John 20: 19-31 Rev. Dr. Galen E. Russell III
1 John 1: 1-2:2 April 8, 2018
“… but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another...”
Prayer: Holy One, please help us keep the Easter spirit alive in us as we give thanks for your incredible gift. Amen.
We are Easter people! What do we say in response to the words “Christ is risen?” Response: “Christ is risen indeed!” These words give a joyful voice to the central claim of our Christian faith—Christ is risen! We are Easter people! Amen? Amen!
It didn’t start that way, though. Imagine you were one of the disciples on that first evening of Easter Sunday, cowering in fear, hiding out in a secret room with the curtains drawn. You’ve been under cover since Friday evening. You’re terrified that those in power who killed Jesus might be looking you. Pretty scary, nerve wracking. Imagine that, along with the grief you still feel because you remember the horrible events since last Thursday night—how Jesus was arrested, tried,, him getting whipped and beaten, his bloody crucifixion and all. But, you’ve heard the incredible stories from the women who say they saw him alive! All this is too much. It’s overwhelming! You don’t know what to make of it. You don’t know what to feel, do, or say.
You all watch as Peter quietly goes to the window, pulls apart the curtains just slightly to peek out to see if any guards outside had followed them. When he turns around, [he shrieks!] Jesus is standing there! You shriek! Would you be shocked like that? Would you be amazed? Would you be afraid? I think I would be… all of the above. No wonder the first thing Jesus says is “Peace be with you.”
Then, he shows you his wrecked and wounded body. And you rejoice along with everyone else in the room that Jesus IS alive. Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Rejoicing comes.
The Latin word for “risen” is resurrexit” which obviously is where we get our word “resurrection.” I found it interesting though that another Latin word, “risus” has a striking resemblance to our word “risen.” “Risus” translates to English to mean “laughter.” And of course, rejoicing is associated with laughter, so is mirth and merriment, and jovial feelings, and being light-hearted! No wonder that the disciples’ fear turns to joy as Jesus says “Peace be with you.” They became light-hearted. And no wonder that one week later, Thomas’ fear and doubt turn to belief and joy as Jesus appears and gives him his peace as well.
So, here we are, one week after Easter. We’re not cowering in fear anymore, thank God. It’s not a scary, nerve-wracking time to be a Christian, (at least not in our part of the world very much. We should keep in prayer those who are persecuted for being Christian in other parts of the world). We are among those who are blessed because we have not seen Jesus and yet have come to believe. And, we are among those who are light-hearted, sharing jovially the peace of the risen Christ. So, let us share this peace with one another. May the peace of the risen Christ be with you. And also with you. Let us joyfully share the peace of the risen Christ with one another. [take time to share Christ’s peace.]
Most scholars agree that the first letter of John was written by the same author as the gospel of John. The beginning of the first letter of John has all kinds of poetic similarities as the first chapter of John’s gospel. The purpose of John’s letter and his gospel, is for the reader and listeners to hear God’s message about the word of life—Jesus Christ—so that in understanding that message, the reader and listeners would come to believe, too, and would join in the growing fellowship, this community of believers, people who believe in God and in God’s Son Jesus Christ.
So, it’s the author who believes in the message, it’s us the readers and listeners who have come to believe in the message, and it’s God and the risen Jesus Christ—all of us together and more make up this fellowship, this community of faith.
And the message is this—God is light. In God there is no darkness at all. When we walk in God’s light, we are part of the great fellowship, this great growing community of faith.
To walk in God’s light is really to live our lives highly influenced and transformed by God’s power of love, by God’s light, by what God values. It’s living with our hearts, our inner lives shining with God’s
So, often we seek out the right fit in so many areas of our lives, which political persuasion fits us, which group of friends best fit our personality, which type of social event fits our style. We are who we are; we find what works best for us with little or no change required. And, a lot of the time, it’s important and proper that we do this.
And, it’s true that we do this with our faith journeys, too. We try to discern which brand of Christianity suits us best. Conservative, moderate, liberal, progressive. We try to find out which church corresponds to where we are on the journey. That’s why many people do “church-shopping.” We even try to figure out which resurrection story we think is credible, which one we can believe in… with little or no change in our belief systems required. We’re kind of like that sometimes… our human nature, our culture and other factors make us this way… because we choose the path of least resistance, the least amount of change, the least amount of work.
But, what if, when it comes to walking in the light of God, when it comes to God’s power in the Easter message, perhaps instead of us seeing when the gospel fits who we are, maybe who we are should be fitted by the gospel? Maybe our hearts filled with God’s light means God’s transformative power changes us? Maybe we’re called to work at that change?
Jesus once said, “I am the light of the world.” Jesus also said, “You are the light of the world.” If Jesus is the light of the world, and we are the light of the world, and the risen Christ is in this life with us… and to be light-hearted, filled with God’s light, might that mean we get changed, and have to work at changing to live as children of God…? You see others as sons and daughters of God? We get transformed within, we do...we will.
When Jesus said, “Receive the Holy Spirit,” it really means that the Spirit of the Son of God enters into our hearts. It means your heart gets filled with the light of God, and it can transform us. It means God can help us see each other through a different lens, not just as individuals, but as a children of the living God, part of a fellowship of Christ. We have fellowship with one another. Would you please turn to your neighbors around you and say “Receive the Holy Spirit.” [Receive the Holy Spirit.]
We can see sons and daughters of God in the person next to you and in front of you and behind you. We see sons and daughters of God in the stranger. In the hungry and thirsty. We see sons and daughters of God in the undocumented, in the immigrant, in the forgotten, in the person of other religions, in the person with no religion. In the person of different sexual orientations. Being light-hearted means we walk in the light and we might see the risen Jesus in people all around us; we have fellowship with one another.
I read of a young advertising executive who came every Tuesday night to a church’s homeless shelter because they had a foot clinic with a volunteer podiatrist on those evenings. This executive would wash the feet of the homeless guests, followed by a foot massage with Vick’s Vapor Rub, and then a gift of a pair of clean white socks. One evening the young executive was asked, “Why do you come every week?” She said, “I figure I have a really good chance of running into Jesus here” (Adams, Joanna, “Ahead of Us,” Journal for Preachers, vol. XLI, No. 3, Easter 2018, p. 17).
When we walk in God’s light, our hearts are filled with light. We are light-hearted, we have fellowship with one another.
We can imagine God’s pleasure, maybe even laughter, when we share in and live in Easter’s power and joy as light-hearted people. Amen.