Second Sunday of Easter, Year A
16 April 2023
Acts 2:14a, 22-32
1 Peter 1:3-9
It’s been a cool spring this side of the Rockies but Friday was a beautiful sunny day. The cherry and magnolia blossoms are ever more beautiful when it’s sunny. I put down the roof of the Smart Car and I felt like I was on holiday.
At 11:30 am there was a gathering at the library to raise awareness for the ongoing drug overdose crisis. I had not been to the library since the old pool was demolished. There is now a beautiful open field framed on one side by cherry trees. The Tablotney family had placed 2272 flags on the field, representing all those in British Columbia who died of an overdose during the past year. I buried two of them. The site was not only the site of the old Minoru pool, but also the place where Curtis, Trevor, and Troy many years ago took swimming lessons. Together with may others. The sight of the flags made the loss visual and it brought me to tears.
The year our family moved from Winnipeg back to British Columbia there was a class reunion in my hometown. I was not able to go. But friends sent pictures and reported on the lives of our classmates. Of the thirty (this was a middle school reunion) one had died of cancer, one had survived cancer, and one had died of an overdose.
Jens, who had died of an overdose, was a boy I had been jealous of. He had every toy imaginable, was handsome and charming, and most importantly, was popular with the girls. And I was desperate for someone to like me. What my teenage self did not understand was that there was more going on than I could see. Jens lived with his uncle and aunt. I have no idea where his parents were or what had happened to them. I only started to connect the dots when my friends had told me of his death.
Everyone has a different story and people will consume drugs for different reasons, just like other escapes we seek. Life isn’t easy for anyone, even if it may seem that way, as I had assumed for Jens. But it was likely harder for him than it was for me and for most people I knew.
We live in a time that wants a baseline for everything. The baseline is what we call normal, and normal then becomes what we consider normative. I wonder why we cannot simply accept that we are all different, complex, complicated, and beautiful, and understand that the only thing about us that is normal is that we are all human.
The evangelist John, in his account of Easter, makes it clear that the resurrection and Jesus’ first appearance to his friends occur on the first day of the week. The first day of the week is a beginning, it’s a new start. St Paul calls it the new creation.1
A new creation, a new start, a new beginning is what we need and what we long for. We are comforted by the promises of the Book of Revelation ‘that the home of God is among mortals, that God will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God Godself will be with them.’ We hold on to the promise that God will wipe every tear, that death will be no more; that mourning and crying and pain will be no more,’2 except that we don’t want to wait for it. We want it now.
Something of that ‘now’ is happening in the resurrection of Jesus. It is the first day of the week. It is a new beginning. Jesus is the firstborn of a new creation. There is newness. It is the newness we long for, even while we suffer.
That newness exists in two parts.
The first part is the reason there is newness at all. It is Christ raised from the dead by the glory of the Father. That Christ rose from the dead is the ontological fact that changes everything, changes our being. Our perspective has changed because Christ’s resurrection is not just about Christ but for all of creation. Paul says that Christ is the new Adam.3 In Eugene Peterson’s translation, “If death got the upper hand through one man’s wrongdoing, can you imagine the breathtaking recovery life makes, absolute life, in those who grasp with both hands this wildly extravagant life-gift, this grand setting-everything-right, that the one man Jesus Christ provides?”
The second reason, or the second way in which newness exists is in the breath of God. The risen Lord breathes into his friends and says to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
As Jesus is the new Adam through whom the world is made right, so Jesus’ breathing into his disciples takes us back to the very beginning when “the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.”4 BTW, the word translated as man is the Hebrew word for human and as such is non-gendered but that’s hard in English.
So the resurrection connects back to the beginning and the resurrection is a new beginning, a beginning that includes the commissioning of the disciples. A new beginning that includes a vocation.
This is John’s Pentecost. It is the fulfillment of what Jesus promised in his farewell speech, and this fulfillment allows us to be the branches on the vine, to be in communion with God and with each other.
The Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar describes the work of the Holy Spirit as a divine elastic band that bridges the distance between Father and Son when one is in heaven and one is in hell. Remember Jesus’ descent into hell that we confess in the Apostles’ Creed?5 The Holy Spirit is the connection that overcomes the estrangement.
This Spirit, the Holy Spirit, that makes possible the life of the Trinity, is what is given to the disciples as they are sent into the world to forgive sins. That Spirit makes us part of the life of the Trinity. Jesus says, “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.’ That means that the divine authority that Jesus has been given is transferred to his disciples, to his community, to the church.’6
That is the Holy Spirit. That is a new beginning. That is how resurrection takes hold of us.
Jesus’ specific instructions are to forgive, for the church to be a place of forgiveness. That means that justice as Christians understand it must be restorative not retributive, as much as we may want the latter. It is to be restorative because God wants to restore all of creation. It is also to be restorative because the followers of Jesus abandoned and denied Jesus and thus know that all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. Therefore we know that our judgment does not come from a place of innocence.
If we know that we have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory, we would not treat sins, any sins, with stigma, as if some sins like cheating the taxman were better than suffering from addictions or mental health issues. And can mental health be a matter of sin? I do not know. Besides, don’t we all, to some extent, have mental health issues, compulsive behaviours, anxiety, or trauma. We don’t have to tell everyone but maybe insight into our own lives will help us to no longer stigmatize, and to become a restorative community.
There are other, broader implications for forgiveness. The theologian Stanley Hauerwas tells the story of a Mennonite Central Committee poster that used to be on his office door at Duke Divinity School. The caption read: A modest proposal: Let the Christians of the world resolve not to kill each other. He says that people would frequently take offense and assert that no one should kill anyone. Hauerwas laughs as he tells the story. He always replied that that’s why the Mennonites called it a modest proposal. You’ve got to start somewhere.
Of course, this relates to how Christians act in wars, and have acted in wars for almost two millennia.
That Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit into his disciples makes us the new creation. It gives us a new beginning and through us it gives the world a new beginning. This is not just an emotional or spiritual experience, but it gives the church a new politics, a politics that is not based on retribution, violence, or honour, but a politics that is based on the peace of Christ. It is how resurrection takes hold of us.
Christ is risen.
He is risen indeed. Alleluia.
1 2 Corinthians 5
2 Revelation 21
3 Romans 5
4 Genesis 2:7
5 see also 1 Peter 3:18-20
6 see Wes Howard-Brook, Becoming Children of God – John’s Gospel and Radical Discipleship, Maryknoll, NY: 1994 Orbis, page 457-458