Sermon for Sunday, April 23, 2017 || Easter 2A || John 20:19-31
Near the end of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the Stone Table cracks and Aslan returns to life. His adversary had executed him on that table in place of the boy Edmund. The witch thinks she has won a decisive victory, but Aslan knows of deeper magic than she. So the witch doesn’t expect the risen lion to appear at her castle while she’s off trying to conquer the land of Narnia. But that’s what happens. Aslan, the Christ-like figure of C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, races to the witch’s home to free all those whom she had turned into statues. And do you know how he releases them from their captivity? He breathes on them.
Sound familiar? It should. We just read a story so similar that it must have been the inspiration for that part of the Narnian narrative. The disciples, minus Thomas, are holed up in a room with the door locked for fear of the people who put Jesus to death. This is the evening of the day in which Peter and the other disciple saw the empty tomb. It is also the day, we presume, that Mary Magdalene delivered Jesus’ joyful message about his resurrection. Even so, the disciples are hiding behind that locked door. I can see them there in my mind’s eye, slumped against the walls, heads in hands. Their grief and confusion has locked them in place. They are as still as the statues in the witch’s castle.
When evening comes, the light of day vanishes over the western horizon. The light in the room should have vanished with it, but it doesn’t. Light emanates from a source in the center of the room, a source that is slowly spinning in place looking at the grief-stricken statues his disciples and friends had become. “Peace be with you,” says the source of light. It takes all their strength for his disciples to lift their heads and see who is speaking. He repeats his offering of peace. He shows them his wounded hands and side, and they recognize him, and they rejoice.
“Receive the Holy Spirit,” he says, and he breathes on them; breathes the wind of the Spirit into their lungs and into their hearts. Like Aslan at the witch’s castle, Jesus’ breath releases them from statue-hood, from their captivity to fear and pain and confusion. Then, paired with his Holy Spirit breath, Jesus gives his disciples a mission: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
This mission, empowered by the Holy Spirit, turns the disciples into apostles; that is, ones who are “sent.” As the Father has sent me, so I send you. That’s their marching orders. Jesus sends them (and us) out as apostles just as the Father sent Jesus. The question is: how did the Father send Jesus? And what does that sending teach us about our own, about God sending us out as apostles?
Let’s tackle these questions by stepping back to the beginning of John’s account of the Gospel, in which we read the poetic account of the origin of Creation:
In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things came into being through him,
and without him not one thing came into being.
What has come into being in him was life… (1:1-4a)
Before anything else there was the Word who was God. Creation sprang into existence through this Word of God: “Let there be Light! And there was light.”
Several verses further into the poem, God sends the Word into Creation. “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” This is how the Father sent the Son into the world: taking on humanity and living among us, so we can embrace the glory of God’s grace and truth. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.
Let’s dig into this sending a little deeper so we can see how it impacts our “sent-ness,” our apostleship. First, “the Word became flesh.” The special church term for this is “Incarnation.” The “carn” in the middle of the word means “flesh” or “meat,” like “carnivore.” Thus the Incarnation is the gift of the Word of God becoming a body, a particular living, breathing human being, who lived in a particular time and particular place. The Author of Creation lived for a time as part of that creation. He was born as a baby. He went through puberty. He grew up. His feet got dusty. He looked people in the eye. He picked up the fallen. He talked to all sorts of people. He died on a cross. He rose again.
Through it all, the person of Jesus Christ, the embodied Word, saw and valued the personhood of those around him. He lived the full range of human emotion and experience, from utter joy to deepest despair. As the ancient theologians said, “He became like us to make us more like him.” The Father sent him in the flesh, as that particular human being we know as Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus sends us in the flesh, as well, as these particular human beings God has made. Our apostleship flourishes when we allow the Incarnation to made known through us: when we act as our authentic selves, when we take off our masks, when we live the priorities that truly lead to abundant life for all people.
“The Word became flesh, and lived among us.” I hate to say it, but this next phrase is so weakly translated in our English Bible. The original language doesn’t just say the Word “lived” among us. The intent is that the Word “pitched his tent” among us. The ancient Israelites wandered the desert after their escape from the Egyptians. They took with them a tent which held the holy items that reminded them their God was right there with them, sustaining them in the wilderness. That’s what we’re meant to see here. The Word did not just live among us. The Word pitched his tent among us. The Word dwelt among us. The Word made “right here” his address.
The Father sent him in the flesh to be present among the people, to abide with them, remain with them. Put another way, Jesus knew his neighbors’ names. He knew his neighborhood, his community. Jesus sends us in the flesh to be present among our neighbors, too. Our apostleship flourishes when we go out into our community, not just bringing God with us, but also seeing what God is up to out there. We do not have a monopoly on God’s presence here in the church. God is active, alive, present, moving out in our neighborhood. As apostles, it’s our duty and our joy to go out into our community and ask, “What is God already doing out here? And how can we be part of it?”
We have a choice. We can remain in the upper room with the door locked, still as statues, locked in fear and pain and confusion. Or we can breathe deep the exhilarating exhalation of the Risen Christ. When we choose the latter, we receive the Holy Spirit. We receive God’s mission for us. As the Father has sent me, so I send you. The Risen Christ sends us out like God sent him into the world – living as our authentic selves, embracing God’s priorities, witnessing God’s movement in our neighborhoods, and participating in this broken world’s healing and restoration. Thanks be to God for the breath of Holy Spirit releasing us from our statue-hood. And thanks be to God for sending us out into our neighborhoods as apostles with this breath filling our lungs.