John begins his Gospel: the Word becomes flesh and lives among us – in other words, Jesus lives in our flesh what God wants us to know. Something goes wrongs with the plan. Jesus is crucified, and his disciples go into hiding, afraid the police will come for them next, especially since the body’s gone missing. They’re a hopeless and pathetic bunch. Easter day ends with a whimper, not a bang.
We’ve come a long way from that first Easter. This past week I read reports from clergy about Easter services. If their stories are true, then the American church had a resurrection last Sunday. This Sunday we’ll see. Attendance records were set. Families show up, want to join and get their babies baptized; more kids hunted Easter eggs. All report superb music and great preaching in dazzlingly decorated naves. I think, “They must be talking about us.” But at evening worship that first Easter, a sign over the front could have read: “Welcome to the Church of the Locked Doors. Go away! Leave us alone!”
Fear does strange things to good people: fear of being on the wrong side; fear of saying the wrong thing; fear of failure. We naturally protect ourselves. A couple, who I suspect never liked me, tells me I’m not doing such a hot job as a pastor. “Well, you know, I was just thinking that myself.” They had just visited a large, growing church in a major city that had more money than Warren Buffet. “Their pastor packs the pews. You have to get there early. What do you think Steve’s doing wrong?” “Guys, unlock those doors. Let me in. I just got transferred to your church.”
We had a highly successful church seniors’ program. They traveled and dined more than any organized group I’d ever seen. They once asked me to explain my vision for the church as they made plans that year. I said, “Well, this year I want us to live intentionally out of God’s grace.” “We studied grace a few years ago. We’ve got that one down. We’re looking for something else.” “Wow,” I said, “that’s great. I still trying to understand why God loves us with no strings attached.” “Yeah, so what sort of road trips do you figure would appeal to seniors – Florida, Canada, the mountains?” “Well, I don’t know. I’m a pastor, not a travel agent. Have you thought about where Jesus might want to send you?” “That’s not what we have in mind. Thanks anyway.” Now, these are good, baptized people. I thought, “They believe in Jesus’ resurrection. But in practice, Jesus seems to have gone missing here.”
When Jesus goes missing, the church hunkers down, gets scared and starts dying. People may sense something’s wrong. So we create travel clubs, ceramic classes – and hope that will restore life. Without Jesus’ presence, that’s about all we can hope for. What’s interesting is that day Jesus didn’t hang out with the women who get it. He goes to those whose fears and doubt separate them from God. He appears unexpectedly. Since we believe without seeing not like those first disciples, our doubts may linger. So we practice being on the lookout for Jesus. He comes to us in love, not condemnation. He brings peace – unlike we’ve ever known – a peace of love and forgiveness, takes us where we are, breathes his life-giving spirit into our fear-encrusted souls, and sends us into the world as his flesh and body to let everyone know we are forgiven, loved, and restored. Jesus bodily will leave the earth, but his spirit is here, breathing his incarnation into the likes of us. He still empowers us to unlock doors, go out and start taking down walls, and live fearlessly and with great abandon – bringing God’s kingdom on earth through our lives resurrected into his. You see, the church is more than a gathering of nice individuals. We are Christ’s Body incarnating the life of the unseen Lord. All he asks is we be faithful. He’ll do the rest.
Today we celebrate the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. Baptism is more than certification you’re saved. It is the community’s affirmation that God has already saved us. Baptism identifies who you really are. How you do know that? The church tells you what you can’t see – you are sealed by the Holy Spirit, and marked as Christ’s own. Then the church helps you grow into knowing that. It’s God’s work, and we respond. Forgive me, but it’s like my credit card. Before mine expires, VISA is nice enough to send me another – so I can rent more credit. That new card is useless until I call a toll-free number and activate it. The risen Lord is raised in us in baptism. Gradually, as we grow into his life, willing to die to ourselves for his sake, Christ is raised more and more in our flesh, as Theresa of Avila says. We are becoming his hands, feet, mouth, and heart. The proof of resurrection comes not with argument or coercion, but when others see the Lord raised in us. We are to live lives that make no sense if Jesus had not been raised from death.
I told you last week the first Easter joke is one God plays on Satan who thinks he’s won, only a couple of days later, God raises Jesus from death and laughter erupts through all creation. Another joke is Jesus believes that pathetic little church can get his work done. When he shows up, doors unlock, and resurrection becomes palpably real. Without Jesus alive in our midst, we become known for what we are against, not the one we are for. And here we are two thousand years later. The joke is on death and fear that people still think win in this world. Yet the joy of God’s laughter resounds through creation – when over and over, the risen Lord’s life becomes alive in us. Then we can understand Paul. We’ve already been buried with Christ in baptism. We’re being raised to walk with him in newness of life. The joke – God uses folks like us to continue the incarnation. When we consent, that’s Easter.
Speaking of Easter jokes, did you hear – naw, forget it. I can’t top the one I told you last week.