A Living Hope – Rev. Tony Romaine – April 19th, 2020
As I did yard work this week and pruned things and organized things and readied the yard for the Spring, I thought of what preparation people who are more talented at gardening than myself do to ready things this time of year. How they till the soil, they turn the soil and the nutrients to increase the flow of oxygen and nitrogen, they fertilize to increase those nutrients that bring life, they clear away the death and decay from a long winter, and they being to imagine what life can be planted anew. And then eventually they plant seeds or bulbs in hope of glorious gardens to come; gardens that will take time, patience, determination, and love; gardens who need someone to tend to them and care for them and nurture them along in a living hope.
A Living Hope
The title for today’s sermon comes from the passage in 1 Peter where the author says that we are given a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ and that although we have not seen Jesus, we love Him. It is just amazing to me how the Scriptures truly match up with our current season. Now, as a pastor, I think that the Scripture matches just about every week, but recently we have been able to really parallel with the Gospels and the other readings. A lot of this has to do with our season of isolation and distancing as we effort to reduce the spread of Covid-19. But in this manner, we are much like the disciples who were feeling alone and isolated from their Rabbi; from Jesus. The disciples who were left to try and remember all Jesus’ teachings, who were left to deal with the geo-political state of affairs that were resultant after the crucifixion and death and burial of Jesus, and who were left to be the future for this small movement which we now know as Christianity.
Furthermore, they had to do all of this at the very same time they were grieving the loss of Jesus, their teacher, their guide, their brother, their son, their everything. So it is no wonder they locked themselves away out of fear of persecution. It is no wonder they were separating themselves from a society which just crucified Jesus, and it is no wonder they were huddled with one another trying to figure out what the next steps would be and to care for one another amidst their grief and turmoil.
Thus, we can empathize with those disciples of the locked doors, can’t we?! We are struggling in our homes and wondering why we are left to be in this state. We have to worship via computer or phone or tablet or whatever device we have instead of being able to sit in person in our church. We are isolated so as to not be infected and die of an invisible disease, an invisible pandemic, which strikes all ages, and as of yet, has no cure. We are left to represent to a world the hope and faith one must have in times such as these, while also representing that our hope and faith is not dependent upon a building or gathering in person. That we can be intelligent human beings gifted by God to think critically and trust in our scientists and doctors, while also representing a faith that is solely dependent upon God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit. And we are left to grieve without our Risen Savior here to physically comfort us, without our family here to comfort us, without our friends to comfort us; as we journey through this season of fear and despair.
See, we are right there behind those very same locked doors as the disciples of so long ago. But here is the Good News for today and for all time…Jesus came and stood among the disciples despite their locked doors, as not just an aberration or some non-physical being, but stood there so they could touch and feel it was truly Him. And in so doing, Jesus did two things right away for those huddled disciples, and subsequently for us.
First, he spoke a word of peace for them. Peace be with you, or in the Greek it could be translated as to you, or for you, or at you, but regardless, God’s peace be here with you. “Calm your hearts, take a moment, slow down, abandon the world to the world for a moment and just be present with me, Jesus Christ, as I come here to help you to understand.” Jesus came and stood among the disciples and offered them the peace to know that He was resurrected; “see here are my wounds,” as he shows the disciples. Jesus came and stood among the disciples to offer them the peace to see that all he had said would happen indeed came true; to visibly show them so they could believe and trust, and hope, and live in the peace that Christ offers and to know we are forever His.
And Jesus came and stood among the disciples and offered them peace to be their comfort in their time of need. To be the peace they needed to ease their grieving souls, to be the peace they needed to get through this terribly difficult time, and to be the peace that would carry them through the next very important moments in their young journey; a peace we are also offered now as we isolate and must be the living hope for our world.
