Most of our sisters and brothers in the Eastern Churches celebrate Easter today. Let us be mindful of them, many of whom suffer spiritual turmoil along with physical deprivations and separation from loved ones.
Our faith depends on the testimony of the first believers, Mary Magdalene, the other women, then Peter, James, and John, and others.
In our passage today we hear the Gospel writer’s attempt to mark the transition from the last to see, to the rest of us.
Attempts to squelch or squash or re-direct that testimony as we see in our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles comes to naught.
The testimony carries a truth so compelling for some that they will risk imprisonment, oppression, and death in embracing it.
It is Gospel, Good News, that God dwelt among us and continues to do so in the Spirit of Christ Jesus dwelling in our midst.
Our second reading, from the Book of Revelation, expands on the message in terms borrowed from the Liturgy of the Early Church.
If we understand the Book of Revelation as a letter or epistle meant to encourage faith communities in what was then called Asia Minor (or present-day Turkey) we find the verses in chapter one quite affectionate and caring.
It emphasizes God’s transcendence on the one hand and God’s desire to be known by all humankind.
What can we expect from the Spirit of Christ dwelling in our midst?
Two millennia of experience suggests what we should not expect.
We should not expect that each of us believers will imitate Christ perfectly. Far from it.
We should not expect that the programs we invent and the institutions we establish will all succeed and flourish. Far from it.
We should not expect that war and conflict will cease because we pray and fast that it will. It has not happened yet as far as we know.
On the other hand, prayer and fasting may have been instrumental in avoiding wars during the past 2,000 years, but we cannot know that because we cannot prove a negative.
We should not expect that the natural world will recover from human exploitation.
Nature does not care about your belief or my belief in the Good News of Christ Jesus.
Nature just measures and metes out consequences.
What I suggest to all of us this morning is a term borrowed from the Roman Catholic calendar for the observance of this Second Sunday of the Easter Season – MERCY.
I want to use mercy as an indicator of how the love of God can be communicated in and through us as believers, and thus be Good News to our world.
Our God did not enter into human history in the person of Jesus of Nazareth in order to manipulate our destiny, but rather to show us the way to life in union with the divine.
These can all be summed up in the forgiveness of sins which our Gospel and Acts readings point out clearly as the Activity of God, which Jesus of Nazareth understood as his own activity.
Those filled with the Spirit of God in Christ Jesus then also can and must demonstrate that divine prerogative.
Two ways to demonstrate that divine prerogative I will call generosity of spirit and deliberate forgetting.
On an individual level we can each consider past interpersonal hurt, pain, and injury, which has morphed into resentment (or the re-hashing and rehearsing and reprising of the event).
We can take that into daily prayer asking the God of Christ Jesus to act mercifully with those who hurt us and to help us dismantle the harbor we have built up around the resentment.
On a societal level we can collaborate with community groups to reform our so-called “corrections” systems on local, state, and national levels.
Almost 2% of the human beings in Wisconsin are either in county jail, state prison or under the supervision of the Department of Corrections.
Whether lack of voting rights or a broken probation and parole system or criminal records keeping individuals out of jobs and housing, there are so many ways we can flex our generosity of spirit and deliberate forgetting.
Let us take a sidebar break now before returning to another point of this reflection.
Deus ex machina is a Latin expression borrowed from Greek ἀπὸ μηχανῆς θεός (apò mēkhanês theós) which is literally translated into English as ‘god from the machine’.
It was a plot device used by Aeschylus, the popular playwright in Ancient Greece.
An otherwise unsolvable problem in the play, be it a tragedy or comedy is brought to a neat and tidy conclusion by bringing in the character of a god either by crane or by raising up a section of the stage floor.
The god character cleans up the mess made by the mortals in the play, and the audience finds respite from emotional turmoil.
Critics today, and even back in ancient Greece, consider this a cheap and lazy way out of a plot problem.
If we look out at our current media landscape, we note that 24-hour news outlets are geared toward feeding us dramas with unsolvable plots, thus creating a hunger in us, the audience, for a way out of the emotional turmoil.
