“So I Send You” – John 20:19-23
Easter Sunday, April 4, 2021
Our New Testament text for today is not always heard on Easter morning.
This section of the Gospel of John is from the evening of the first day, the first Easter.
The disciples were not yet raising their Alleluias! They were still hiding out in the upper room.
They were still afraid, uncertain, anxious, grieving.,.
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house
where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said,
‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side.
Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again,
‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’
When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.
If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
I love the springtime.
I love looking across the backyard and enjoying the wonder of the azaleas,
with their bright white and deep pink blossoms.
I love pulling up in the driveway and noticing the dogwood trees happily blooming overhead.
There is something hopeful about the rebirth all around us in the springtime.
The grass that had been brown is now bright green.
The bushes that had looked so forlorn all winter long are now alive with color.
The trees which had been so barren now have new life springing from their hard, encased branches.
The flowers of spring are a sign of hope in the world.
They remind us that the death and dormancy of winter do not have the last word.
They remind us of the reliability and the resilience of God’s good creation.
It truly seems in the springtime – with the magnificent wonder of growth and color,
with the awesome power of the wind and wave,
with the vast, incredible diversity of animal life and plant life –
as if the purpose of it all was to bring glory to God,
and if our purpose as human beings just might be after all to enjoy God,
to revel in God’s good creation, and to bring glory to God in our own lives as well.
Have you ever paused in wonder at the color of a bluebird?
Have you ever stood transfixed by the intricate patterns from the feathers of a wood duck?
Have you ever appreciated the unique spots of color on a dog or the stripes on a household cat,
making each one unique and special?
Have you ever dug your fingers deep into the rich earth and appreciated there
the wriggling of the worm who has been there before you,
who has loosened the soil for the roots of your plant to grow?
Have you ever watched young animals in the springtime, frolicking playfully in a field,
simply enjoying how good it is to be alive?
In the book of Genesis, God breathed life into the human being and said,
look at this marvelous Garden of Eden – live here, love here,
enjoy the clean water and food in abundance, wonder at the beauty of it all,
nurture the possibilities of this garden, protect the goodness of life.
What a glorious gift each day on this earth can be!
What a marvelous thing it is to be alive!
And yet, it was not long before fears and jealousies arose.
It was not long before the man and the woman were blaming each other and hiding from God.
It was not long before one brother rose up and killed his own brother,
forever staining the good creation with the blood of violence.
The human experiment was meant to be something different.
The human experiment was a new form of life –
a form of life more creative and complicated than mere survival of the fittest,
a form of life a little lower than the angels.
This human experiment involved imagination, and creativity, and co-creation with God.
This human experiment involved interactive relationship and mutual care and self-giving compassion.
The sin that began to weigh so heavily among us, the shocking violence,
the unnecessary divisions, the wars that rage both within the human soul and between nations,
were deemed unnatural – impostors into God’s beautiful blue and green globe called Earth.
In order to call us back to how life was meant to be,
God gifted a particular people with a law and a covenant,
and then sent prophets and priests and kings to remind them of their purpose,
to encourage them to live in a still, more excellent way – the way of truth and of justice,
the way of peace between differing tribes, the way of shalom, wholeness, wellness, peace,
the way of love and compassion for all.
Oh, but we were stubborn.
As the prophet Isaiah proclaimed,
“God held out God’s hands all day long to a rebellious and contrite people.”
We did not get the message, not fully.
We did not grasp that the wonder of worship and the freedom under God’s law
was meant for all people, for all nations.
We did not understand that this human experiment included care of the weak,
and providing for the widow, and ensuring the well-being of the orphan.
We kept trying to limit God’s favor. We kept hoarding God’s goodwill among our own people.
We kept acting like desperate animals, instead of living a little lower than the angels.
We kept killing one another, and we continue to kill one another, day by day, month by month.
When brave and courageous prophets, wise ones among us, spoke up and said:
“this should not be”, we rose up and had them killed.
Then, in the fullness of time, at the turning point of the ages,
Jesus of Nazareth was born among us. A prophet who would become high priest and heavenly king
emerged from a small nation at the crossroads of the continents.
He showed us how to live in right relationship with God and neighbor.
He revealed to us the truth of God’s Word.
He healed the sick and welcomed the sinner and gave sight to the blind.
He broke down barriers between peoples and embodied a renewed vision of human life
as it is meant to be. He embodied God’s holy purposes for human life.
And he gathered a community of followers, preparing them to share his message with the whole world.
But on that Friday afternoon that only faith can call Good,
the disciples saw his body hanging on a wooden cross.
They saw holes in his hands and holes in his feet.
They saw his side where the spear had pierced his lung.
They heard about Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimethea burying him in a stone grave.
The three year movement of which they had been part had come to a sudden and harsh
and violent dead end.
Jesus was crucified, dead, buried.
After the Sabbath, Mary Magdalene and others went to the tomb early in the morning.
They found the tomb empty and ran to tell the others.
A few of them came running to see for themselves.
But most of them did not believe. They did not understand. They were sore afraid.
They were hiding out in an upper room that first Easter evening,
perhaps the same room where a few nights before Jesus had broken the bread
and shared the cup and said to them “this my body, broken for you. This, my blood, shed for you.”
In that upper room, behind locked doors, they waited,
afraid that the soldiers of the high priest might arrive any minute,
afraid that soldiers might carry them off to a mockery of a trial and a certain, painful death.
They were dejected, downhearted, wondering which one of them might be the next to be nailed to a cross.
They were desperate men and women whose situation seemed impossible, untenable.
Suddenly, instead of a loud, violent knocking on the door, there was Jesus among them.
He spoke to them with a common greeting: “Shalom. Peace be with you.”
Then he breathed on them and said receive Holy Spirit.
“As the father has sent me, so I send you…”
This movement of which you are a part has not ended, it is only just beginning.
You are to carry on what I have taught you.
You are to share all that you have learned in me.
You are to witness to the wonder and joy of being a beloved and forgiven child of God.
“Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”
“In the world, you will face (trouble and) persecution,” Jesus told them,
“but take courage; I have conquered the world.” (John 16:33)
I have not come to take you out of the world;
I have come so that the world – through you – may come to know peace.
I have come that the world – through you – may live in peace and wonder and joy.
As the Father has sent me, so I send you.
You have good work to do, the work of spreading the message of self-giving love and reconciliation,
the work of forgiveness and hopefulness, the work of wonder and of worship.
By the grace of God, you are enabled to embody the holy purposes of God.
By the grace of God made known in Jesus of Nazareth, you are enable to embody human life
as it meant to be.
Friends, I love the springtime.
Somehow, with the rebirth of spring, I am reminded that I too, as part of God’s good creation,
can be reborn as well. I too may know and experience and share new life, abundant life, eternal life.
Friends, he is risen! He is risen indeed!
So let there be peace and wonder and joy on earth, and let it begin with you and with me.
Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with Christ’s body, the Church. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church