Sermon for Second Sunday of Easter by Pastor Joel Pukallus - 19 April, 2020
Bible reading - John 20:19-31 New International Version (NIV)
Wow, how the first few lines of the Gospel lesson sound familiar.
“19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders”
Together as immediate families, but apart from other members of our church, we are huddled together with doors locked for fear of something that can kill us, too. For us it is not the authorities that just crucified our leader and teacher and friend, but the reality is that the enemy we face is just as deadly. And it does not discriminate. We do not have to fear only those who obviously hate us, we could catch this awful disease from our closest friends and family, anyone.
And then Jesus comes and stands among them. And Jesus presence among them was one that brought peace.
We have always thought that to be the work of the church, haven’t we, to bring peace? During depressions and world wars churches have stayed open, and these have been the places where generations of people have heard and taken seriously those words: “Peace be with you”. And they have received peace.
Brave men and women have carried the message of the Gospel of salvation, and the hope of heaven, across battlefields and into natural disasters and hospitals, and wherever the fear of death and destruction threaten to overwhelm us.
It made me think a little about the altars in our churches. Often in churches who believe in what we call the real presence in Holy Communion, we do not just have a table up the front of the church, or a lectern in an auditorium, but we have an altar. Like a throne for Jesus our King to sit on, it is a holy place where we come into the presence, in a very real way, of Jesus Christ, who is there for us in, with and under the bread and wine in Holy Communion.
And Holy Communion is important to us, and we love coming and partaking of it as often as we can, but for about 5 weeks now, this church has stood empty, and the bread and wine have not been placed on this altar. Does that mean that Jesus has not been present with us in that time?
Not at all. You see, there are other places where the presence of Jesus comes to us and brings his peace along with it. Holy Communion is not some kind of magic. It is a tool that God uses. But he is a master craftsman and he has other means at his disposal.
We all had different altars in different churches when we were growing up. The one in the church here at St Marks is a big stone one. I have found the presence of God and his peace in my life on many different altars in many different churches, made of stone, and wood, and of all sorts of different shapes and sizes.
But I have had other altars, too. I have had Jesus come to me on lakes, and in thunderstorms, and at Christian Life Week camps in halls and cabins and laying on my bunk in a group prayer time. From the mouths of Sunday School teachers and devotion leaders at school, and my Pastors, and parents and grandparents, and countless other times in the people of my churches, in Home Groups and friendships. These have been altars for me too.
And we had better get used to that idea because right now we are living in a time where for many people, their experience of the risen Jesus Christ and his Peace, spoken and lived into their lives, will be found on altars not made of stone or wood.
While we are huddled together Jesus comes and stands among us and says: “Peace be with you”. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.”
As the Father sent me: Alright, let’s have a look at that. How did the Father send him? The Father sent him from the throne of heaven to the everyday dusty, dirty, earthy things of his creation. Into flesh, into a human family, at a time of fear and death and persecution. He sent him into synagogues, but also into wedding feasts and sinners homes and meals with tax collectors.
He sent him into a room behind a door locked for fear of the Jews. That room, we have no idea whose house it was, where that room was, but that room became the first altar upon which the disciples found the physical presence of the risen Lord Jesus. Imagine that!
Yes, Thomas doubted, and that is what we often concentrate on, but for me that was not the most remarkable part of the story. If others were not there that day, they would have doubted too. The remarkable part was that Jesus found them as hard as they had tried to hide, and that he sent them.
There are people out there right now whose first altar, whose first medium through which they experience the presence of the risen Jesus will not be a pulpit, or a church or a stone table, but might be a television screen, or a laptop screen, or a mobile phone, as they watch and listen to our worship services, and stay connected to the people of God through our facebook page and our new website. Or their altar might be a telephone, as they are rung up by our elders who are checking to see how they are going through this time of isolation, who ask if they are afraid, and who share the peace of the risen Lord Jesus with them.
Or their altar might be your lap, mum and Dad, as you let them climb up and read a bible story to them, or tell them how your faith is helping you get through this time.
Jesus comes and stands among us and says peace be with you and sends us. Where? He doesn’t send us to church, He sends us HOME. This is where faith starts for so many and where faith will be built.
I saw a cartoon on tuesday night that had Satan and God the Father standing over and looking at the earth. Satan was bragging that with Covid-19 he had shut down all the churches. And with a smile God just said “No, I have just opened one in every home”.
Remember that the church building is just a building. Our Faith does not revolve around a building. The time will come when this place will again be filled with the sound of many voices, and there will be children singing, and I want us to gather outside and process in as we sing that beautiful hymn, written in the middle of a plague: “Now thank we all our God, with hearts and hands and voices”. That will be a great day. Why, not because we are once again together in this church building, but because we are once again together AS A CHURCH in this church building. The church is the body, it is the people. It is you and me, wherever we are.
But: until that day comes, you are, as we would say in the emergency services, on deployment. You have been deployed, sent to places where people need to hear those words: “Peace be with you”. You are there to bring an otherworldly perspective to the fear of lost livelihoods and jobs, lost health and the fear of lost lives.
The reading for today tells us that we are never hidden too far away for Jesus to find us, and these recorded worship services are being seen on different continents and from townhouses to cattle properties to farmhouses to nursing homes. Jesus comes and stands among you again and again and says “Peace be with you”.
The disciples would have no idea what the church would look like in the months and years after this event, when they were sent. And neither do we. The church as we know it has changed. Maybe forever. But remember: this is Jesus’ church, he stands at the end of time and calls us to him, and nothing that will happen is outside of his Lordship and his knowledge. There is nowhere we will ever go where God has not been there before us, and so we don’t take him with us. He takes us with him.
Peace be with you. Now, and in the time to come. Amen.