A Homily for the Second Sunday of Easter
Text: St. John 20:19-31
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the Risen One who has set us free for the Kingdom of God. Amen.
Our Gospel reading today opens on a scene unfamiliar to us: in the midst of our Easter joy, as we celebrate these great fifty days, we enter a room full of fear. The disciples, in the wake of the Crucifixion, are huddling in a locked apartment, hiding out of sight. They saw what happened to Jesus, and they are terrified that it might happen to them – that Jewish zealots and Roman soldiers might come after them as well, that they may have to bear their own crosses. They have heard Mary Magdalene’s testimony, that Christ is risen, but we can see their doubt. Picture their faces: jumping at every sound, the pit sinking in their stomach every time they hear a group of pilgrims walk by, every time a band of soldiers marches by. In the midst of Passover, the disciples are holed up in Jerusalem, afraid that the crowds outside might turn against them.
Around the world, there are Christians who live in the same fear: that every bump might bring with it an explosion, that every gunshot might be aimed at them. Even in our country, despite our pledges of religious freedom, there have been times when the Church has been persecuted, when the government has actively sought to undermine the work of the Gospel: as state legislatures and courts and sheriffs worked alongside terrorist organizations like the Klan to oppress our sisters and brothers of color, targeting black churches. As pastors and local congregations – that is, predominantly black pastors and congregations – worked long and hard to bring about the reconciled and reconciling Kingdom of God, states passed Jim Crow laws which oppressed Christ’s Church. Klansmen burned crosses, burned churches, and burned our sisters and brothers.
The Church was oppressed, and the Body of Christ was wounded.
Over the following century and a half, segregation took sinful root in our soil and such violently oppressive forces created a refugee crisis on our shores, driving people of color out of the South. Black Christians were lynched as they worked to right this wrong. Churches were bombed, like 16th Street Baptist in Birmingham. Picture the faces of black Christians in Birmingham and Selma and Atlanta and Macon that next Sunday – the same fear that Simon Peter and James and John felt, eyes growing wide at every bump, jumping at every backfiring car. Preachers were beaten and imprisoned. The Rev. Hosea Williams was beaten alongside John Williams on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The Rev. Ralph Abernathy’s house was bombed. And fifty years ago this week, Rev. Martin Luther King was murdered in Memphis. And lest we think that this is a problem of the distant past, we remember that Dylan Roof, raised in a Lutheran church just down the road from our seminary in Columbia, murdered our black sisters and brothers in Charleston less than three years ago.
It is to these, our persecuted sisters and brothers, that our risen Lord brings the most joy.
It is those who hunger and thirst for righteousness that will be filled.
It is to those who mourn that the Resurrection is the greatest comfort.
It is to those living in fear that our wounded Lord appears.
It is to Mary Magdalene, weeping in the garden, to the disciples hiding in fear, to Thomas, with all of his doubts and questions,that Christ appears in all of his resurrected glory.
It is to those who have seen the lynching tree that a Lord who was hung upon a tree but lives again brings the greatest hopes.
See how the disciples are still in hiding, that it is only after the Lord’s appearance with wounded hands and pierced side, that they rejoice.
See how the risen Lord comes bringing peace in the midst of human violence and fear. See how our Lord, who could not be overcome by the violence of the cross, also overcomes the violence of the lynching tree.
See how the Lord comes bringing peace to fearful disciples behind their locked doors and peace to the disciples on the streets of Selma, Birmingham, and Ferguson.
See how the Lord calls forth prophetic voices who stand firm even in the face of violence.
See how the Lord promises hope and healing to our persecuted siblings who gathered to celebrate the joy of Easter.
See how the risen Lord appears in Charleston, bandaging wounded hearts.
See how the Lord works for racial reconciliation in the South, sending courageous preachers to proclaim liberation to the oppressed and call the oppressor to repentance.
Our Lord bears the wounds of human sin and oppression, and yet Christ has overcome the power of sin. Still scarred by the marks of violence, Jesus rises again to continue proclaiming freedom to the oppressed, to continue building up the Kingdom of God.
And Christ sends us out to do the same. The joy of the Resurrection can’t be lived out behind locked doors or for an hour at a time on Sunday morning. Living into new life through Christ is a full-time vocation, one that transforms the entire life and reaches out, touching the lives of those around us.
In a world, a country, a state, a city that still bears the scars of segregation and terrorism, in a society still plagued by the sin of racism, we are being sent out like the disciples that first Easter from behind their locked doors as a voice of new life, proclaiming the Kingdom of God through repentance and reconciliation.
We are united to our persecuted and oppressed siblings through the Body of Christ. And we, with them, are an Easter people, living lives of joyful celebration, even in the midst of violence. We are an apostolic Church, sharing in the mission of God with the apostles who came before. We are apostello — sent out – like the followers of Christ before us to proclaim the peace of Christ and the forgiveness of sins.
In the midst of sin, we are sent out as a voice proclaiming repentance and forgiveness.
In the midst of violence and persecution, we are sent out as a voice of peace, preaching good news to the poor and freedom to those in bondage.
In the midst of economic disparity and hunger, we are sent out as the hands of Christ, serving those among us who have need.
Do you feel a sense of dread or fear? As though this mission may cost you respect or a position of relative power? That putting others first may mean putting yourself last? That this may be dangerous? Is that same look of concern Simon Peter wore all those years go creeping onto your face now?
Then gaze upon the wounded-but-living body of our Lord!
This calling will not be easy; it requires the sort of divine love only possible through God’s grace. We will have to set aside our pride, our desire to always be the one talking, to confess our own subtle racisms, and to listen to the voices of our marginalized kindred.
We will face opposition from people, even our fellow Christians, who do not understand our divine vocation. Some will scoff at us, mock us for our faith and for the divine love pouring forth; they will call us foolish and naive. Others may continue to react more violently, with bombs and bullets.
But in the face of our own fear, Christ grants us the faith to persevere. In the face of persecution, Christ sends us hope in the Resurrection.
So come, beloved, and remember the new life assured to us in the waters of Baptism.
Come, be strengthened by God’s grace given to us in the Body of Christ at the Altar.
Come, and pray for our kindred around the world facing violence and death. Come, pray that the entire Church might bear faithful witness to the Risen Lord.
Come out from behind your locked doors that our Risen Lord may send you out along with the apostles.
Come so that you may go in peace.
Go in peace like the apostles before us, like the blessed saints Mary Magdalene and Simon Peter and even Thomas, preaching the Gospel of Resurrection.
Go in peace, proclaiming the Kingdom of God.
Go in peace, serving those who have need.
Go in peace, proclaiming repentance and the forgiveness of sins.
Go in peace, boldly rejoicing in Christ our savior, and praying for the persecuted Church along the way.
Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.
Thanks be to God.