The Pas Easter Sunday
16 April 2017
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24 pg 866
God unlimited by mortal fear or the tomb’s cold grip: in the lingering dark give us grace to know your life triumphant, your love undimmed, and your grace affirmed in the face of Jesus Christ, the firstborn from the dead. Amen.
On this morning, I realize that most people, have come here, today, expecting me to expound on about the miracle of the resurrection, once more.
But, instead, I’m going to talk about Peter’s words, today, in the reading from Acts.
Here we see that Peter opens the doors beyond a narrow interpretation that God’s actions, on the cross, and at the tomb are for one nation, one people only. This is interesting to us, today, when we can see from our perspective of hindsight we know that God’s actions, in the upper room, on the cross, and at the tomb are for all who believe, not just for one nation, one select group, alone.
However, we can see in the pages of the gospels, and in the earlier chapters of Acts that even Peter’s journey hasn’t been without incident, without growth, without the periodic need to go back and try again.
Peter, if we recall, denied Christ, three times in the courtyard of the High Priest on Good Friday. (Jn 18:25-27) And, with this act ‘eating away at him,’ he ran away knowing that Jesus had predicted this in the upper room and he didn’t overcome his fears, his dread of what might happen, knowing what had been predicted.
But that wasn’t the end of Peter’s journey within and for Christ. Instead, in the gospel, today, we see Peter racing to the tomb to verify the words of Mary Magdalene that Jesus isn’t there (Jn 20:3-7), but Peter and John didn’t encounter the risen Christ at that point.
Later, we see Peter being forgiven by Jesus on the shores of the Sea of Tiberius, and restored in his commission to be the rock upon which the church is to be built. (Jn 21:1-25)
We see, through the opening chapters of the book of Acts that Peter takes up the leadership role that Jesus knows he’s capable of fulfilling, that Jesus has encouraged him to grow into since he answered Jesus question “Who do you say that I am?” (Mt 15:13-20)
As you can see, we can easily track Simon Peter’s career from the time the first meets Jesus, through this learning, his mistakes, his growth, his errors, and God’s forgiveness to the point at which he assumes the mantle of leadership we see him bearing in the book of Acts.
We are able to see how his journey of forward and backward, sideways, and returning to the path God puts before him is the same as it is for each one of us, and throughout we are able to see this same pattern within each of our lives, in the love and service of God.
Peter tells us, today “I now realize how true it is that God doesn’t show favouritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.” (Acts 10:34-35)
Now, I have to confess, that the word “fear” isn’t a favourite of mine, especially when we are talking of God, who loves us unconditionally to the point of sacrificing Jesus on the cross, so that we might have eternal life.
So when a passage talks of fear, the first thing I do is remember that English isn’t the first language of any of the books of the bible, and I go looking for other translations, interpretations of that passage.
After all, in the twenty first century, we live in fear of a great many things that have nothing to do with God and the working of God in our lives.
We fear theft, or loss of any kind, some more than others. We fear identity theft and break-ins. We fear the loss of our privacy and even letting another into our lives because that means that we would become dependant upon having them there. At the same time, we fear being alone.
We fear terrorism, war, and death. We fear times of deprivation and scarcity.
And our fears of all of the above, and more besides, has managed to colour our society, our language, our responses to every situation we find ourselves within to the point where we have allowed our fears to dominate our actions and our responses to situations.
It’s even a constant part of our entertainment in the genre of suspense, thrillers, and horror movies all designed scare the crap out of us, just so that we feel something, anything.
But today, our passage from Acts has Peter using the word “fear,” but not in a grip your seat, scary kind of way as we would find in the theatre.
When Peter talks of fear, he’s actually meaning reverence, and awe, according to an old commentary. (Moffat, Acts of the Apostles, pg 92)
So, when we show God the reverence, respect, admiration or even worship, that we owe God, we are not gripped by fear, apprehension or terror, but rather wonder, awe, veneration, and love.
And from that perspective, then, we are able to see those around us through God’s eyes – without favouritism, but still with love, as brothers and sisters in God’s family because we are all brought here by that same reverence, that same awe, that same love for God as God has lavished upon each one of us.
