First Sunday After Easter – Sermon

It is at least a bit curious that the body of the Risen Christ retains the scars from the nails wounds in his hands and the spear that pierced his side (the gospel John 20:19f.). We might expect the resurrection to clear up all cosmetic blemishes. We might hope that our own resurrection bodies will be free from our current scars. But there is a particular point to the wounds that Jesus shows to the Apostles. They reveal him to be the eternal sacrifice, the “lamb as though it had been slain” of Revelation 5:6, who takes away the sins of the world.

The resurrection gives the wounds new meaning. On Good Friday, the wounds were signs of defeat, bearing witness to the power Rome had to subdue any who threatened her dominion. They were signs of agony, protracted pain and humiliation. Yet, on Easter Day these same wounds have become trophies of victory. Jesus shows them as if to say, “I have taken the world’s best shot, and I have conquered the world.”

Rome controlled people through the fear of death. By rising from the dead and conquering death, Jesus  rendered that threat futile and powerless. When Rome tried to crush the early church by killing the followers of Jesus, the strategy failed. The martyrs faced death bravely and willingly, trusting in the promise of Jesus that “he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live” (John 11:25). One church father observed that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”

We who have been baptized into Christ can also face death bravely. We do not need to be afraid of death. In fact, we are not supposed to fear death the way the world fears death. Jesus didn’t promise that we wouldn’t grow old and die. He didn’t promise that none of us would die young or out of season–He died young and out of season. Jesus promised that “though [we] were dead, yet shall [we] live. He promised to “raise [us] up at the last day” (John 5:40). If we believe him, we will not be afraid of death.

In Christ, we also conquer the circumstances of life that once defeated us. We call Jesus the “saving victim” (Hymn 209). Jesus was, in modern psychological jargon, “victimized.” Betrayed by a  friend; conspired against by the leaders of the nation he came to save; subjected to a travesty of justice and brutally beaten and killed. Poor, pitiful Jesus. Yet, the Risen Christ is not pitiful as enters the upper room on Easter night, through closed doors, and shows the disciples his trophies of victory. He is majestic and triumphant. The victim has become a conqueror.

We also have wounds. We also have been victims. People have done stuff to us. Circumstances have conspired against us. Some have won the lottery of misfortune more than their share of times. There are different ways to respond to the inequities of life. We can become perpetual victims, poor and pitiful, letting people walk all over us because someone else once did. We can become stoic, keeping a stiff upper lip. We can become angry, allowing the wounds to boil over into rage.  We can become Christian Scientists or positive thinkers, putting on rose colored glasses and pretending that it really didn’t happen. In presented his wounds as trophies, Jesus gives us the Christian answer. We can conquer through the power of forgiveness and the power of faith.

We conquer sin by being forgiven. Our lenten confessions resulted in the renewed experience of forgiveness in Easter. Sin that is forgiven no longer holds us captive. Easter replaces oppressive guilt with God’s peace and new freedom in God’s service.

We also conquer by forgiving others the sins they have committed against us. Sometimes this is hard because the wound is deep. However, just as Jesus said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,” we also can let go of our personal demand for retribution. We also can commit the task of judgment to God and trust him to take care of it. To forgive other people is to refuse to be captive to the pain and anger that is produced by the sins they have committed against us.

To forgive we must have faith in God’s sovereignty. We must believe that God is able to create his good out of our suffering in the very same way he created Easter out of Good Friday. We must accept the new life God wants to bring out of our pain and let go of the life we wish we had.

Consider the example of Joseph. His brothers cruelly sold him as a slave to foreigners. He spent twenty plus years in exile from his family, was wrongly accused of crime and languished for years in a foreign prison–all because of the malicious envy of his brothers. But Joseph did not remain a victim. He came to recognize the good that God intended to bring out of his suffering. Instead of harboring a smoldering bitterness, he was able to forgive. As he said to his brothers, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20).

Many people live with regret, always wishing they could have the life that was taken from them.  They are wounded, angry and in search of vindication. Regret and anger cause people to the miss the life of grace and peace that God offers now. All regret is fantasy. It is a wish that things could be as they can’t be. And it is prideful. To regret, to hold on to my pain and anger, is to insist that I have the life I wanted rather than to accept the life that God has given me.

Redemption is reality. It is the good that God gives us in our real lives right now. When we forgive and are forgiven, when we put our faith in the power of God to make all things new, people and circumstances no longer have power over us. “This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith” (1 John 5:4). Faith enables us to trust that God will judge rightly in his good time, and faith gives us the freedom to live a new life in Christ. As Romans says, “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us” (Romans 8:31-37).

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