Monday, April 27, 2009

So What?

Sermon on the Third Sunday in Easter, 2009

Christ is risen! Christ is risen, indeed. Alleluia!

…so what?

I think our gospel this morning asks us that question: So what? Christ is indeed risen, yes. So what does that mean?

We have many accounts of the risen Jesus meeting his disciples, and they respond in a markedly different way than a resounding, “Christ is risen, indeed! Alleluia!” They don’t seem to know what to do. Jesus comes and says, as always, “Peace be with you.” He brings them peace…and they’re afraid.

Hmm. Christ is indeed risen…? So what?

The disciples respond in such a way that’s natural. They’re afraid of the peace Jesus brings. They live in a world of fear of violence and peace is simply not something they know. It’s not their language. The disciples knew only fear and violence under an oppressive regime, Rome. Let’s put another modern spin on it – they knew fear and violence because they lived as people without rights in a land not their own, a land that was occupied.

Fear and violence was their language. They could understand how Jesus, who was wildly popular and also quite controversial, could upset the authorities – both religious and secular, both Judean and Roman – and, like any of the other radicals, experience Rome’s capital punishment: death by crucifixion. They could understand fear and violence winning out.

But they just could not understand how Jesus could defeat these powers, this death and fear and violence, so ingrained in their collective minds, and be raised from the dead. They couldn’t understand that peace could win. It didn’t register with them. They meet together in the wake of Jesus’ execution, speaking in the same terms they were raised on – fear of those who had come after Jesus, so, it seemed, they just as likely would come after them; and violence, both the violence they had experienced, and the violence maybe some of them thought about inflicting on somebody, anybody, in return.

And the disciples just could not understand how Jesus could come back and proclaim peace. How is this possible? And so they respond with fear, and trembling.

Christ is indeed risen… So what?

The risen Christ comes to proclaim peace in a world of fear and violence. Jesus appears before his disciples and says, “Peace be with you.” Jesus appears before his disciples and says, “The power of fear and violence is nothing in the face of the power of peace.”

This radical proclamation comes from the risen Christ, and it has so much more of an impact because of the fearful and violent world in which Jesus lived and died and was raised from the dead. Jesus the Christ was fearfully rejected by those he loved (including the disciples, his very own inner circle), and violently betrayed, taken, beaten, whipped, spit on, mocked, made fun of, and put to death. And yet he responded – only and always – with peace. Peace and love.

This proclamation of peace is so much more amazing because of these circumstances. You might imagine someone who had gone through all this violence and betrayal, and then appears before those responsible for abandoning him when he needed him most, might say something more like, “Hey guys…I’m baaaaack! Remember me?”

That might be more understandable. To continue in the ways of fear and violence. Yet the risen Christ comes back after all of that, and says, “Peace be with you.”

Wow! Christ is indeed risen. And so what? What does that peace look like?

Does it look like the girl who was the first to integrate the school in Little Rock, AR? Everyday she walked into the school amidst taunts, sneering, jeers, spitting, and much worse – the face of pure hatred. Years later, a journalist looked at video of her walking, and noticed the girl muttering something under her breath. In an interview, the woman said that she was saying the same thing, every day: “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.”

Does it look like the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem? When I was there, worshipping with a community of Palestinian Christians who live under occupation – a wall stretches around the city of Jesus’ birth, to keep the inhabitants in, suffocating in extreme poverty and violence – and who were crying out to God. They weren’t crying for revenge, or retribution; they were crying for peace.

We know the disciples, maybe a little too well, don’t we? We live in a world just as driven and ruled by fear and violence as they did. And so when Jesus appears to us this Easter, saying, “Peace be with you,” we often respond with that same fear and trembling. Peace just isn’t the language we’re used to.

Yet, in the midst of wars raging around the world, and people who live in constant fear for their lives, Jesus appears to us and says, “Peace be with you.”

Alongside the 30,000 people who die every single day because of starvation and preventable diseases, such as the common cold, the risen Christ appears to us and says, “Peace be with you.”

Along with those who live under occupation, behind walls, with no rights, in the West Bank and Gaza, the risen Christ appears to us and says, “Peace be with you.”

In the midst of those in this country who are victims of domestic abuse, who cannot find peace even in their own home, the risen Christ appears to us and says, “Peace be with you.”

Next to those of us who are depressed, who suffer from addictions, who have scars in our lives, who are told by our society that we need more stuff to fill the void in our lives, the risen Christ appears to us and says, “Peace be with you.”

Whispering in the ear of those of us in this sanctuary, this Upper Room in which we are gathered, who don’t know exactly why we have come here today, but know that, in some way, we may feel fear, emptiness, or that we aren’t good enough, the risen Christ appears to us and says, “Peace be with you.”

Christ is indeed risen. And so what?

Jesus appears to us today and answers that question: “Peace be with you.” This Easter season, let us hear those words anew. Let us live as agents of peace, as the “peacemakers” whom Jesus calls “blessed.” In a world of fear and violence, let us stand and say that Christ is indeed risen, for us and for our broken world that continues to say that violence is the answer, that violence somehow brings peace. And Christ repeats, repeats, repeats, “Peace be with you.”

Fear and violence don’t bring peace. Christ brings peace. Christ is our answer. And the power of peace wins out. Christ is indeed risen.



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