Seventh Sunday of Easter, May 8th, 2016
Acts 16:16-34, Psalm 97, Revelation 22:12-17, 20-21, John 17:20-26
Preached by Pastor Anna C. Haugen, Augustana and Birka Lutheran Churches, Underwood, ND
May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in your sight, my rock and my redeemer.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Alleluia! He is Risen!
If you’ve taken a moment to glance through your Bibles at the Gospel of John in the last few weeks, you may have noticed something a bit … odd in the Gospel readings. Not in the readings themselves, but in the fact that these particular texts are assigned to be read now, in Easter. Easter is a time of resurrection. We celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and we look forward to the time when he will come again in glory and all those who have died in Christ will be raised from the dead, as well. That’s why we read from Revelation in Easter—we’re celebrating Christ’s resurrection and looking forward to the general Resurrection, which Revelation gives us a vision of.
And that’s what’s so peculiar about the readings from John that we’ve been reading. Because they’re taken from before Jesus’ death and resurrection. And not just any time throughout his ministry. No, they come from what is called the Farewell Discourse, the words Jesus spoke to his disciples after their last meal together, before he was handed over to the guards in the Garden of Gethsemane. This is Jesus praying and teaching the very night before his crucifixion. Jesus knows he is about to die, and is preparing for it by preparing his disciples for it. The disciples don’t know Jesus is about to die, because they’ve been willfully blind to what Jesus’ teachings mean … but even so, they know just how tense the situation is, how much the authorities in the city would like to silence Jesus and his followers. It’s a time of fear, a time of pain, a time of death, a time when nobody but God could see any hope… and even that hope could not come without suffering. So why, out of all the times during the year, do we read this discourse during Easter? The time of great joy and hope? The time of healing and resurrection and new life? On the surface, it doesn’t make much sense.
But the thing is, even as we celebrate Christ’s resurrection—even as we look forward to the general resurrection of the dead that is to come—we still have to live in a world filled with death. Jesus’ resurrection is the foretaste of the feast to come … but before we sit down to the full feast that is heaven, we’ve got to get through life today, first. We know there is healing to come, but we live in a world of sickness. We know there is life to come, but we live in a world of death. We know there is hope and love to come, but we live in a world of fear and hate, where sin and brokenness run rampant and abuse is all too normal. Like the disciples, we want to know God, and to live in God’s kingdom—but like the disciples, we are still caught up in a world of fear and death. We are a resurrection people. We celebrate Christ’s resurrection, and we look forward to our own resurrection and the resurrection of all the dead … but we live in a world of death, and will until Christ comes again. And I think that’s why these readings from the Farewell Discourse are read in Easter.
The question—the great question, that most of the New Testament revolves around—is how do we live as children of the resurrection in a world broken by sin and death? How do we keep the faith, how do we maintain our hope, how do we live and speak and act, in a world that is determined to sell itself out to power and greed and hate and lust and fear and all the sin and brokenness there is?
Revelation has two answers. Revelation is a dream, a vision, not meant to be taken as a literal history of the future but rather as a reassurance of two great truths. First, that no matter how bleak things get, no matter what horrible things happen—in our own lives, and in the larger world—God is at work. God is present, God is active, no matter how bad things look. Just as the disciples couldn’t see God’s hand in Jesus’ death until afterwards, in the light of the resurrection, so too God is present and at work even when we can’t see him, even in the darkest moments there are.
And the second answer that Revelation gives is that we don’t have to worry about the end of the story. We don’t have to worry about how things are going to turn out. We already know. God wins. Sin and death are defeated. Heaven comes to earth, and this world truly becomes God’s kingdom as it was always meant to be. There is resurrection, and healing, and life, and joy, and love, and hope, and all pain and sorrow and evil will be gone. No matter what happens, no matter what trials we have to live through in this life, we know how the story ends. Even in the midst of pain and sorrow, suffering and evil and brokenness, even though it kills us—and this world will kill us, each and every one of us—we don’t have to be afraid, because we know how the story ends. And it’s a good ending, the best ending possible.
We don’t have to worry about the end, just the middle. Just the here-and-now. Just getting through each day. And that’s what Jesus was talking about in the Farewell Discourse, as he said goodbye to his disciples and tried to prepare them for what was to come. How to get through each day, because knowing how the story ends gives hope but that may not be enough by itself when the going gets rough. And Jesus’ answer is love. In these three chapters, Jesus talks about a lot of things, but the common thread is love: God’s love for us, and our love for one another. That’s how we get through the middle times.
Now, when I talk about love I don’t just mean a kind of wishy-washy platitude, and when I talk about sin and brokenness and evil I don’t just mean on a cosmic scale. I know you’ve all experienced it. For example, I know you have all seen and experienced how feuds, rivalries, jealousies, and prejudices can build up in a small town, how they can hurt and twist people over and over again. I know you’ve seen how people turn to drugs and alcohol to solve their problems and hurt themselves and their families and friends in the process. I know you’ve seen how petty and nasty and mean people can be to one another, even when they smile and hide it behind a nice façade, and the damage that does to people. And there are members of this parish who have been abused; there are members of this parish who have been raped. If you have been lucky enough never to have suffered that way, you know people who have—even if they’ve never told you about it. We have a nice community, a good community, but even in our own homes and hearts and minds there is sin and brokenness, there are victims and aggressors, and oftentimes people who are both. And the love of God—the love that Jesus asks us to have for one another—is right there in the midst of it. Not just in platitudes and sayings, but in action.
That love is the love that leads us to be there for people when they need help—when they’re sick, or in pain, or hurt. That love is the love that leads us to work for a just peace and reconciliation, even when choosing a side and striking back would be easier. Striking back and lashing out are the easiest things in the world when pain and fear come. Building walls and closing out problems is simple, too—just go with the flow, follow the world’s advice, contribute to the pain in the world—but that’s not what God calls us to do. We are called to love. To open our hearts and our hands and our lives. To witness to the abundant life and love that God brings. We are called to heal the world, not add to the hurt. We are called to be kind when it is easier to be mean, to be forgiving when it is easier to be resentful. We are called to love in tangible ways, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick and brokenhearted, and in all things be Christ to our neighbors. And when we, together, put God’s love into action, that is when we are most truly a resurrection people. When love is not just a word but a way of life, that is when we see a foretaste of God’s kingdom to come. Love is how we live as an Easter people in a world still full of sin and death. May God teach us truly how to love one another in thought, word, and deed.
Alleluia! He is Risen!