Luke 24:1-12; Acts 10:34-43
Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
Good morning! He is risen!
I don’t have any jokes or funny stories to share with you this morning. I love to get you laughing at the beginning of the sermon. By now, you’ve probably figured that I’ll say just about anything to get a laugh out of you folks. And that’s true. But today I hope that the joy of living in the love and the knowledge of the resurrected Christ is better than any wisecracks that I might make.
It seems that joy is in short supply these days. Joy is distinct from, though related to, happiness and pleasure. Happiness and pleasure can fade quickly. Joy endures. Joy goes hand-in-hand with hope. Hope and joy are essential parts of the Easter story; they are the antidotes to fear and anxiety. Hope and joy are the fruits of the life in Christ.
To be fair, a lot of my messages have been about anxiety—the anxiety of what it means to be the church in this time and place, and also the challenge of following Jesus into the uncomfortable places. I’ve also spoken of the things in our world that divide and confuse us, scare us and cause anxiety. But this morning, the story has changed. The tomb is empty!
The story of the church in our society is the Easter story. Of course, that’s always been true, but the context in which we receive that truth and live into that truth has changed greatly over the last thirty or forty years. I’m talking about the institutional church—the place we go on Sunday mornings, and the community that develops in a particular place where believers gather to worship.
Palm Sunday represents the church that many of you remember from thirty or forty years ago. It was great while it lasted, but when the context changed, when the external realities changed, some of the very same people who shouted, “Hosanna,” also shouted, “Crucify him!”
In recent years, we have been the church of Holy Week, when we focus on the events of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. We don’t want to believe that we are going to be like Peter and deny Jesus before the rooster crows, but we are reminded that we have already done so and we will do so in the future. That’s a very uncomfortable place. We don’t want to see Jesus arrested or suffering or dead, but we know that we must watch. And that, too, is a very uncomfortable place.
Frankly, we don’t know what to do with the suffering and the grief. We want to go back to the way things were, but we can’t. That doesn’t stop us from trying, from being like Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary (the mother of James). They went to the tomb to prepare Jesus’ body, according to Jewish custom. They were upholding the old form, like those of us who still come to church every Sunday. And there, they were met by two men in dazzling white robes who told them that the context had changed, that the old realities had gone away: “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.”
“He is not here, but has risen.” He is risen, indeed!
That’s the new reality that we see in the Book of Acts, where we meet Peter, who is no longer a disciple, but now an apostle. Peter is speaking to a Roman centurion named Cornelius, who had summoned Peter to his house. Cornelius is an outsider. He is described as being a God-fearing man, but he is a Gent