Scripture: John 20:19-31
Of every miraculous event that has occurred in all of history there is one that stands as being the most controversial. That is the resurrection of Jesus. It makes absolutely no sense to the worldly minds of most. Those of opposing faiths make attempts to explain it. Islam, because they believe Jesus to be a prophet, say that at the last moment God replaced Jesus with the human body of Judas Iscariot, because God would not have allowed His Prophet to die in that manner. The leaders of the Hebrews have explained it in various ways saying that His teaching was alive and that the body was carried away by his followers and hidden from them. Even religions that have no relationship to the monotheistic line of Abraham tend to have their own statements about Jesus and try to explain the concept of the resurrection. The very fact that so many groups seek to make their own explanation to this one event would lead an inquiring mind to wonder, why all the fuss?
The fuss is because the dead do not rise. If the dead were to rise then individuals would have to change their thought processes, and would in many ways have to change the very direction they were going. Leaders and those that control the masses would suddenly lose an aspect of their control over others because if the dead were to rise, it would prove that the temporal power they wield was merely temporary. If the dead were to rise we each would be faced with some sort of choice that to be honest we might not want to answer, because if the dead rise that would mean that God is real and that God is active.
Last year I asked us each to consider a question, “what would happen if we actually believed in the resurrection and if we do what that would lead us to do?” That question still remains on the table for consideration. Several of my friends have been posting blogs and making other statements reminding us that Easter is not merely a day but a season. This is important because it was not a one-time event that is celebrated but one that has lasting value. The season of Easter began on the third day after the crucifixion and extends through Pentecost the day we as Christians celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit. During this period of time, Jesus appeared to his followers in full bodily form continued to teach and in some cases sat with them over a meal. Not only did the dead rise but the once dead lives, speaks and eats with His Friends. The dead is no longer dead but living.
I have contemplated about this over the past week. I have considered why and what the implications are in my own life and in our Meeting. I have come to realize that this has much more impact than giving hope to those that have lost loved ones or face the sting of death. I have thought a great deal about death and why death is in the world in the first place. I have to admit that it has not exactly been the most joyous week of prayer because I became aware just how tight the grip of death is in my life. I have sat up at night wondering why I, a minister of the Gospel, not only a minister but one that truly believes in this miraculous event could possibly admit that the fingers of death still has a hold of my life. And the only way to examine this is to ask yet again, if I truly believe in the power of the resurrection.
If I believe, and if we believe this should greatly affect how we live our lives. The Apostle Paul goes as far as saying the power that raised Christ from the grave is available to us. It was that power of the resurrection that inspired him to leave his home and embark on his various missionary journeys, even in the face of execution. Do we live by that power?
Death was not the state humanity was created in. Death is the destruction of life, death is the consequence of the failings of our first parents who were created, and given the breath of life. Death is destruction. Death is the break down of everything that God said was good with the world he placed us in. Death is the result of sin, which is the pursuit of destruction. Sin is much more than a simple breaking of a moral code, but it is the systematic lifestyle where each individual and culture chooses to fulfill their personal desires and the cost of obtaining those often results in some sort of destruction, either it damages our own bodies in some way or it damages our relationships. This extends throughout the generations and throughout our culture. The result is communities so broken that they exist only to perpetuate destruction. And in a life lived under the power of the destruction caused by sin there is no hope for anything better, so we might as well take what we can get and a life lived in fear.
That is why Jesus had to take on death, to break they cycle of destruction. His disciples though did not understand this. They locked themselves in a room together for fear. They had an idea of what the Messiah was to be and their ideas were not fulfilled their hopes were crushed in the ever present cycles of destruction and they felt that all was lost. Then Jesus comes to them and says, “Peace be with you.”
Peace be with you. What is peace? We have all seen photos, and some of us have experienced the hopelessness and destructive forces of war. That is the goal of war to destroy the other, to break them down to the point of surrender, to remove all hope from other so that they will submit. War, death and fear are results of sin. There cannot be peace unless the cycles change and people stop living under that direction of sin. Peace be with you, Jesus says.
Jesus through his death took on the wages of our sin, but through His resurrection brings peace. Through His death he broke the cycle of destruction and ushered in the hope of restoration. But what was He restoring?
He was giving us the opportunity to live in the kingdom, providing the way to restore life with God that was lost when humanity decided to live under their selfish desires. Jesus through his death and resurrection restores and provides a way to restore relationships.
This was His entire mission and ministry to restore the damage caused by the destructive forces of broken relationships. This is why He ministered to the people that were marginalized by society, why he was quick to provide healing to those that were blind, lame, or were consumed by leprosy. These were the ones most affected by sin. They were the ones that needed rebuilt and restored. And Jesus says, “peace be with you… If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
Forgiveness is the beginning of peace, and the beginning of restoration. Forgiveness is the power of the resurrection. When we forgive we let go of the destructive forces that invade our relationship. We let it go, and stop the cycles of destruction and allow room for restoration and reconciliation. Forgiveness is one of the central themes in Jesus’ teachings, it is included in his teachings on prayer, it is the storyline in many of His parables, and as he breathes on the disciples He is sending them out to the ministry of forgiveness.
A couple of those teaching moments Jesus speaks about this ministry, once he says what we bind on earth will be bound in heaven and what is loose on earth will be loose in heaven, and today we read forgive and it is forgiven and retain and it is retained. When Jesus taught his disciples to pray He said, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Forgiveness is very important to Jesus. But I think often we get it upside down and backwards. If we quickly read through this we may assume that we have control over people’s final destiny through our forgiveness or lack there of. But as in Jesus’ teaching on prayer it is our destiny that is at stake when forgiveness is neglected. When we withhold or retain forgiveness though holding a grudge, we allow destructive forces to act in our lives. These forces cycle around growing more powerful until we are not at peace but are at war with others, and as we allow the grudge to consume us the one we fail to forgive is left unchanged.
Forgiveness is one of the hardest activities we participate in, because to forgive we release control, and become vulnerable. If we forgive we risk injury again and again, but all the while Jesus is also telling us Peace be with you. To obtain peace we must open up lines of communication and attempt to restore relationships that were previously broken through the destructive forces of sin. Peace is a two way street, but it begins when one side decides to forgive instead of continuing the fight.
I am reminded of various peace treaties nations have had, mainly the treaty at the end of WWI. At this time it was decided to lay down arms but there was a lack of forgiveness on one side. Germany was not forgiven for their part in this war, and though the fighting stopped the Allied nations sought vengeance. Germany was forced to pay for the war, this sent Germany into an economic tailspin. The allies retained the sins of a nation instead of forgiving and in the process paved the road toward WWII. I mention this because how many times do we allow the past actions of other determine our future relationships. How often do we seek vengeance instead of forgiveness? In the case of WWI the war never really stopped, but continued on. Though it seemed like there was peace, the lack of forgiveness continued to cycle to the next generation.
The power of the resurrection is forgiveness. That power is available to each of us and if we lay down the weapons we are using against each other we will see amazing things begin to happen. Yes you have been hurt by others, yes that emotional and sometimes physical pain is real. But if we want to restore and rebuild each of us must decide to forgive instead of retain. That is why the resurrection is so confusing to many even to ourselves, because to forgive is contrary to the ways of the world. Peace is contrary to the ways of the world. But without forgiveness relationship will never be restored and without forgiveness our faith is in nothing more than a confusing story that lacks all power.
As we enter into this time of open worship and communion as Friends, let us again consider the power of the resurrection, asking ourselves if we truly believe and if we are willing to live in that power through forgiveness.