The 2nd Sunday of Easter: A Sermon


Alleluia. Christ is risen.
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.

The dominant—maybe the overwhelming—emotion in today’s readings is that of joy. It’s the base melody for Peter’s sermon. We hear it again in Peter’s letter

 Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, (1:8)

It’s a dominant part of the disciples’ reaction to Jesus’ appearances in the Gospel. But perhaps it finds fullest expression in David’s psalm:

9 My heart, therefore, is glad, and my spirit rejoices; *
my body also shall rest in hope.
10 For you will not abandon me to the grave, *
nor let your holy one see the Pit.

Joy on David’s lips is all the more remarkable when we notice the implied setting: David very near the Pit, with plenty of enemies pressuring him toward it, the Pit his probable destination unless the Lord responds to the cry with which the psalm begins (“Protect me, O God”). So what might we learn from this psalm and the Gospel about how to experience this joy? In our collect, after all, we prayed “Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ’s Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith.” If the lessons are any indication, what we’re praying that we “show forth” has something to do with an authentic joy. How do we get there?

The psalm, as we’ve noticed, starts very far from joy:

Protect me, O God, for I take refuge in you;
I have said to the Lord, “You are my Lord,
my good above all other.”

The psalmist is facing some sort of lethal threat; here, as in many of the psalms the language is kept general so that the psalm can be used in a variety of situations, whether grave illness or enemies’ plots or an oppressive social order. And in that first verse two decisions have already been made. The first is to seek the Lord’s aid—that’s the proper name lying behind the first ‘Lord’ in the verse: “I have said to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord.’” The psalmist is in a religious environment even more pluralistic than ours, some of which is reflected in the following verses.

The second decision: to not try to put the problem out of mind. Then, as now, many ways to dull awareness. Precisely in praying the psalm the psalmist is discarding that option.

This psalm, you see, like many of the psalms, works with three foci: the Lord, the psalmist’s enemies, and the psalmist’s situation. And the whole work of the psalm is to hold those three together until The Lord does something. The psalmist has no idea what that’s going to look like. That takes effort; that’s why some of these psalms are rather long. The options of seeking another patron or seeking oblivion continue to present themselves, and each time have to be set aside. Sometimes “The Lord does something” happens quickly, sometimes not. If you want an image for this, think of the patriarch Jacob wrestling all night with the angel: “I will not let you go, unless you bless me” (Gen 32:26).

And sometimes, as in this psalm, “The Lord does something” also means The Lord giving the gift of confidence and joy before anything else happens, before there’s any obvious reason for confidence or joy:

I have set the Lord always before me; *
because he is at my right hand I shall not fall.

What I’m describing here is a spiritual discipline, or practice, which in most times and places involves swimming upstream. Much of what we encounter on the internet or other media assumes our God’s absence. So it takes regular discipline to reorient ourselves, which is why the Daily Office is at the beginning of our prayer book. And the testimony of generations of prayer book users is that a predictable outcome of this discipline is joy.

So that’s one answer to “How do we get there?”

The other answer is in our Gospel reading.

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” (20:19)

As John tells the story, the appearance is completely unexpected. And of the many things we might notice in this account, one is certainly Jesus’ strong desire to be with his friends.

(Returning to Matthew for a moment, recall that the night of his arrest Jesus told his disciples he would meet them in Galilee [26:32]. But, as in John, he meets Mary Magdalene at the tomb that Easter morning. He can’t wait for Galilee.)

And so in the different accounts of the post-resurrection appearances in the Gospels, it’s rarely about teaching; it’s primarily about being with, about friendship, about love.

So that’s the Gospel reading’s answer to “How do we get there:” pure gift, Jesus’ presence. And what we learn from this and the other stories is that this presence is something Jesus wants at least as much as we do.

Joy. On the one hand, a product of the discipline of, with David, holding The Lord, our enemies, and our situation in the same frame. The joy’s not automatic; it’s not something that can be forced. It’s us the lovers seeking the Beloved. On the other hand, it’s the product of Jesus’ unexpected gifts of presence, quite outside our control. And there it’s Jesus as lover, seeking us. So one of the Bible’s recurrent images for the culmination of this long history of The Lord and humankind is the wedding. That’s the human future. Whether with David on the run or Peter in Jerusalem, that’s the future we have the privilege of announcing to our neighbors.

Alleluia. Christ is risen.
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.

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