ and continue the work that I started.” In John’s Gospel, Jesus wastes no time commissioning and empowering his disciples for the work they’ve been called to do. He says to them, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Then, he breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

The phrase that Jesus uses in our Gospel lesson for today, “Peace be with you,” comes from the ancient Hebrew phrase, “aleichem shalom,” which means “Peace be upon you.” Shalom, or the peace of God, is not the same as worldly peace, and Jesus makes this very clear in his teaching. Rather, shalomrefers to that sense of wholeness and communion that we feel when we respond to God’s call. This peace of God, a peace “which passes all understanding,” is beautifully illustrated in the fourth verse of one of my favorite hymns, “They cast their nets in Galilee,” written by the American poet, William Alexander Percy. Listen to the words:

The peace of God, it is no peace, but strife closed in the sod. Yet let us pray but for one thing- the marvelous peace of God.

My brothers and sisters, shalom, the peace that God desires for all of us, can only be found when we’re willing to give up our lives in order to love and serve others. During our celebration of the Holy Eucharist, when we exchange the Peace and say to each other, “Peace be with you,” our words naturally serve as a means to greet one another in the name of Christ, but they should also serve as a reminder to us that the peace of God is no peace at all. It’s a call to serve. It’s what Dietrich Bonhoeffer meant when he once wrote, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.”

In my sermon last Sunday, I talked a lot about the significance of Holy Baptism and how appropriate it is that we celebrate baptisms and renew our own baptismal vows during the Great Vigil of Easter.

What I didn’t mention last week is that the joy of Easter extends far beyond the Easter Vigil and Easter Day. Easter is actually an entire season of the Church year, lasting fifty days, which means that we have eight Sundays to rejoice and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus and contemplate what it means for us as followers of Christ.

Today, on this Second Sunday of Easter, our Easter joy continues as we prepare to welcome two new members into the Body of Christ, Cayden and AJ Rittmann. Together, with their parents and godparents, we’ll renew the solemn promises that were once made at our own baptisms and recommit our lives to serving Christ. We’ll pray for Cayden and AJ as they begin this new way of life, and we’ll promise to uphold them as they seek to grow in their relationship with God. Through the waters of Baptism, Cayden and AJ will be washed clean and made a new creation. They’ll be joined with Christ in his death and raised to newness of life through his resurrection. They’ll join us as members of Christ’s Body, the Church, committed to restoring all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.

Like the first disciples of Jesus who, on the day of resurrection, experienced the risen Lord, we are called and empowered by the Holy Spirit to serve as the hands and feet of Christ in the world. Through the sacrament of Holy Baptism, our Lord Jesus commissions us to proclaim the Gospel by word and deed.

This Easter season, may we all experience the “peace of God which passes all understanding” as we seek to remain faithful and obedient to the solemn vows of Holy Baptism. May we remember always who we are and to whom we belong, and may we never become complacent in our call to love and serve others. Amen.

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