In the odd plot of our lives in which people come and go, pop in and pop out, it is good to have one person we can count on. The resurrection appearances in Luke remind us that Jesus says goodbye only to say hello. Jesus is with us in the presence and person of the Holy Spirit. He only left so he could stay.
The painting called “Christ at Heart’s Door,” by Warner Sallman is based on Revelation 3:20. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to you and eat with you and you with me.” Pairing that text with that painting has produced many a sermon that encourages listeners to open the door of their hearts to Jesus. The message is that he will not come in unless you invite him. But that is not the message of John 20. For one thing, Jesus in John 20 doesn’t have shoulder-length auburn hair and blue eyes. Nor does he wait patiently for us to open the door from within. The text simply says that, although the disciples were locked in, for fear of Jesus’ adversaries, “Jesus came and stood among them. “ (John 20:19b) He comes in to break them out.
This is a text about the ways that Christian communities ought to be constituted if they profess to be followers of Jesus. It is highly unlikely to me that every early community actually acted in the ways described in Acts 4, though it would be grand if they had so acted.
However we design our economy, for Christians, if there remain needy among us, that system has failed.
If Easter means anything in our modern world, surely it means that the new age of Jesus, the coming of his rule in life, as opposed to the usual run of the world’s unending concern with power and greed and fame and success, is what we are to be about. It is far more than my certainty of eternal life with God, but rather it is my certainty that my earthly life can now never be the same after I have been sucked into this fabulous story.
We all know that the forward momentum of our Lenten ski lift is supposed to bring us to the emotional mountain top of Easter: Resurrection Day, victory of life over death, the end of tears. But for some of us, Easter Sunday isn’t so much a mountaintop we access with effortless grace. It’s more like that piece of playground equipment we used to play on in grade school. The big round flat platform with the metal handles - lots of kids could get on and whirl around if one person would push with their foot. Other kids would try to jump on as the wheel came around, but if you missed it this time, you had to wait until it came around again to get on.
As Christians we affirm that Jesus, the Son of God, the host of this Maundy Thursday meal delivers us from bondage to sin and death, bewilderment, hopelessness, and apathy. We can be certain of his presence amid an uncertain future.
Many of us have become cynical, inured to words of hope and succor, tired of claims of future possibilities in the power of God. Yet, Isaiah says that YHWH has sent to us a servant whose work it is to present to us strength in our weakness, light in our darkness, and hope in our despair.
Dr. Thomas defines a dangerous sermon and provides advice on how to preach such a sermon and survive.
A valuable sermonic approach would be to invite listeners to make belief in (trust in) Jesus as the Revelation of God their highest allegiance in life, reflect on the sacrifices that entails, and offer a vision of its benefits and fruits.
Jeremiah’s vision of the new covenant still gleams as a distant goal of YHWH, a possible hope for a better future for all of us, human and animal and plant. And that future for us Christians is bound up in Jesus Christ who offered himself as servant of all and slave of all, giving his very life for that future.
The wilderness, wherever it is, is a very dangerous place, and always needs a pole or two to aid our passage through. And for us Christians, the pole that saves is not topped by a gleaming snake but rather by a bleeding and dying man, who cared for us enough to offer himself as a gift for all.
In the Gospel of John belief is not intellectual assent, but wholehearted trust, entrusting our lives/futures to God. Faith in the gospel of John is a verb, not a noun.