Sermon: Free to Risk

Scripture: John 20: 1-23

Preached: Expanded Worship online April 12, 2020


            Close your eyes for a moment. Take a deep breath. Let it out slowly. Travel in your mind and spirit to that locked room in Jerusalem. The atmosphere is tense. It has been a long day, after a devastating week. Women who had gone to Jesus’ tomb returned with an incredible story about the tomb being empty and angels telling them Jesus is alive. Peter and another disciple had found the empty tomb, but no angels. Rumors were flying around town. Guards, claiming to have been drugged, alleged that the disciples must have taken Jesus’ body. It is a dangerous moment. No wonder they lock the door.

            Are they suspicious of one another? Probably. Could one of them have stolen the body – with the best of intentions of course? Surely not. Where is Thomas anyway? The authorities are already furious. They might call for the arrest of all the disciples, and anyone caught near them! Do you feel the risk? The tension?

            Of course, a misguided abduction of the body doesn’t explain the angels the women claimed to see. But you know how hysterical women can get. They see and hear what they want to be the truth. But it doesn’t explain Mary Magdalene’s assertion that she actually saw Jesus, that he spoke to her. Well, remember Mary Mag used to have demons. Maybe the horror of the crucifixion has deranged her mind. Who knows what to think or believe?

            Come back in our own time when the reality of the resurrection has been affirmed for generations. The fears of the disciples might seem absurd. Didn’t Jesus tell them, warn them, this would happen? We might really struggle to understand their fears if we were not in the midst of similar fears and tensions ourselves.

            Many of us are limited in our movements these days. Conspiracy theories and suspicions are everywhere. Who do we believe, or trust to be telling the truth? It isn’t always clear. For many of us, our world – personal and global – has been turned upside down in short order. Jobs have been lost and who knows when or if they will return. What if we have a health emergency – virus or other? Will there be medical help for us? So much uncertainty. We have our fears; many of them reasonable and understandable, along with some which may be far-fetched. We desperately want to know when this will end; how it will end; what comes next. In the meantime, lock the door! Let us protect ourselves!

            Into these locked rooms – the one in Jerusalem, the ones around the world, the ones in Pennsylvania, Maryland, the ones of our homes or of our hearts – into all these, walks Jesus the risen Christ. Under these circumstances, the risen Christ does not stand outside the door, knock, and wait for us to open – however often Jesus may do this at other times. No, in these fear-filled moments, Christ knows how fear can paralyze us from being able to act. Christ comes right on in, through the locked door, past our fears, into our lives and hearts.

            The risen Christ is not a ghost, nor a delusion of a mind desperately seeking hope. Jesus shows the disciples, and us, his torn hands and feet, his pierced side. This is the real deal. This Christ has been in the trenches with injured, despised, and even crucified humanity. Christ comes to announce that the disciples can trust the testimony of the women, the reality of the resurrection. Christ, Jesus of Nazareth, is the Messiah who has triumphed over death!

            It may seem ironic to think about Christ unlocking the doors of our hearts while we are in this time of social distancing. However, we need to hear this good news. Along with the disciples, we need to know that physical distance does not have to mean spiritual or emotional separation, or even a denial of the holiness of the body. We need to know that Christ’s crossing of boundaries, including the boundary of death, is not like a deadly virus. Taking foolish risks with a deadly virus is not the same thing as taking the life-giving risks which Christ encourages us to take in living the new life we are given through the resurrection.

            Acknowledging and serving the risen Christ can still be risky. There will be scars. There may even be gaping wounds at times, when we care for others as Christ cares for us, or even when we fail, when we sin rather than serve Christ. Christ shares all these wounds with us and will heal us. This description of this new life may not sound too inviting at first glance. However, there is more. In Christ there is always more.

            In Christ we receive life. We are offered abundant life – not material riches or immunity from all diseases. We are offered life abundant in hope, love, and compassionate relationship with God and one another. We are offered life which sees beyond the trouble of today into the opportunities of tomorrow. We are offered life which values integrity, justice and empathy over the shiny toys which the world, in its ignorance, thinks of as security. The new life inaugurated by our crucified and risen Savior emphasizes concern for the other above our own desires.

            Jesus Christ, our risen Savior, stands before us. See his hands, his feet, his side. Christ is holy. Christ is wounded. Christ is alive, triumphant over even death itself. If we are not at least a little shaken by this news, we have not fully grasped its wonder and power. Christ unlocks the doors of our hearts so that he can enter and direct our lives in love and justice. How precious is that gift! How wondrous the privilege of sharing this good news with all creation! What joy we are given through this grace!

With those early disciples, let us inhale the breath of Christ: the life-fulfilling, life-empowering breath of Christ. Inhale deeply to receive the breath of Christ, allowing it to fill your body, mind and soul. Filled with the breath of Christ, with the Holy Spirit of almighty God, forgive. In forgiving may you experience the healing forgiveness of God which the risen Christ breathes upon the world, upon you. The breath of Christ leaves nothing the same – no fear, no pain, no deception, no hatred, no separation one from another. All are transformed for God’s loving purpose. Take the risk!

Christ is risen! Alleluia!

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