May 15, 2022 The 5th Sunday of Easter The Rev. R. Allan McCaslin
Readings: Acts 11:1-18; Psalm 148;Revelation 21:1-6; John 13:31-35
From the Book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ, “See, I am making all things new … It is done.” I speak to you in the Name of God: the Father, our Creator; the risen Son, our Redeemer; and the Holy Spirit, our Sustainer and Sanctifier. Amen.
I think it safe to assume that by now most, if not all of us, have consumed our Easter candy and chocolate – at least that’s true at our house – and those Easter bonnets and decorations boxed up and stowed away and, dare I say it, the Easter Day Sermons long forgotten. After all, today is the 5th Sunday in the Season of Easter – that 50-day celebration of the incredible gift and power of the resurrection celebrated on Easter Day. And because Easter Day seems so long ago, I find it appropriate that today’s scripture lessons urge us to remember that Easter was and is more than a single event in human history; that just as the resurrection continues to reverberate throughout the universe because an empty tomb changed and continues to change everything – so it should continue to reverberate within us and continue to change and reshape how we choose to live.
Our reading from The Acts of the Apostles describes how an empty tomb continued to change the understanding of the early church. Peter tells an astonished Church Council at Jerusalem that those centuries old prohibitions against people being fully welcomed into the community of faith simply because of where they were born, all those boundaries that separated Jew and Gentile, have been forever changed and reduced to rubble by the power of resurrection proven by an empty tomb. This story from Acts is rather amazing because it follows a few days after Peter had ripped into Paul for daring to sit and eat with Gentiles, for daring to suggest they could become Christians without first converting to Judaism, for suggesting that all are, indeed, welcome in God’s kingdom by faith alone – welcome regardless of whothey are – welcome just as they are.
Peter shares his vision: A vision that turned his world – his understanding and expectation of how things should be – how he was taught that God allegedly said they must be – that how his religion demands they will be – Peter’s world – his super-religious world has been turned upside down. His vision proclaims that in Christ, everything is changed. “Even the Gentiles have received the gospel.” He has become a witness to Jesus’ promise, “I am making all things new…it is done.” The empty tomb changed Peter’s whole universe and his outlook on life because it forever altered his understanding about who is worthy of God’s grace and mercy. Peter proclaims that all may repent, believe and receive the good news of the gospel because Jesus died for the sins of the whole world – died for everyone. An empty tomb changed everything.
Our reading from the Revelation of Jesus Christ shares how the effects of the resurrection continue to move throughout the universe turning not just our world, but the entire cosmos upside down. Just as Peter shared his vision, John shares with us another vision: God’s vision of a new earth and a new heaven – why heaven needed renewal, I do not know – but John says that the resurrection of Jesus Christ – that empty tomb - continues to have consequences for all creation and will continue to move forward until heaven itself is made new. Jesus says, “I am making all things new … it is done.” And that raises the question, “is it really?”
See, we are surrounded by daily signs of decay and death. Climate change, fires decimating our forests and communities, rising sea levels creating havoc on our shored, earthquakes, famines, wars, economic uncertainty, an ongoing pandemic, and hypocrisy of leaders, has encouraged people to look out solely for their own selves and ignore and turn a deaf ear to the needs of others. So when we hear today’s scriptures with their promises of inclusion and welcome, of new life and grace, that everything has changed, we might wonder where is this new creation, Lord? What do you mean when you say, “it is done”? It sure seems like life is no different now than it was before. In fact, for many, it seems worse.
Such questions urge us to look deeper into today’s lessons because they affirm that the hope, the empty tomb, the effects of the resurrection that offers to change how we relate to God and our neighbor, will make no difference in this world unless and until like it did for Peter and John, it permeates our hearts and minds so deeply that the whole of our very lives – our values, our way of life - is continuously changed and transformed by the resurrected Christ himself.
In our reading from the Gospel according to John, Jesus says that regardless of what some tend to suggest today, there is only one mark of a Christian. It is not about how well one follows church rules, or one’s economic status, color of skin, gender, how we dress, vote, speak, or anything else. No, Jesus says, “By this - (and this alone) - everyone will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Not just any kind of love, but the same sacrificial, forgiving, merciful and endlessly welcoming, inclusive love of God embodied and demonstrated by and through the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ; that love embodied and demonstrated by those who truly follow him.
The timing of this particular gospel reading is important to grasp because Jesus shared these words just hoursbefore he died. Remember: Judas had left the table, the betrayal of Jesus was already in motion, and yet our Lord didn’t fret or seek revenge. No, he turned to his followers and said, “Love … as I have loved you.” Love with God’s love. Why? Because God’s love inspires hope. It resurrects dying bodies, dying dreams, and offers new life, a new way of living. It is a love that calls forth all humankind from the darkness and despair of those tombs of our own creation; tombs of distrust and racism that separate us from our neighbors, from our own selves, tombs of fear for the future, tombs of death, and dares us to leave them behind and proclaim those tombs empty by the power of the resurrection. Our lessons affirm that our on-going experience of Easter’s gift of new life and hope, our resurrection from empty tombs is more than a day, more than a one-time conversion, but a continuing transforming process that is very much ours to embrace and share.
And therein lies our challenge because the difficult part of Holy Scripture with all its wonderful stories of renewal and grace, its promises and hope, is that while God lays out the path that leads to new life God always says it is up to us to choose how we will respond. The reality is that with all the questions about what is happening in our world, those questions that ask what is done, Lord, what difference does Easter make, the answer is ours alone to choose and then demonstrate. We are called to show the world how an empty tomb, the resurrection, can continue to shatter darkness, sin, and despair. We are called to demonstrate that no one needs to be alone, homeless, naked, or hungry, that no one need be afraid for tomorrow, because an empty changed everything. It proved that we, they, everyone is deeply loved. An empty tomb, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Easter, invites us to immerse the whole of our lives into God’s love not just once, but so completely that it oozes from us every day and shows the world that the resurrection was not a one-time moment in history, but an eternal opportunity to transform all who will choose to repent, believe, and receive the good news of the gospel - the good news of redemption and God’s forgiveness, the good news of God’s sacrificial love.
Friends, the empty tomb – the Easter miracle – changed everything and yet it means nothing unless it transforms us every day. Nevertheless, Jesus says his work is a done deal. The empty tomb changed everything. And now, new life and hope – the transforming power of a resurrected life offered to us in Jesus Christ has become ours to both discover, celebrate, embrace, and ours to share. Jesus Christ says, “Behold, I am making all things new” – and allmeans all – you, me, and everyone we meet – and, Jesus says, “It is done”. By God’s grace let us live like we believethe empty tomb changed everything, and that we know it to be true because it continues to change us.