Rev. Dr. Scott Herr
Please Read: John 20:19-31; I Peter 1:3-9
This is perhaps my favorite Sunday of the year, the Second Sunday of Easter. I love all of the pomp and ceremony of Easter. But I cherish a return to the regular routine, for it is in “ordinary time” where most discipleship is learned and lived. Considered one of the “low Sundays” of the year, today will be an especially low Sunday if compared with the Friday wedding of the now Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
Did you watch the royal wedding? I did, along with about 3 billion other people. It brought to mind the story Peter Gomes, late pastor of Harvard Memorial Chapel, tells of his encounter with her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother after worshipping together at Great Windsor Park parish church in the summer of 2001:
To my great delight, immediately following the service I was invited…for drinks at Royal Lodge, the Windsor residence of the Queen Mother. Then in her one hundred and second year, she was holding court in the form of a splendid pre-luncheon party in a setting worthy of a Merchant and Ivory film, and eventually I was summoned into the royal presence, where Her Majesty maintained a lively conversation. Among other observations, the Queen Mother remarked on how excellent the sermon had been. “Don’t you agree?” she asked me, which is a difficult question for an honest clergyman to answer, so I did what anyone would do under the circumstances: I agreed. Then, with that world-class twinkle in her eye, the Queen Mother remarked, “I do like a bit of good news on Sunday, don’t you?”
Indeed, in a world full of bad news, whether it be wars or terrorist bombings or nuclear radiation or tornadoes, we all need to hear a bit of good news to help us through life and make sense of it all… But it begs the question: what is the good news really, for us?
We begin a sermon series today that will attempt to answer that question. Over the coming weeks we will study the letter of I Peter, traditionally sent by the apostle Peter through his colleague Silvanus to the churches in Asia minor, just before his execution in Rome around the year 64. Even if you haven’t actually visited Rome, you have very likely seen St. Peter’s square. On that square is an obelisk that legend has it was the last thing that Peter saw before his execution in the Roman circus. It now has a cross on top of it in honor of him.
Peter knew, like many of us here today, that life can change rapidly from one moment to the next. We can go rather quickly from health to illness, from riches to poverty, from trust to betrayal, and from security and order to violence and chaos. Peter knew this well. He was the one who had proclaimed his faith boldly, only to deny his Lord three times. He was the one who saw his sovereign Lord go from the triumphal entry with loud hosannas, to face the crowds shouting crucify, crucify! Peter was the one who raced to the tomb that early Easter morning, only to find it empty, returning home quietly…
Perhaps all of the disciples had their doubts, but it was Thomas who openly expressed them. I like the fact that Thomas is not shy about voicing his questions and concerns about the Resurrection story. He indeed speaks for many who have not seen, and who will not believe until the Lord reveals himself in some tangible way. I also like to remind people that these are some of my favorite people, because once transformed by the Living God, there is no stopping them. Thomas went farther as a missionary than any of the other disciples, founding the Mar Thoma Church of India, one of the oldest Christian traditions in the world.
Peter describes what changed those first disciples, what they experienced together, what Peter calls a living hope, a hope which carried him through difficult and painful times and even sustained him as he faced death. You’ll remember he requested to be crucified upside down, because he did not consider himself worthy to die in the same manner as his Lord…
The good news, according to Peter, and still for us today, is that God “has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you…”
Peter was transformed from a cowardly betrayer to a catalyzing purveyor of the faith, from a coarse follower to an eloquent leader, from a self-protecting taker to a self-sacrificing giver. All because of the new birth that he experienced that convinced him death was not the final word. There was not just an abstract something, but a loving someone beyond the grave, and an eternal kingdom worth pursuing in the present, a future reality worth living into here and now.
Watching the royal wedding, I was struck by the traditional vows made… “I will,” is what both William and Catherine promised. “I will.” It’s a lesser version of the living hope that we have in Christ: for he has promised us that he will not abandon or forsake us; he will not leave us orphaned, but he will be with us always. Not even death itself can separate us from his love! Like the Princess, a mere commoner chosen to be royalty by Prince Edward, the King of the Universe has chosen us to be part of his family. He calls us not slaves, but friends. God calls us children, heirs. We have an eternal inheritance, and no one, nothing in this world, can destroy it…
Peter affirms, “Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable joy, for we are receiving the outcome of our faith, the salvation of our souls.” Notice that salvation is a present-future reality. It is a deep transformation from the inside out, a change that takes place at the depths of our being and affects every area of our lives. The Greek word here for soul is psuche, from which we get our words psychology and psychiatry.
There is something we all want, need and have never had, so God calls us not to an old but a new life. It comes through simple faith and repentance, giving our lives to Christ over and over again. To those who argued that his revivals didn’t work because many of the people who came forward did so multiple times, Billy Graham responded, “Just because one bath works is no reason not to take another.”
Faith produces a new freedom that we experience here and now, a living hope that gives us strength to endure whatever we may face in this world. It’s a paradox, but the good news transforms us so that we are not too heavenly minded to be any earthly good. Rather, we are so securely heavenly good that we can be more seriously earthly-minded. We can soulfully give our lives to make a difference in this world without fear that this is all there is.
Practically speaking, that means living in the freedom from a need to dominate or condemn, from the idolatry and worship of worldly power and control. It means freedom for living a life of humble obedience to Christ, and to care for the same people for whom Christ cared: the poor, the outcast and the lonely. It means freedom for living a life of quiet trust that translates into words and actions of integrity, truth and justice, forgiveness and love, grace and mercy for all.
Part of the good news is that Christ will be revealed in the future in full power and glory. But part of the good news is that he will be revealed in and through us here and now. As we are broken and poured out for others, Christ’s glory is revealed anew each day. The good news is that even through us, Christ becomes “a living hope” for the whole world!
As we come to this table, I pray that you will remember the living hope that is yours in the risen Christ. Take the opportunity this Sunday to receive in this bread and cup “a bit of good news” that Christ has died; Christ is risen, and Christ will come again for you.
Then be the good news and “live to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is fully revealed.”
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.