In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Christ is Risen! He is Risen, indeed! Alleluia! Alleluia! This is our proclamation. This is the joy that we share with one another and, whenever possible, with the world at large. There is real life in these words, for as God’s spoken Word creates everything, and as the Word becomes Flesh in Our Lord Jesus Christ, so by His grace do our own expressions of faith and of joy in Our Lord’s Resurrection have a power way beyond what we can understand at the moment. When we share this joy, we share life. Not the transitory life of the flesh which all too often ends in sickness and in loneliness, but rather the eternal life of the spirit; the life into which we are engrafted when we are baptized into Our Lord; the life we nourish when we partake in Our Lord’s most blessed Body and Blood; the life we restore when we confess our sins and receive absolution; the life we spread unto others when we share the Gospel in our words and in our actions. The identifying mark of the Christian is that his or her joy alone sows the seeds of life into a world otherwise consumed by its own wickedness and death. There is no redemption for this world apart from the joy that the Christian brings into it. When we proclaim that Christ is Risen, we are like farmers dropping seeds into a dead ground. To the outsider our work seems futile, if not altogether mad, for the outsider will presume that nothing can come of the dead ground, except perhaps the occasional weed. As we continue to stoop down to bury the seeds into the soil, we too may wonder at times if indeed the outsider’s cynicism is closer to the truth. We too may wonder at times if our proclamation of the Easter Joy rings a bit hollow. We have been burying these seeds since we first proclaimed that Christ is Risen, and yet looking back the ground behind us seems as barren in some areas or as choked with weeds in others as ever. If indeed our proclamation of the Easter Joy has any real power in it, then where is the proof?
It is not wrong to ask that question. As Christians, we are called to a living faith, not a blind faith; a faith rooted in reason and watered by divine grace, not the faith of a mindless sycophant motivated by his own obsequiousness. As we recite daily when we do Morning Prayer: “O come, let us sing unto the Lord. Let us heartily rejoice in the strength of our salvation.” Ours is meant to be a faith that is strong, virile, active, inquiring, the faith of a healthy and robust child about to step boldly into his or her adolescence. And so we are right to inquire: Where indeed is the proof that our own proclamations of Easter Joy have accomplished anything at all? We say that Christ is Risen, but how can we say that the world has changed because of the little seeds of life that we have planted along the way? Or is everything around us destined to be as wicked as always until Our Lord Jesus Christ returns in glory to judge the world?
In our Gospel reading, we are provided the detail that “the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews.” Normally, the Gospel accounts do not bother to tell us that the doors were shut or the windows opened. They do not even provide us much in the way of small talk. They cut to the action and tell us the facts most necessary for us to get to the truth of the matter. If we are being told that the doors were shut, then that really matters, and we are invited to view those shut doors as literal but also as metaphorical and spiritual. This is the evening of the first day. The disciples are aware already of the empty tomb. They have heard from Mary Magdalene that the Lord is Risen. The Resurrection remains shrouded in mystery as it always will be, and yet it is also undeniable. When the disciples shut the doors, it is not so much an indication that they lack faith in the Resurrection having happened; so much as they lack faith that the Resurrection has changed the world in a tangible way. Christ Jesus Himself has said that He is Risen, and yet so far as the disciples can see the world remains a dangerous place as ever in the grip of their mortal enemies. It is one thing to be afraid in the hours after the Crucifixion, but how demoralizing it must have been for them to be just as afraid in the hours after the Resurrection. The disciples no doubt asked themselves: Even though the Lord has triumphed over His death, and has come back to us, is there even now no respite? Is there even now no peace? Is there no power in this victory over sin and death to change our own lives and the world around us? Apparently not, for they have shut those doors for fear of the people who want to send them to the same fate as Our Lord.
Doubt and Despair: the two shibboleths that best characterize man before Our Lord came into the world to save sinners. Man doubts God. Man succumbs to his despair. This should have been relegated to the past. Christ is Risen. He has defeated sin and death. He has come back to us, and yet the disciples have shut the doors. The Easter Joy is in the process of being torn down by those old and tired mainstays doubt and despair. The eternal peace that God earned for them on the cross seems illusory, an unreachable dream. One wonders if the disciples have shut the doors not only on the Jews, but on the hope that they may have had that the Resurrection actually would empower their lives and change the world at large. What we can say for sure is that we are there with the disciples in that closed off room when we doubt the power of our Easter Joy. We are there behind those locked doors when we succumb to the old despair of the world that had not yet experienced Our Lord’s Resurrection. We are there, huddled in the dark and hushed for fear of our enemies, when we presume in the depths of our hearts that our faith really is not going to make our lives better or improve the world around us. We are there, together in our misery and loneliness, when we resign ourselves to the idea that peace in this lifetime will remain elusive. We may say that Christ is Risen, but when we doubt the power of those words, and succumb to the despair so rampant in our fallen world, we shut the doors. We may say the words, but all too often we push the Resurrected Christ Jesus away from us.
The Good News of Easter is not only that Christ Jesus has triumphed over His death. He has also triumphed over our own doubt, our own despair, our own fear, all those barriers we put up between ourselves and His life changing grace. We may shut the doors, but He stands among us regardless. We may say that peace is elusive, but He says: “Peace be unto you.” We may feel that we cannot change our own lives all that much, let alone the world at large, and yet He says: “As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.” We may say the words, “Christ is Risen,” but He breathes into us the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of God which infuses our proclamations of faith and of joy into living words. We shall plant the seeds of life when we proclaim God’s Resurrection. We may look back at the seeds we have planted and see nothing but barren soil here and thorny weeds over there, but by grace we shall see that notwithstanding all that the seeds of life will persevere. The Easter Joy we spread will not be stamped out. It will take root, and in God’s time and by God’s grace it will grow into a life far beyond what we can now imagine. For as Christ Jesus says to His disciples after giving them the gift of the Holy Ghost: “Whosesoever sins yet remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins yet retain, they are retained.” In other words, what you do as my disciples and with the power of the Holy Ghost will matter. Your words and your actions will have lasting consequences, for you are children of the Kingdom of God.
When we as Christians proclaim our joy, when we express our faith in Our Lord’s Resurrection in our words and in our deeds, we are conforming our lives that much more into Him, and we are changing the world for the better. For our words indeed have power. Our actions indeed matter. What we say, what we do, the seeds that we plant along the way, these all are carried up by the Holy Ghost and entrusted forever into Our Lord’s care. The proclamation of our Easter Joy is our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving unto the Lord. Whenever we proclaim, “Christ is Risen,” we are making a statement of fact, yes, but much more so we are putting on the mantle of Christ for ourselves and for one another. We are taking on the joy, but also the responsibility, that comes with living with Our Lord in His Father’s Kingdom. We are opening those doors that had shut Him out, and we are living without fear as stewards of His grace.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.