Monday, April 16, 2012

Second Sunday of Easter

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.

Text: John 20:26
Theme: Peace Among Us

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

The fortunes of that frightful Friday are quickly reversed. The end had not come. Rather, life was restored and the future previewed. It was more than mere humans could appreciate. Even then it required faith. It still does. In this life God wishes to be apprehended by faith. The resurrection doesn’t overturn this premise but establishes it. Jesus proves He is God but only by faith is this truth received.

Today the fearful disciples are met by the risen Christ. Thomas was not there the first time Jesus brought peace to their troubled hearts and minds. Was he really unconvinced by the testimony of his ten brothers in the faith whom he knew so well? Had the betrayal of Judas shaken his confidence? Were the others delusional? Were they trying to pull the wool over his eyes? Was he just still in shock? The crisis is soon resolved when he encounters Jesus in the flesh. The scars remained but Jesus was alive. The deadly regime of sin was vanquished. The curse of Eden was abolished. Jesus performed no nifty magic act. In Him the human race was remade.

Dear friends, the salvation Jesus brought was not a convenient or merely timely solution to a problem that could have been addressed some other way. There are many who still don’t believe that apart from Christ the fate of humanity is lost. Once we move away from the teaching that all humans are born in the corruption of sin the absolute necessity of the gospel is soon overturned. The call to repentance is qualified overtly or subtly and becomes less urgent. Firstly infants and young children are exempted from being culpable for guilt. Perhaps some symbolic cleansing is seen as ritually desirable but there is no real danger to the soul. Next the problem of sin is redefined or narrowed to addressing the actual evil deeds of people at the expense of the root cause. Once the regenerate person is on the path to obedience the need for forgiveness from original guilt can easily decline into a nonentity unless the need is continually reaffirmed.

The ability to resist temptation- a power and gift of the Holy Spirit- can be misunderstood as meaning the believer is no longer blameworthy as an instinctive sinner. Then unbelievers who pursue an outward form of kindness and generosity are spared judgment on that basis. Finally, only the Hitlers of the world are in need of the full and redeeming pardon that Christ secured.

The Gospel appears to have triumphed. The message of Christianity is changing the world. By external assessments there is noticeable progress. But, in fact, the Gospel is being relegated to a sort of ‘planned obsolescence’. Like a pebble that starts an avalanche it’s not really needed once things are set in motion, except to start the process in some still unenlightened part of the world.

Christ died for the ungodly1 but in this restructured code of belief the ungodly are only a very small and particularly pernicious group. That doesn’t mean that the claim isn’t boldly stated that Christ died for all2. Yet the conclusion is that His death was superfluous- sort of an unessential redundancy because most were going to be saved anyway. Almost as a safeguard against the rejection of the gospel the safety net of human goodness was always there and the conscience is pacified by it. The sacraments too are compromised. Baptism becomes extraneous to the preaching and teaching of the gospel- a sort of ad hoc extra, a nonessential for the sinners’ reconciliation with the Father. Holy Communion is seen as a sentimental ritual rather than sacred nourishment.

In the face of such diluting of the facts we have the sure teaching of Scripture. It remains our defence against attacks from within and without. All are damnable sinners. No exceptions. Christ was sacrificed for all such sinners. No exceptions. Still, doubt can pester even the strongest believer. It may not be the incredulity of Thomas- so fresh and raw. The trauma of Jesus’ demise was etched in his heart and mind. His body was under Roman jurisdiction. There was no hope of reprieve. The cross was lifted. The tomb was sealed. But now- the claim that He walked among them. The Holy Spirit carries our faith through such challenges. He must or we would all succumb to unbelief. Consider what the Scripture says, “If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit, who lives in you.”3 And again, “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.”4

We will see the same scars Thomas did. The nail marks and the spear wound remain. They stand as eternal testimonies to the ultimate sacrifice; supreme tokens of unfathomable love. St. John describes a scene from heaven in this way, “Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne.”5 There is no way to extract the resurrected Christ from the crucifixion. They are one and the same person. There are not two Christs, but one. His past cannot be forgiven as if it were a bad memory needing to be erased. His past, His crucifixion begets forgiveness.

Jesus does not move beyond the trauma of His life like a victim needing a new identity. The crucifixion defines Him. The resurrection validates Him. He receives all glory and honour as the ascended and enthroned Son of God not because He faced death like a violent champion of war, but because He humbly paid the supreme sacrifice. He did not force His enemies to worship Him but died even for the unrighteous. This truth is the soil in which our faith grows. The resurrection frees us from the condemning power of death. It frees us to die in self-sacrifice to others. Doubt will always be the tool of Satan. But it has no real foundation.

Thomas put his hand into the wounds of Jesus’ flesh. It was the cure for His doubt.
We now receive into our mouths that flesh and the fruit of those wounds He bore. It is the cure for our sins. The sacrament is underpinned by the truth of the incarnation- Jesus’ physical, bodily presence. Thomas touched Christ’s resurrected body that bore the scars of the crucifixion. We now eat the life-giving food that absorbs the scars of our sins into His immortal life.

Dear friends, when Jesus appears to His disciples after His resurrection He restores and reforms the Christian community. What two words are central in Jesus’ greeting of His disciples? Peace and forgiveness! These characterize the divine countenance toward sinners because of what Jesus has done. He empowers them to carry that forgiveness to the nations. The word of God’s servant, His minister, is the Holy Spirit’s word. This word is the substance of our continual communication with the living Lord. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Second Sunday of Easter
15 April 2012
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 See Romans 5:6
2 See 2 Corinthians 5:15
3 Romans 8:11
4 1 Corinthians 12:3
5 Revelation 5:6