First Sunday After Easter 2022 – Rev. Kay Williams, Deacon

May we have eyes to see our blessings, ears to hear God’s words, and the humbleness to praise Christ our Risen Lord. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, AMEN

Today, the first Sunday after Easter we have heard the Easter story and celebrated Christ’s victory. But have we taken the time to truly realize we are the benefactors of our Risen Savior’s victory over death, hell, and the grave. Today’s scriptures show us a glimpse of the disciples’ spiritual growth and the concrete changes his resurrection had on their lives and can have on ours.

In John’s gospel, it has been three days since the disciples watched their leader, and teacher die a very public and horrible death by crucifixion. Now on the first resurrection Sunday they have been startled by Jesus’s empty tomb. They have also just been shaken by the message Jesus sent to them through a woman, Mary Magdalene. In a state of great fear, anxiety, disappointment, and maybe anger they huddled behind locked doors with fearful thoughts of the Roman and Jewish leaders searching for them; when before their astounded eyes stood Jesus. The master they had forsaken and ran from in his hour of capture. The one Peter denied three times. The one some had watched be crucified and heard his last words from the cross. There he was with reassurance to them with his first words, “Peace be with you.”

He came to them in the midst of their fears and confusion and gave them a deep soul-filling peace. A solace that comes only from a loving God. He met them where they were physically, emotionally, and spiritually. He went into the locked room and revealed his marks from the crucifixion. He allowed their eyes to take in what they could not wrap their heads around. Jesus instructed them to move beyond their fear, and confusion and from behind the locked doors to continue God’s work of sharing His love and forgiveness through the power of the Holy Spirit.

However, a week later the disciples are still huddled in the same house but Thomas is with them when Jesus appeared a second time. Again Jesus began by giving all in the room his peace. Just as he did with the disciples earlier he showed Thomas his crucifixion marks, but this time with an invitation to touch them. He came and gave Thomas exactly what Thomas needed to believe. Thomas did not need to touch the marks, he openly and verbally declared Jesus as his Lord and Master. He went beyond a belief statement into a proclamation of trust and a personal relationship: “My Lord and my God!”

The disciples went from a huddled group of dismayed, and distressed followers in a locked house to spiritual leaders who proclaimed the Gospel boldly where ever the Spirit led them. In Acts, we find Peter and some of the apostles defending their actions of healing the sick and proclaiming Christ risen in Jerusalem. Peter and the other disciples have already served jail time and been ordered to not teach in Jesus’s name. Although not perfect and often doubting, fearful, and confused the disciples have been in the presence of the Risen Savior and now respond to the religious authorities with a new boldness. Jesus’s resurrection has resulted in the disciples being forgiven, restored, and commissioned to begin a new life teaching, healing, forgiving, and loving others in the name of Jesus. Being with the resurrected Christ changed the frightened scattered apostles into a community of faith believers who were bold and outspoken proclaimers of God’s love, and power, and of Jesus as the resurrected Savior of all. They no longer lived by the letter of the law, or by a list of do’s and don’ts but lived their lives with the new experience and knowledge of life beyond physical death. They spoke with the authority of eyewitnesses to the Risen Savior and through the empowerment by the Holy Spirit.

Their actions of love, unity, and putting others before themselves had resulted in an amazing growth of the new church. This growth continued to the point many churches were established and harassed by the Roman authorities. John’s writing of Revelations was to the churches struggling as communities of faithful believers under Roman rule. The original believers understood the cryptic language and symbolism John used to get his message to the churches. John’s writings were to encourage the followers and remind them God has all power and is in control, not the Roman leader Caesar. Like the original disciples, the churches were to remain bold in sharing Christ and living their lives honoring God.

Today the Holy Spirit still leads his followers and the church to stand together and be strong in God. We as baptized believers have been changed and sealed with the Holy Spirit. The same God of eternity, the Risen Savior is present with us today. Jesus is alive! Regardless of our doubts, fears, confusion, or hesitations he still reaches out to us. He is with us daily.

Today’s readings demonstrate the spiritual progress the disciples made in their earnest efforts to live their lives according to the firsthand knowledge and lessons learned from the Son of God. We as a church are in the midst of a time of transition and a great potential for new spiritual growth. Grace Church has walked with God for over one hundred years and we still look to Jesus for our answers and the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Like the churches John wrote to, we will at times feel uncomfortable and even face some struggles as we prayerfully move forward. But remember “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty. God is in control. He is never taken by surprise. He has a plan for Grace Church, for each of us no matter who we are or our situation.

Just as Jesus repeatedly kept coming to the first disciples to give his peace, he comes to us. Jesus comes each week to us through the proclaimed scriptures and our participation in the Eucharist. He wants everyone to have his peace in the midst of our fears, questions, and confusion. May each of us like Thomas accept Jesus’s peace and respond in this transitional time with, “My Lord and my God!”