But this revelation this revealing of God’s love not just for those of Israelite descent is so important for each one of us, today, as it was to Peter and his companions in the first days of the church. It’s important because “he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead.” (Acts 10:42)
And that judge isn’t Peter, it isn’t you, it isn’t me. Rather it’s Christ, who has broken the bonds of sin and death for us, and for all who believe.
And here we find another problematic word: “Judge”: a word that has been included into our definitions of what to fear, because a judge, in the criminal sense has the power of life and death over each one of us who faces that judge.
So, the imagery that this word conjures in our minds is important. What is left out is that this judge has walked a mile in our shoes, and even given them back. This judge has come to us and washed our feet so that we will wash the feet of another. This judge has died on the cross bearing all of our sins away.
This judge isn’t interested in condemning us, but embracing us, loving us, guiding us into paths that will bring light and life to us, and to our actions.
At the end of March, I had the opportunity to travel to Toronto, to participate in a Suicide Prevention Consultation, hosted by the national church. And, over the 2 ½ days of the conference we covered a lot of material.
But one part of today’s text reminds me of a Canadian Justice, a judge, who has taken a completely different approach to sentencing those brought to him who are of indigenous heritage. This justice, Rupert Ross, has written several books and pamphlets on this subject.
What Rupert Ross will do, when faced with a case involving an indigenous individual, is he will go to the accused and talk with them, find out what their life and their choices has been like.
Then he will go to their family and their friends and discover what life and choices are like for them, and how the accused fits into this and what has affected their choices to date.
From there, he will talk to the whole community and get their input on these important levels before he even sees the accused in a trial situation. (Criminal Conduct in Crown Prosecution by Rupert Ross)
This incorporates everything from high school drop outs, to addiction issues, to abuse in the home, to abuse in the community at large.
Much of what he has discovered is that what we are now calling “Intergenerational Anger” has coloured much of the accused’s actions, their perception of themselves and their place in society, and their decisions. A person who is in such a predicament is not going to be helped by a sentence that sees them go to jail for a lengthy period of time. This will only reinforce these self-definitions and self-perceptions. Rather he works to find other models to help the accused heal, seek reconciliation, and to help other patterns and habits be brought to play in the accused’s life.
In a similar way, we see Christ, our “judge of the living and the dead.” (Acts 10:42). He takes a similar outlook to being our judge to the point where Paul points out that Christ is our advocate.
Christ has walked this earth, he has loved as we love, felt as we feel, experienced life and death, and now life again, and has taught us to love as we are loved, not by each other but by God.
When he comes to judge the living and the dead, it’s not a blanket sentence, but rather one that is tailored to each one of us, and the circumstances, the choices, even the fears that have governed us in the depths of our lives and our very experiences.
And, we see that this begins in the garden, today.
This begins with the opening of the tomb, today. This begins with Mary Magdalene encountering the risen Christ, who sends her onward with words of hope and encouragement for those who have not seen, but yearn to believe.
She says: “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” (Jn 20:15b)
From the perspective of fear, she doesn’t dare hope that her eyes have seen correctly – that Christ is risen from the grave. From the perspective of love, she wishes only to reclaim the body that was removed, and to lavish her love on him by reinterring him in a different grave.
She has yet to have her eyes and heart opened, as we see Peter’s opened, by preaching God’s love and inclusion to Gentiles, in Acts 10.
Christ has walked where we walk. Christ has experienced all that life has offered from the beneficial to the harmful. And yet, here we are with Mary, in the garden, wondering where the body is now.
From there we can only respond with joy when Christ opens our eyes, our hearts, to the love of God.
Jesus calls her by name, and she sees him, in the flesh before her. Jesus calls her by name and her grief is turned to irrepressible joy.
At the same time, Jesus calls each one of us by name. He loves us, encourages us, guides us, and reassures us that our love for God is not out of place but rather reciprocated in such a way that we are eternally encouraged, not just before the tomb, but in the depths of our lives, every day.