1 Peter 1:3-9
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he 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, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 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 and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
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.”
Happy Easter! Now I know that many of us have been formed by the calendars of our American Culture, and well the worldwide secular culture which says that Easter is only one Sunday a year, but the church calendar felt that Easter was important enough, and I think rightfully so, to give it an entire season. From now until the end of May we will be celebrating Easter. And during this season of Easter we will be discussing what Christ’s Resurrection meant and means today for the Christian Believer. Some of the realities of post resurrection were radical new teachings and experiences for the early church. And still today, when the resurrection is taken seriously, there are radical implications for our lives yet. Over the course of this month we will be looking at the results of Christ’s Resurrection and what does that mean for us, what exactly does that change in the story of God’s people and in our lives personally.
Today, we will be focusing on two different aspects that Christ’s Resurrection changed. Specifically, we are going to be looking at the Gospel Text for the first implication, and then we will be looking at Peter’s letter next. It may be helpful for us to realize that the Gospels and the letters of the New Testament, all of them were written with this very thought in mind, what does this mean for us that Christ was resurrected. Christ died around 30 AD, but the first letter was not written until 50 AD by Paul. And it still was not for another 20 years after that did our first Gospel was written (the Gospel of Mark). And finally it was not even until around the early 90s that the Gospel of John, from which we are reading today was written, more than a half of a century after Christ had been resurrected do we hear of the story from John. I put all of this out there to simply say, as we read the New Testament, the Gospels, the letters of Paul, and the other letters from St. Peter, Jude, and others, we are reading the thoughts of the early church in how they are trying to understand who they are in light of Christ’s resurrection. Something that we are still trying to do today. Who are we now and who are we to be as God’s people in lieu of Christ’s resurrection.
Let’s start with the Gospel of John and come to understand what Jesus teaches us about what it means to be a people post resurrection. The narrative that we heard today from our Gospel text is the very same evening of that first Easter when Mary had gone to the tomb. None of the disciples in the narrative from John has seen their risen Lord. They have the witness of two Mary’s that they have seen the Lord in the garden. In those days though, the word of a woman would not hold up in the courts, and so it was a true possibility that the disciples had not fully believed the Mary’s of the events that had taken place. This is sort of shown in the fact that when we come to this passage, the disciples are hiding in a room away from the crowds as it says they were afraid of the Jews seeking out any of Jesus’ followers. And here it begins, with the disciples hidden away for fear do we come to learn about who we are as a people in lieu of Resurrection. The words that first come out of the mouth of their Risen Lord are the words that still enliven the church today, “Peace be with you”. In the midst of all the havoc of the world, Christ gives us his Peace. Peace that passes understanding, peace that means all is ok, a peace that our inheritance is not from this earth, but rather is imperishable and protected by God in heaven as Peter wrote. The second time Jesus says this after the rejoicing of the disciples, Jesus adds a tag line onto the end of this. He says, “Peace be with you as the Father has sent me, so I send you.” As a people of the resurrection we are a sent people. God in Jesus commissions the disciples to be ambassadors of this very Peace that he has given to his disciples. As I reflect on this, I remember a question that was asked in our Bible study when we began to understand what our baptisms means. The question was, “So you mean that in our baptism, we have, myself, was given a ministry to carry out for God?” And this is absolutely what our baptisms and being confirmed into the church has meant. We as a resurrected people are SENT into the world as God has sent his son Jesus. Think about this for a minute. Jesus was sent into the world for what reason, to share the Gospel of God’s mighty power and redeeming Love. And think about over the last 7 weeks how we understood God in Jesus to have been received by the people of the world? Jesus was welcomed and celebrated by the poor and the sick, and the lowly, but suffered greatly by those in power and who were of the cultural norm. And yet, Christ is now saying to his disciples, post resurrection, Peace be with you, AND as I was sent into the world now I am going to send you into the world. This is a radical movement that Jesus has made in the sending of his disciples, and still today we are SENT as Christ’s disciples now in the 21st century.
Finally, what I want us to focus on in this passage is this last part. In the giving of the Holy Spirit, Christ, Our God and Lord, gives over authority to his followers the power to forgive. This is by far the most radical change that we have read thus far in this passage. We may want to remember the passage from Luke 5 that talks about the authority of forgiving in that time that says, “One day, while he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting near by (they had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem); and the power of the Lord was with him to heal. Just then some men came, carrying a paralyzed man on a bed. They were trying to bring him in and lay him before Jesus; but finding no way to bring him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the middle of the crowd in front of Jesus. When he saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven you.” Then the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, “Who is this who is speaking blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”” And yet Christ gives this power to forgive to those who follow him, to those who have received the Holy Spirit. Thus it is such a radical move for us to have communion when we understand that our SINS are forgiven in our confession and repentance and we remember the promises the new covenant made with us in Holy Communion. Whoever says the church is now big deal, we may need to be reminded that it is the Church, the people of God, who was given this great responsibility of proclaiming peace, non-judgmentally accepting of others, and being a people that proclaims forgiveness and Grace as God has forgiven us.
This brings us to our second major point in the message today as we look at Peter’s Letter. Peter was writing to those Jews and Christians who had been dispersed throughout the Roman Empire after 70 AD. And it is in the section that we read today that speaks to the new life that given to us in the resurrection. This new birth of a new people. A people who at that time was living among the Romans who ruled with force, Romans who caused the dispersion and brought down the physical Temple. Romans who sought any rebels to destroy them. And yet, here we have Peter writing to those who had been dispersed saying that By God’s great mercy, he gave us a new birth into a LIVING HOPE because of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. AND by our faith into an inheritance of salvation that God is protecting, that is everlasting. A HOPE that transforms and changes, a HOPE that separates us from the people of the world, and a SALVATION that allows us to live freely and without fear of suffering. Not without suffering, but without fear of it. And I would like to close today with these words from Peter.
“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 and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”