By the Rev. Darren Miner
Today is the third Sunday of Easter, and yes, it’s still Easter. It will continue to be Easter till we reach the feast of Pentecost on May 24th. There are various ways that we mark this joyous season. We use festive vestments of white. We read the Acts of the Apostles in place of the Hebrew scriptures. We include extra Alleluias. And finally, the Confession is optionally omitted. During this season, we pause for 50 days to experience the Day of Resurrection and to consider its consequences for us as disciples of Jesus. It’s kind of like the movie Groundhog Day, in which Bill Murray’s character experiences the same day over and over again till he learns his lesson.
But this seasonal focus on one point in time, the Day of Resurrection, is belied somewhat by today’s first two readings. The first reading from Acts takes place some months later, after Pentecost, and mentions the Resurrection only in passing. And the second reading from First John takes place about 70 years after the Resurrection of Jesus and doesn’t mention the Resurrection at all. Only the Gospel reading actually takes place on that first Easter Sunday. Despite these disparities, all three readings do share common threads. So after a quick review of each of the readings, I’ll attempt to tease out two of those common threads.
Let’s start with the Gospel reading. This account from Luke tells his version of the appearance of the Risen Lord to the disciples. It is basically the same story we heard last week, but with some differences in detail. For example, Luke spares Thomas the embarrassment of being the only doubting disciple. In today’s account, all the disciples display doubt at Jesus’ appearance in their midst. And Jesus invites them all to touch him, so as to verify that he is not a ghost. Then, as the final proof of his physicality, he asks for some food. Now as both a vegetarian and a preacher, I devoutly wish that the disciples had given him a loaf of bread. But what they gave him was a piece of broiled fish. Now, if he had shared bread with them, as he did with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, I could expound at great length on the eucharistic symbolism of the broken bread. As it stands, I am at a loss to explain the religious significance of broiled fish!
Jesus proceeds to teach the disciples, opening their minds to understand the scriptures, with a particular focus on the fate of the Messiah. Jesus ends the class with a homework assignment: to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins in his name to all nations.
Turning now to the Acts of the Apostles, we jump forward a few months to find Peter giving a sermon in the Temple. Here’s the backstory. Peter and John were headed into the Jewish Temple when they encountered a lame beggar. Instead of giving him the coins he expected, Peter gives him back his health. He looks into the eyes of the beggar and says, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.” The man jumps up and bounds into the Temple, praising God. The miracle created quite a stir, as you would imagine.
It is then that Peter gives the short sermon that we heard read in the first reading. He chides the inhabitants of Jerusalem for failing to save Jesus from crucifixion, although he admits that even that failure was part of God’s greater plan. And he explains that the miraculous healing that they have just witnessed is due to faith in the power of Jesus’ name. Now, the beggar had no such faith. He had no idea who Peter and John were and what Peter was about to do for him. No, the faith that Peter speaks about is his own faith. Despite having denied his master three times in the recent past, Peter’s post-Pentecost faith is now so strong that he can heal the lame simply by calling on the name of Jesus. Peter then ends his sermon in the Temple with an assignment for his audience: to repent and turn to God, so that their sins might be erased.
Finally, we get to the First Letter of John, written 70 years later. John has a pastoral problem. His congregation has split in two. The disagreement centers around two topics: the physicality of Jesus and the importance of moral behavior. John’s opponents seem to think that Jesus did not really come in the flesh. To them, he was a spirit who only appeared to take human form. By this reasoning, the Crucifixion was not really real! It was a sham, for the sake of appearances, to fool the Romans into thinking that they had killed Jesus. The second bone of contention is morality. John’s adversaries seem to think that having accepted Christ and been baptized, they are free from the stain of sin, no matter what they do afterwards. For them, baptism is a form of spiritual Teflon coating guaranteed to keep sins from sticking!
John argues vehemently against his opponents, whom he at various points in his letter refers to as “antichrists.” And as is often the case when arguing, he says things that he really doesn’t mean. For example, today we heard him say, “No one who abides in [the Lord] sins; no one who sins has either seen the him or known him.” Well, John may be right that his opponents had never understood the Lord and were great sinners. But he knew very well that even faithful Christians could sin on occasion. John previously admits, “If anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins….” Even so, John clearly hopes that his congregation will avoid sin altogether and abide in Christ. For the reward for abiding in Christ is eternal life. What that life may look like is not clear even to John. For he says, “What we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: When [the Lord] is revealed, we will be like him….” The promise is that in some mysterious way, the faithful will experience a state of being like unto divinity. Now, that’s quite a promise!
If you recall, I said at the beginning of this sermon that there were a couple of common threads to these three readings. Well, one such common thread is to believe in Jesus Christ: to believe that he truly died on the Cross, that he was truly resurrected in a body of flesh and bones, and that in his name God still acts today. The other common thread is the call to practice and to proclaim repentance and forgiveness. Peter preaches to the Jews in the Temple to repent of their spiritual blindness and to turn to God, so that their sins may be forgiven them. John begs his congregation to avoid sin at all costs, having already assured them of the saving power of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice should they sin. And in Luke’s Gospel, the Risen Lord himself instructs his disciples to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins in his name to all nations.
Given this repeated call to repentance, it might seem strange that we are omitting the Confession and Absolution from today’s service. Perhaps! But, I would remind you that we repent of our sins before God every time we say the Lord’s Prayer, or at least every time we say it and really mean it! As for forgiveness, the need for priestly absolution is not absolute, for as is stated in the Episcopal catechism, one of the spiritual benefits of Holy Communion is the forgiveness of our sins—every, single one of them!
So when you come up to the Holy Table, leave your sins behind you in the pew, and believe in your heart that the same God who raised Jesus Christ from the dead will wipe away your every sin. Then, go out into the world in the joy of the Resurrection, and tell your friends and family what it feels like to be forgiven all your sins and to abide in Christ.
© 2015 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.