Year A Easter 2: Thus and so

“But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.”

So says Peter to the masses of the Jewish people gathered in Jerusalem in the aftermath of the Passover, and of the crucifixion that accompanied that particular Passover.

Peter quotes the Psalm of David to back up his claims for the resurrection of Jesus from his people’s own scriptural traditions: Listen, he says, this is not a new idea! God was promising this to us all along.

In the Psalm, David is giving thanks to the God who saves him, in the here and now, from his very real and present enemies. In an Israel battling to make its presence secure in a troubled and tribally divided region, David rests in the promises of God made to Abraham, to Samuel, made to David through his anointing as king, never to desert him, never to abandon him, even to the grave.

“You will show me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy, and in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.”

It is the Easter promise, the promise of resurrection, renewal, of rescue from the grave, from death, from all that would oppose God in our lives.

Peter uses the Psalm to say, Look, David did die, and his body was laid to rest in the usual manner; so when he wrote this psalm he was prophesying about Jesus, whose body would not stay at rest, whom God raised up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.

Peter is right, of course, but he is also right, when he says, in the letter that we call First Peter, that God has given us also “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.”

Actually, the letter might have been written even after Peter’s death, by one who knew him well enough acceptably to write in his name [1]; these things were considered quite acceptable then [2]. If so, then it is even more poignant that he continues to claim the promise for himself and those whom he addresses of imperishability, unfading inheritance, even from beyond the grave.

David, Jesus, Peter, we are all heirs to the promise articulated in the Psalm, whether our bodies live or die, whether they are subject to decay in this life or in the grave, still the promise is that God will not abandon us to destruction, will not abandon us in life or in death. We have been freed from death, from all that opposes the life of God, our life with God, through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

Peter is right to preach to his people from their own scriptural traditions, that the promise of God has always been one of steadfast faithfulness, enduring loving kindness; God has never been inclined to abandon the people of God to the forces of sin and death.

William Barclay, twentieth-century commentator, puts it this way:

Acts safeguards us from two serious errors in our thinking about the death of Jesus (a) The Cross is not a kind of emergency measure flung out by God when everything else had failed. It is part of God’s very life. (b) We must never think that anything Jesus did changed the attitude of God to men. It was by God that Jesus was sent. We may put it this way – the Cross was a window in time allowing us to see the suffering love which is eternally in the heart of God.[3]

Throughout the book of Acts, the apostles rehearse their faith story, from the beginnings of God’s call on the people of God, to demonstrate how it makes perfect sense for God to come to us in this way, in the person of Jesus, even to suffer and die for us, because it is absolutely consistent with the character of a God who has always loved us. What else would God do?

And so the letter writer is able to address his correspondents gently, acknowledging that their sufferings continue in the present time, persecutions and pains, and reassuring them that by no means does this mean that God has abandoned them, nor could ever abandon them, to the forces that oppose life, goodness, God. Instead, the Cross opens that window in time that allows us to see that God continues to bear with us, to suffer with us, to beckon us with love to rest in the heart of the Divine.

Thus it is that Jesus comes back to Thomas. He has missed the first miraculous moment when, thinking they had sealed everyone out, Jesus came among the disciples and broke their hearts open all over again. Thomas remains closed, locked, until Jesus comes back especially for him.

Thomas had insisted that he must touch the wounds, renew the pain, see Jesus flinch in order to believe that he was truly keeping his promises, bearing with them, suffering with them, even now, when they were in disarray and bewildered and afraid. Thomas had wanted to make God squirm, to see God suffer.

But when Jesus returned, he offered it all, all of the pain, all of his wounds, to Thomas. “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side,” says Jesus. Then Thomas understood, and he knew that his suffering, his doubt, his fear did not undo the promises of God to bear with him always, to come back for him, to him always; not to abandon him.

“My Lord and my God!” Thomas cried out to the scarred figure before him, bearing the wounds of the world, now for all eternity.

And so it is that Jesus returns to us, faithfully and without fail, in broken bread, the broken Body which bears our pains and our suffering: he offers his own to all of us who are spiritually descended from Thomas, who continue to lock our hearts up against him, who want to poke at God, to lash out and punish God for our own pains.

He comes to us in Blood poured out like wine, the cup of sorrows, of joy and complicated lives, which make sense only in the complete confusion of the Resurrection, the window through which we see the love of a God for whom none of us is too much trouble, none of us is too heavy a burden, whose wounds, whose doubt and anger he bears as his own, because it is impossible for his faithfulness to be interrupted even by death.

So the people who heard Peter asked, “Then what should we do?” And Peter said, “repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, and you will receive the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, to anyone whom the Lord our God calls.”

The promise is for you, for us, even for those who lock themselves away, who are afar off. God abandons none of us; it is a part of the heart of God never to abandon us. Jesus came back for Thomas; he comes back for us, Risen and reaching out, reaching for our hands and our hearts, placing his sacred brokenness in our own wounded hands, handing himself over to our broken hearts to make them whole.

Amen. My Lord and my God.

_______________________

[1] Eric Eve, “I Peter: Introduction,” in The Oxford Bible Commentary, John Barton and John Muddiman (eds), (Oxford University Press, 2001), 1263-4

[2] J.D.G. Dunn, “Ephesians: Introduction,” ibid, 1166

[3] William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible: The Acts of the Apostles (St Andrew’s Press, 1976), 26-7

This entry was posted in sermon and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s