Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter And The Response Of Christ’s Church

Fr. Dale Matson

            Today we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord. Additionally we celebrate Easter each Sunday of the year.  Why do we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection so extensively?   We are so slow to realize what it means.  We need reminding over and over again. The bodily resurrection from the dead of Jesus Christ is the central feature of the Christian faith and also distinguishes Christianity from all other religions. In Christ we have hope that we too will be raised from the dead to eternal life. In Christ we already are assured of eternal life as we live out our present life. 
            The Gospel of St. John is my favorite Gospel and important in forming my “Christology”, that is, my understanding of who Jesus really is.  This is because John’s Gospel speaks to the deity of Christ.  While Matthew generally deals with “Christ the King”, Mark deals with “Christ the Servant” and Luke deals with “Christ the Man”.
As I read St. John’s post resurrection account of Jesus appearing to the disciples the fearful humanity of the apostles is very evident.  Even though the disciples were familiar with Hebrew Prophesy, even though Jesus had told them what would take place, even though had seen the empty tomb and even after Mary Magdalene had reported seeing and talking to Jesus, the disciples were still gathering behind locked doors because they were afraid.  Then Jesus appeared to them in the room.  Jesus told them to be at peace.  St. Luke notes in his account that the disciples were terrified because they thought they were seeing a ghost.  Jesus showed them His wounds and breathed the Holy Spirit on them.  This is both a looking back to when God breathed life into the nostrils of Adam and a looking forward toward Pentecost.  After breathing on them He commissioned them as he had commissioned Peter following Peter’s confession.   Yet even after all of this, where were they one week later?  They were still meeting behind locked doors.  Jesus did not bother to knock on either occasion because He knew they would be too afraid to answer the door.  So He simply walked through the door on both occasions.  The disciples still didn’t get their game face on until the day of Pentecost.  It seems like it takes a mission and a repeated push from God the Holy Spirit to get all of us going.
After the Apostles were arrested and  put in prison for healing in the name of Jesus, the Angel of the Lord released them during the night and they went right back to teaching in the temple the next morning.
Do these seem like the same Apostles? Who was afraid now? “And someone came and told the Pharisees, “Look! The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people. Then the captain with the officers went and brought them, but not by force, for they were afraid of being stoned by the people. And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, saying, We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man's blood upon us.” (Acts 5, ESV)
The tables have been turned haven’t they? Now it is the Pharisees who are afraid. Before, when they cried out to have Jesus crucified, they said, “Let His blood be upon us and our children.” (Matthew 27:25) Have they not condemned themselves out of their own mouths?
“Peter answered, “We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” (Acts 5, ESV)
But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel stated, “I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” So they took his advice, and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.” And so, this finally put fear back into the Apostles and they shut up right?  “Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.” (Acts 5, ESV)
These are the same unlearned, timid and fearful men who had previously been hiding behind locked doors. They were now performing mighty signs and miracles. People were laying the sick in the streets as Peter passed by; hoping his shadow might fall on the sick and heal them. These were now Apostles empowered by the Holy Spirit and speaking boldly with no regard for their safety or even their lives.
In John’s Gospel Thomas stated, “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my fingers in the mark of the nail, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe.”  In the case of Thomas, flesh and blood did reveal who Christ really was.  The response of Thomas commands our attention.  After seeing and touching the wounds of Christ, Thomas exclaims, “My Lord and my God”.  Christ’s divinity was revealed to Thomas by his humanity.  Christ is not only the way of salvation, He is not only our salvation, He is our God.
            John’s Gospel message deals with the person and finished work of Christ and the ongoing work of the church in proclaiming this. It is also about this only being made possible by empowerment from the Holy Spirit. Why then are we behind locked doors ourselves? The last words of Christ from the cross were, “It is finished.” His work was finished but the work of the church was just beginning. It is the good work of the church to proclaim the finished work of Jesus Christ. The gates of hell cannot prevail against the church if it obeys this commission. He has also commanded us to love one another. These two things constitute the primary work of the Christian church. 
As we accept him again in the mystery of the Eucharist let us take seriously the words we include in our final prayer. 
            “And now Father, send us out to do the work you have given us to do, to love and serve you as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.” Amen.

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