Grace and Peace to you from God our father and from our risen Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
The Psalmist writes: “How good and how pleasant it is, when kindred live together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1) But I would be willing to bet good money that whoever wrote this psalm did NOT have to live in a freshmen college dorm, or be the camp counselor to eight teenagers for a whole week. And I would also be willing to bet they had never been part of a church, either, with all our diverse opinions, personality clashes, and our inclination to leave or split off into smaller and smaller groups when something doesn’t quite agree with us.
The reading from Acts we just heard makes Christian community look easy, though. Gosh, doesn’t that paint a nice picture for us? “Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul… and great grace was upon them all.” As nice as that all sounds, it seems to us like this might indeed be too good to be true. If it did happen, this type of sharing and loving community was only in existence for about… 30 seconds tops. And what we don’t read is the “the rest of the story.” In the verses just after this description of spirit-filled community is the account of a husband and wife team who sold their ample possessions, held back a portion from the community, and then lied about it. So much for being “of one heart and one soul.” It didn't take us very long after Easter to mess things up.
It’s the Sunday after Easter, and what about the world has changed? Anything? Yes, Jesus has been raised from the dead – and hallelujah for that! – But what, exactly has that gotten us? There is still death and suffering and illness and pain and war and divisions and fighting in the world. It’s after Easter, but some days the world feels more like it is still Good Friday.
After the FIRST Easter, on the very evening that Jesus had been raised from the dead and appeared to Mary, the disciples actually WERE of one heart and one soul. But not the heart and soul we are supposed to emulate, a heart of love and a soul of generosity. They were united in fear, and of one soul in the desire to hide. So they locked the door.
Yes, Peter and John had seen the empty tomb for themselves. Yes, Mary had actually talked to and touched Jesus. But then they had rushed home and locked the door. They were still afraid.
It was after Easter – but the disciples were still stuck in Good Friday. Good Friday: the day they ran away. Good Friday, they day they let Jesus down, denied him, and abandoned him.
Perhaps a better game plan for Jesus would have been to go and find some new disciples, for heaven sakes! But he didn’t. The evening after he was raised, he showed up in the very locked room that they had hidden themselves away in. Their fear had locked them IN, but it could not keep Jesus OUT.
And perhaps Jesus had a few choice words he could have shared in that moment. He could have also rebuked them for letting him down YET AGAIN by continuing to hide, EVEN AFTER confronted with the empty tomb and Mary Magdalene’s testimony.
But he didn’t. Instead he said this: “Peace be with you.” And again “Peace be with you! As my father has sent me, so I send you.”
Jesus knows better than anyone that when humans get together to form community on our own, we have the tendency to do terrible things. We tend to allow some people IN and keep others OUT. We tend to see our differences rather than our similarities. We tend to be closed in on ourselves in order to hide, or reach out with a heavy hand to oppress others. Left to our own devices, we tend to get stuck in the Good Friday world that is out there. And Jesus bears the proof of that in the marks on his very own body.
Because he knows this already, Jesus breathes his spirit into his disciples. Thus, he makes them a community IN HIS NAME. And he gives them a mission that is the same as his father’s mission: to share the peace that Jesus gives us with others. To be Easter people in a Good Friday world.
One of my favorite Easter songs I learned from my church as a kid went something like this:
Ev'ry morning is Easter morning from now on!
Ev'ry day's resurrection day, the past is over and gone!
Good-bye guilt, good-bye fear, good riddance! Hello, Lord, Hello, sun!
I am one of the Easter People! My new life has begun!
There will still be plenty of guilt and fear, but we can say goodbye to the power they have in our lives, precisely because we are Easter people. Me, you, Peter, Mary, and Thomas, all the deniers and deserters, all the saints and believers who have gone before us, are all part of the Easter People, thanks to Jesus.
One such Easter Person who faced a very dark Good Friday world was Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He was a German Lutheran pastor, teacher, and theologian who lived in Nazi Germany and opposed Hitler and all he stood for. In his preaching and his writing, he was part a movement in Germany, which became one of the foremost Christian groups to protest the rise of the Nazis government. Even against his own peaceful beliefs, Bonhoeffer was involved in a plot to assassinate Hitler, which obviously failed and caused Bonhoeffer to be arrested and imprisoned. He was executed 70 years ago on April 9th, 1945, just weeks before the Nazis surrendered.
Before his death, Bonhoeffer wrote: “Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. At the end all his disciples deserted him. On the Cross, he was utterly alone, surrounded by evildoers and mockers. For this cause he had come, to bring peace to the enemies of God. So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes.” (Life Together, p. 1)
Bonhoeffer knew as well as anyone that in the thick of foes of all kinds is where God calls us to be. We don’t belong in these locked rooms of our own making, like the disciples didn’t belong in their locked room on that Easter evening, and were in YET AGAIN a week later. That’s right, a week after Jesus showed himself the first time, they are still in the house with the doors shut. And YET AGAIN, Jesus shows up despite the closed door to say YET AGAIN “Peace be with you!”
And Jesus will not stop barging into our locked rooms to tell us, his Easter people, “Peace be with you.”
Even if you keep locking yourself away, Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”
Even when living with one another is hard, and living in a Good Friday world is even harder, Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”
Even on the days that we, like Thomas, demand that Jesus shows up before we agree to be part of his Easter people, Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”
As God the Father has sent Jesus the Son, so Jesus send US out from our own locked rooms into the world. But we don’t go into the “thick of foes” unaided. We get the peace and presence of Jesus himself.
Thomas didn’t have to actually put his fingers in the wounds to believe. Thomas was the FIRST to name Jesus as both Lord and God, but he certainly was not the last. We can be pretty sure that, in the end, the disciple did not remain in that locked room. Just like Jesus burst into that locked room, they burst into the Good Friday world as an Easter people with an Easter mission, to spread the message of peace and hope. We, right here, right now, in this very place, as just one small cell-group of the Easter people, are called to do no less than the same.
Easter isn’t over. It has just begun. Because of Jesus, “every morning is Easter morning, FROM… NOW… ON!” Amen.