The Resurrected Church

On April 23, 2017, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

The Resurrected Church Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins (Easter 2, 2017) John 20.19-22, 30 Resurrection stories are for people who need to be uplifted. If Jesus’ friends and followers, and those that they influenced, have somehow experienced Jesus beyond his execution, then he can still inspire and motivate people during difficult times. Today’s gospel witness shows […]

The Resurrected Church
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins (Easter 2, 2017)
John 20.19-22, 30

Resurrection stories are for people who need to be uplifted. If Jesus’ friends and followers, and those that they influenced, have somehow experienced Jesus beyond his execution, then he can still inspire and motivate people during difficult times.

Today’s gospel witness shows a powerful resurrection experience. The resurrection in today’s gospel is the resurrection of a wounded church, or of the leaders of a wounded church. Experiencing Jesus beyond his death empowered them to not let Golgotha be the end of their story.

If Jesus’ teachings, love, and essence live on in us, then we can and must continue to do what Jesus did. Golgotha was empire’s mightiest blow, and it failed. They couldn’t erase Jesus, and if they can’t erase Jesus, they can’t erase his mission which lives on in his church. That’s the point and the power of Easter.

Resurrection is the guiding symbol of my faith. It is the miracle that must occur if God is omnipresent. Omnipresent Life means that life can’t be destroyed. Bodies fade, situations change, dreams stall, mistakes are made, hearts break…but there is more. Hope rises again. Joy rises again. Peace rises again. Omnipresent Life is always seeking to express Itself.

Oscar Romero was a Roman Catholic clergy leader in El Salvador. He was a peace activist, an advocate for the poor, and an outspoken critic of torture. He knew that his using the pulpit to give people hope and to empower those who had been downtrodden could get him in serious trouble. But here’s what he said about that, “I do not believe in death without resurrection. If they kill me I will rise again in the people of El Salvador.” In 1980 he was assassinated while celebrating Mass.

Archbishop Romero understood resurrection…not as something that happened once or a few times in history, but as something that is always trying to occur, a power that rises from the ashes of despair over and over again.

The night before he was killed, Dr. King said, “[God's] allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!”

Resurrection is always for the community, the society, the world…the messenger may be struck down, but the message lives on and the people to whom the message was given are raised up with the power of hope, determination, and courage.

And that’s what we see in the gospel text this morning. The account we heard this morning is meant to tell a community that they still have purpose, they still have work to do, they are still needed. They may be afraid, they may think they have a lot to lose, but their comfort or privilege is not what they are called to protect. They are meant to practice, what Dr. King would much later call, “dangerous unselfishness.” The story of Jesus’ resurrection is meant to raise them up to a new level of commitment, courage, and achievement.

John’s gospel was written at the end of the first century, but today’s passage could have been written during the Great Depression, the Holocaust, or when Japanese Americans were incarcerated for their ancestry, or during the days of Jim Crow, during the Vietnam War, or the early years of the AIDS crisis, or today.

Any time there is disease, hunger, institutionalized or sanctioned bigotry, the devastation of the planet, war, or refugees in need…the church is called to rise up and dare to be Christ in the world. There will be risk and discomfort, but resurrection is possible and only has meaning in response to Golgotha. Jesus still bears the scars of his torture in today’s story. He shows his hands and his side. Being the church, following Jesus involves some risk. Easter people aren’t those who avoid Good Friday; Easter people are those who do not allow Good Friday to be the end of the story.

Jesus was killed 60 or 70 years before John’s gospel was written. The Holy City of Jerusalem and its Temple were destroyed 20 or 30 years before John’s gospel was written. There have been cataclysmic losses, and even so, lepers were still untouchable, widows were still vulnerable, the mentally ill were still called demonic, the poor were still suffering…so there was work to do. Giving people comfort, hope, and protecting their dignity were still holy tasks that had to be performed. Resurrection says, “Snap out of the malaise and start doing what you can to help the many who are in need.” We can’t do everything, but we must dare to do something.

There are four points I want to share with you from today’s gospel reading.

1. The disciples were afraid. They were hiding in fear. They were stuck, closeted, entombed. Their memory or experience or vision of Jesus was meant to shake them awake and cause them to start living out loud again. When we are bound by fear we are not experiencing the fullness of the life-giving love that God is. When we are locked away in our fears, we need an infusion of resurrection power.

2. Fear is natural, but we get to decide what to do with it. As Zig Ziglar said, “fear” can mean either “forget everything and run” or “face everything and rise.” They have been stuck in the first meaning; Resurrection encourages them to embrace the second.
Their fears are debilitating, and honestly, they are reasonable based on what is going on in their world. But if the world is crashing down around them, they can still make it better for others and face the dangers with dignity and courage. Jesus says, “peace be with you”…or we might say, “Go to peace instead of to pieces.”

3. Facing fear and embracing peace is energizing. Once they face their fears and choose peace, or at least choose to believe that peace is possible, they are infused with a new breath of life. In the story, Jesus breathes on them and says, “Receive the holy breath, the breath of wholeness, the energizing spirit of life.” Just as the winds infused the dry bones of Ezekiel’s vision with new life, the memory and example of Jesus breathes hope and determination into the fearful disciples. The spirit raises them back up to be able to face the world and help it get better.

4. Renewal is followed by recommitment. After facing their fears, believing peace is possible, and thereby receiving a new infusion of determination, they know it’s time to get back out there and start taking some chances. Jesus says, “Just as I was sent, so I am sending you.”

Get back to work. Write some letters, sign some petitions, participate in a march, cast a vote, give some money, donate some food, volunteer some time, hold a hand…let it be known that refugees are welcome here, marriage is about love – not gender, health care is a right – not a privilege, Black Lives Matter, science is real, the environment is ours to protect, men aren’t in charge of women’s bodies, and divine Love is unconditional, all-inclusive, and everlasting.

Resurrection isn’t one more idol to worship from the past; it is a call to action…it is a plea from the very Heart of God that we be Christ in the world, that we rise up and share the healing love of God with a world in need. We pray it in the introit, and it is the prayer we will sing throughout eastertide: “May your blazing Phoenix spirit resurrect the church again.”

God hear our prayer, and answer it in and through us.

And this is the good news! Amen.

(C) Durrell Watkins 2017

May God heal my fears,
Fill me with peace and hope,
And use me to be a blessing to my world.
Amen.

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