Sunday, April 15, 2012
Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter (April 15, 2012)
“The Afterglow of Easter” (1 John 1:1-2:2)
It’s been one week since our annual celebration of the resurrection of our Lord. We are basking in the afterglow of Easter.
At home, the chocolate bunnies are a distant memory. The peeps have been devoured. The ham, or the lamb as the case may be, has been consumed.
In church, the somber Lenten hymns have given way to rousing Easter hymns. The Alleluias have been restored. Yet, even in the afterglow of Easter, you still may not feel like singing those hymns and Alleluias so loudly. For many of you, Monday came all too soon, and it was back to the grind. Back to work. Back to school. Back to all the problems that you may have been able to set aside for a while on Sunday. Back to the darkness which surrounds you. And then, there is the darkness within you that soon rears its ugly head again.
Jesus rose on Easter Sunday, but what difference does that make on Monday? What difference does it make the rest of the week … the rest of my life? I don’t see a lot of changes. I confessed my sin. I was absolved. But I find myself falling into the same old sins again and again. I often feel like Thomas, full of doubts and fears, skeptical, cynical. I’m going to have to see it to believe it.
The opening words of John’s first epistle encourage us and remind us of the truth of Easter and how it does make a difference in our life.
The resurrection of Jesus was a real resurrection. It was not a spiritual resurrection. It was not a metaphor for new life. This is what some of John’s opponents were claiming in his day. There are some who claim this today, even some who claim to be Christian teachers. But this is not an option for a Christian. St. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians that “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor. 15:14). Pack it up. Go home. Might as well soothe your sorrows with the substance of your choice, because the life and ministry of Jesus must have been pointless, a cruel trick played by a con man.
Nor was the Easter event merely a resuscitation of one who had merely fainted or swooned and appeared dead. Jesus was really dead. And he really and truly came back to life. His heart started beating again. His lungs started breathing again. His blood started flowing again. And he showed himself alive to his followers. That’s why John could say, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life – the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us.” John and the apostles were eyewitnesses, ear-witnesses, and hand-witnesses. They saw, heard, and touched the Risen Christ.
John calls him the “Word of Life.” More than that, he calls him “the eternal life.” Jesus is the living revelation of God’s love and life. The Word of Jesus – the message of his perfect life, death, and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins and victory over death and the devil – is what gives life and unites us in fellowship with God and with each other. John writes, “That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3). The word there for “fellowship” is the word “koinonia” in the Greek, the word translated as “Life Together” in our synod’s threefold emphasis … “Witness, Mercy, Life Together.” “Koinonia” is not exactly easy to translate, but it refers to the very real, intimate bond we have with God and with one another by faith in Christ Jesus. Even though you and I were not eyewitness of the resurrection, we still share in this fellowship as we hear the message of Christ crucified and risen. Remember what Jesus said to Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). As if to punctuate that point, John follows up by saying, “These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31). And back in our text today, he says, “we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.” It would give John and the apostles no greater joy – not to mention the angels in heaven (Luke 15:10) – that, although not everyone can be an eyewitness of the resurrection, everyone can be an ear-witness. Anyone can hear with their ears, repent of their sins, believe in Christ, share in his life … his eternal life, and be bound in “koinonia” with God and the Church through the message of the Risen Christ.
But there is no “koinonia” – no fellowship – where the darkness of sin and unbelief is present. “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” Sin breaks fellowship … with God and with each other. Our joy is not complete when sin among us has severed relationships. It brings sadness and heartache. And it has eternal consequences if we continue to “say we have no sin.” We’re essentially calling God “a liar, and his word is not in us.”
But … and you know these words so well, we say them nearly every Sunday, so much so that we may take them for granted … hear them again fresh and new this morning: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” It is the blood of Jesus Christ that cleanses us from all sin. He is the “propitiation” for our sins. That means that our sins are covered over. The wrath of God over sin has been satisfied. Now, he serves as our “advocate.” Like a defense attorney, he is the one who speaks on our behalf before the Judge. But this defense attorney has no evidence from your life to prove your innocence. Far from it. Instead, he presents the evidence of his own perfect life and the evidence of his suffering and death on your behalf – the scars on his hands and feet – so that the Judge pronounces you “not guilty” for the sake of Christ Jesus who died and rose for you.
Cleansed in his blood, our fellowship with God and with one another is restored. We walk in the light together, having been enlightened by the Holy Spirit in the waters of Baptism. We confess our sins and receive absolution together … in public in the Divine Service, in private with your pastor, and personally with each other. United in our common confession of faith, we eat and drink the Lord’s Body and Blood together.
And then, we confess in our life and conversation together the truth of the Risen Jesus among us. How exactly do we do this? Learn from the community of believers in the Book of Acts in today’s first reading: “Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need” (Acts 4:32-35). Their faith in the Risen Jesus affected the way these Christians lived their lives. It affected the way they viewed each other, as one common family. It affected the way they viewed their possessions, as not really belonging to them but as gifts from God to be used in service to others. It made them bold to confess the resurrection of Jesus with God’s grace and favor resting upon them.
Jesus rose on Sunday. And yes, it does make a difference on Monday, and Tuesday, and Wednesday … the whole week. He is your victorious Savior over whatever sins, whatever conflicts, whatever problems come your way each day. Not just this week, but every week of the year, we can bask in the afterglow of Easter. Walk in the light, in fellowship with one another, having your sins cleansed by the blood of Jesus. You have heard the message of the Apostle, the message of the Word of Life, the eternal life. Blessed are you who have not seen, but have heard, and believed.