The other thing Jesus did for the disciples right away, is to breathe the Holy Spirit upon them. We are used to talking about this at Pentecost, but we all too often paint over the importance of the Holy Spirit that Jesus breathed into the disciples at this moment. For in so doing, Jesus grants the disciples the power to forgive sins, while also enlivening them with the very breath of God to go and be the disciples Jesus longs for the world to see. Perhaps you are thinking to yourself, “Why breathe the Holy Spirit and then only share that the disciples can forgive sins? Why not also share all the other wonderful things we know about the Holy Spirit; like life-giving strength, the very breath of God, the ability to speak in tongues, and the list goes on?”
For one simple, yet very important reason: The disciples would never have been able to take the message of Jesus to the world if they could not first forgive the world which crucified Jesus. Those disciples would have remained huddled in that room, behind those locked doors, and would have just kept this wonderful message of a God who loves beyond death, a God who forgives all sins, a God who can breathe life into us whether we see it or not; the disciples could not take that message out without the Holy Spirit and all the great things that come from the breath of God, but they also would not have offered that to the world had they not been commanded to forgive. And in that moment, when Jesus appeared and offered peace and the Holy Spirit, our living hope began!
A Living Hope
As we now huddle in all the places where we are left to be the living hope to this world, it is important to hear this Scripture and how it still speaks to us today. See, we are too in need of Jesus to come and offer us the very same peace the disciples were given. We are in need of knowing that we can be upset, we can be scared, we can be afraid, we can not know what the next step is…and we can bring it all to Jesus, to God, in a moment of peace and surrender ourselves at the foot of the Cross. The living hope, the peace that comes through knowing that no matter what our world throws at us, we are alive in Christ through the resurrected and Risen Savior that is Christ. And that Jesus is real and is with us through the Holy Spirit. Moreover, when all is said and done, we need to be able to forgive our world and to trust in the Holy Spirit to guide us through our next moments. Perhaps though, we also need to be able to offer ourselves some grace too; to offer ourselves the grace to experience and feel, and dare I say doubt, as we feel all the emotions that are human and makes us who we are! Which is why the next part of our Gospel is included in this great message of a living hope; the doubting Thomas narrative, the seeing and believing or not seeing and believing narrative, the Jesus returning once more to ease the disciples narrative. Because, this is us also!
We are inspired by the living hope through the resurrection, we are alive every year anew when we celebrate Easter and sing those great hymns about Jesus Christ being Risen Alleluia! We are awakened to remember that our faith is a living hope in the one great day when Jesus will return and our world will be turned upside down and we will be part of the new earth and the new heaven. We are all of this and more, but we are also very much a “see it to believe it” kind of people. And perhaps more this year than other years, we are feeling the strain of being alone in our world, of being distant from God, of having to be a person of faith and hope in a time of unending news cycles about Covid-19, about death, about isolation and emptiness. We ask God to send us a sign, to give us something tangible, to be with us so we can see and know and hope for that new day.
And in this moment when we need God the most, we must fall back on that living hope which requires us to water it, to gently till the soil, to plant the seed, to nurture with kind words, to grant us grace when we sin and do harm, to live in the wonderful moments when life blooms anew, and to remember the resurrection and hope when all seems lost. And through our Scriptures, we receive our help, we hear something that goes unsaid in the Gospel, but speaks louder than words: Jesus had already appeared to the disciples once, but He came back again just for Thomas, just for you, and just for me! And just as Jesus again offers peace to those disciples who are still huddled, just as Jesus turns to Thomas and offers him the love of a Savior, so too are we offered yet again the living hope…
Wow, these Scriptures today, do you feel them speaking to you? What do they say? What peace do you feel? What does the Holy Spirit breathed into you feel like? How does it feel to know that Jesus came back just for you? How are you going to be the living hope today?!
I love the way our Gospel ends today, with John telling us that Jesus did so much more than this, but that he wrote these specific things down so that “through believing we may have life in Jesus’ name.” Like a gardener planting a wonderful seed in a freshly prepared soil. Having watered it and gently cared for it, given it light and nourishing life, now we may live. So live in the peace of Christ, receive the life of the Holy Spirit breathed into you, and live in that blessed hope of our resurrected Savior, Amen!