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April 18, 2004

Easter People

(Acts 5, Revelation 1, John 20:19-31)

Today we have three readings about being Easter people. During the next few weeks, we’ll be hearing from the Acts of the Apostles, the book of Revelation and resurrection themes in the Gospel. If you haven’t read the Acts of the Apostles in a long time, I recommend it. It’s the second part of the Gospel of Luke, and the disciples who were such bumbling clowns in the Gospel have become extraordinary apostles after the resurrection, and they start doing great deeds and living in community and announcing the resurrection, and eventually they’ll all be martyred. Here we hear how they performed “signs and wonders,” how the people esteemed them, how great numbers joined them, and how they healed the sick and cured those with unclean spirits, and I conclude that if they can do it, we can too! If they can rise to such great heights and do great things for God, we can too! That’s what it means to be Easter people, to rise above ourselves, to go beyond ourselves, to do great things for God and one another, to do things we perhaps never thought we could, even to do great “signs and wonders” for one another and the world, to become holy apostles. That’s who we’re meant to become.

Then, we hear the beginning of the book of Revelation, which is one of my favorites but which is totally misunderstood in our country. In those days, during the first three centuries, the Roman empire and the Roman soldiers were killing Christians left and right, and this Christian John was sent into exile on the island of Patmos in Greece, and he writes this long reflection about following Christ and opposing what he calls the “Beast” with the four heads and the number 666, but that’s just symbolic language from the apocalyptic tradition to refer to the brutal Roman empire, and the whole book is about the nonviolent resistance of Christians who follow Jesus the Lamb and resist the violence of the empire, its soldiers and the warmakers. Here we have the very beginning of the book and John writes that he shares with us “the distress, the kingdom and endurance we have in Jesus,” that he is exiled because he proclaimed God’s word and gave testimony to Jesus. I like those three words: “the distress, the kingdom and the endurance.” I think we know about them too. We too experience the distress of the world, the brutality of the American empire as it wages war around the planet destroying God’s people. We too look for the reign of God in our midst and carry on with endurance by following Jesus, and so we too have to proclaim God’s word and give testimony to Jesus. That is what it means to be Easter people. This morning Jesus tells us what he told John of Patmos: “Do not be afraid. I am the first and the last, the one who lives. I am alive forever and ever, so do not be afraid.” From now on, we have nothing to fear. We are Easter people.

Finally in the Gospel of John, we hear Jesus’ first words after his resurrection: “Peace be with you.” Then he shows them his wounds, offers his peace again, sends them on a mission, breathes on them, tells them to receive his Holy Spirit and to believe in him, and that if we really believe in him, we will be greatly blessed. So what does it mean to be Easter people? I think it means to take his Easter gift of peace seriously, and to welcome it and live in his peace, to be at peace within ourselves and our families and one another and every one in town and everyone around the world, and then to carry on our mission as witnesses of the resurrection, and to believe in him no matter what. It means refusing to cooperate the wars and violence of the world, especially by going along with the American empire. Instead, we live in the peace of the risen Jesus. The more we do, the more we become Easter people.

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