When a political demagogue or religious zealot offers a cheap and lazy way out, it is tempting to take it.
What can immunize the human race so we might not succumb to the viruses of fear, hatred, resentment, and covetousness that hover in the wings of drama served up to us daily?
The Easter Season and specifically the Octave of Easter that we are now completing offers us one immunizing jab.
I call it savoring the experience.
In the early church the octave of Easter was a time to instruct the newly baptized about what she or he or they had just gone through in the baptismal ritual on Easter.
The instruction went into more detail and depth about the signs and symbols of water and oil and bread and wine.
The instruction included many references to the scriptures and the images and stories that reinforced the sacraments received.
The instruction encouraged the newly baptized and folded them into the affectionate arms of the Body of Christ, the Church.
This kind of savoring of experience, if we do it very carefully and deliberately and frequently, will help to reduce the effects of the 24-hour news cycle washing over us in giant waves, eroding our ability to cope with life.
This Sunday also gives us opportunity to reflect on Earth Week, just concluded.
While Earth Day and Earth Week are civic celebrations of human invention, they also serve to remind us that embedded in the Gospel message is this: God loves creation so much that God chooses to become a creature like us.
God does not hesitate to embrace the world as it is and interact with it in a respectful and caring way.
Here is one way for us to interact with respect and care.
People of color and Indigenous people have been disproportionately affected by the climate crisis.
One step we can take as followers of Christ is to lift up and promote the initiatives that leaders in the public and private spheres put forward.
One of the most recent initiatives is called “The Office of Environmental Justice” announced by Governor Evers this past week.
Taking positive steps in the face of daunting odds does not have to mean we are naïve.
Each positive step offers hope, and St. Paul makes it clear that we do not hope for what we see, but rather we hope for what we cannot yet see.
Now on to the last point of this reflection.
I call it, the wounds displayed in our glory.
The testimony of the first followers that they had seen the Risen Lord is most often prefaced by not recognizing the Risen Christ until he either speaks or acts in a certain way that clarifies who he is.
Today’s Gospel passage suggests that it is his wounds that convince them that the earthly Jesus has now a glorified existence.
How is it that wounds should stand out as the “glory” of the Risen Life?
The Risen Christ bears the wounds of earthly existence into eternal life to assure us, the followers, that we need not fear wounds or find any shame in them.
The wounds are part and parcel of the solidarity we have with all humans and with all creation.
The damaged human being exhibits some special facet of the divine.
We might not recognize it until we spend enough time with that person and finally, she or he or they say something or do something that makes us realize that the Risen Christ is in our midst.
This conclusion to the Gospel of John takes us from Unbelief to Belief and then to Believing More.
The Word of God today calls us to demonstrate mercy through generosity of spirit and deliberate forgetting.
The word of God today calls us to savor our experiences.
The word of God today calls us to embrace the world as it is and interact with it in a respectful and caring way.
The Word of God today call us to recognize the Risen, Glorified Christ in our wounded sisters and brothers.
“If we are absolutely grounded in the absolute love of God that protects us from nothing even as it sustains us in all things, then we can face all things with courage and tenderness and touch the hurting places in others and in ourselves with love.”
As we continue to celebrate the Resurrection, we are confident that Christ intercedes for us at the right hand of our caring God.
For the whole Church, that all who believe in the Risen Christ may follow him faithfully.
For peace in our world, that Christ’s gift of peace may settle in the hearts of all people and guide us away from injustice and violence.
For all who doubt or struggle with faith, that God’s love and presence may become known to them and bring light to their life’s journey.
For all those newly welcomed into the life of the Church, that they may be united in heart and soul and may be a sign of God’s transforming and merciful love.
For our own community of faith and for this monastery, that we may see Christ Jesus in the signs he has left us, giving us new life in Baptism, and nourishing us in the Eucharist.
For all who are in need, that those with plenty may act with compassion to serve their brothers and sisters in Christ with justice.
For all who are sick or suffering and for those close to death, that Jesus, the risen Savior, may give them grace and strength.
Caring God, increase in our minds and hearts the Risen life we share with Christ, helping us to grow as your people. We ask this through Christ in the Spirit.