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A sermon by Keith Herron, Pastor, Holmeswood Baptist Church, Kansas City, Mo.

The Second Sunday of Easter

I Peter 1:3-9

April 27, 2014

Psalm 16; John 20:19-31; Acts 2:14a, 22-32

Can you imagine it? On that first Easter morning, when Jesus stepped out of the tomb, not much had changed. The market opened at its usual time. Shopkeepers busily set out their wares on the narrow streets. A few people walked briskly to and fro through the city on their way somewhere or another. You could smell breakfast being cooked on the open fires in the many homes near the place where Jesus had been buried. The Temple showed signs of early morning activity.

Remember, this was the end of the Feast of the Passover and, frankly, there was a huge mess to clean up after all the crowds. Some of the out-of-town families were packing in order to make the long journey back to their homes.

Even Pilate was beginning to rouse from a long night’s sleep.

His guards were resting from a long weekend’s anxiety over the crowds of Passover. There was concern the whole week prior to Passover because of the uneasy rumors that were heard concerning the itinerant preacher from Galilee. The hotline connecting the High Priest with Pilate had been busy during the week as they considered what they could do together to control “this Jesus problem.”

When Jesus was safely in his tomb just before the beginning of Sabbath, everyone finally relaxed. Pilate rested easy because Jesus was no longer a threat. The Temple leaders must have high-fived and celebrated their victory. Everyone took a long, deep breath and exhaled confidently knowing the problem of Jesus had been overcome was no longer a threat to their power or position.

The world Jesus had exited in his death was essentially the same world that greeted him when he was raised from the dead. The same problems still existed. The same evil controlled the human heart. The same old hatreds were still very much alive and operative in the world.

What are we to make of that? The important question that seeks to understand the resurrection may not as important as “what difference has the resurrection made in our world?” Most importantly, “what difference has it made in you or me?”

I

Martin Luther, in moments of great stress would make the mark of the cross on his forehead as he would say, “You are baptized.” Go back to your baptism. Go back in time to that occasion when you entered the waters of baptism. Go back to that time the pastor said the Trinitarian words, “God the Creator, God the Redeemer, God the Spirit” as you were lowered under the water.

I was nine years old and a part of a brand new mission church on the edge of town. This fledgling church had bought the land on which the church buildings would be built and had roughed in the walls to the Sanctuary. They surrounded the building with portable units where Sunday School classes were held.

But the rooms behind the choir loft were not finished. These were the preparation rooms for the baptistery. It was like going backstage to a stage show. I remember sitting with 3 other boys waiting nervously to be baptized being told by a church lady (likely our Sunday School teacher) we were the first ever to be baptized by this new church. That was the good news!

The bad news was this was in the winter and the baptistery tub had water but the hot water heater had not yet been hooked up. I distinctly remember how animated the lady was who was giving us this news when she turned to the four of us and asked brightly, “Now, who wants to be first?”

If we were baptismal candidates of the church of the first century, someone would likely read us this text in I Peter as some scholars believe it is a baptismal sermon.[1] This epistle could be considered a letter written by “the next generation” of believers as it came from a period that marked the end of the Apostolic Era and the beginning of the post-Apostolic era. Thus, it’s the middle of the first century and the original Apostles had mostly either died or were martyred and the second-generation followers were now leading the church as it expanded across the Roman Empire.

Whether authored by Peter or one of his followers, this epistle was a lesson given to those who had come to faith and were ready to immerse themselves in the faith in a rite symbolized by baptism. It was for those who had gone through the scrutiny and teachings of the church leadership on all things related to their faith and were now candidates for baptism.

Baptism likely could have taken place at Easter as many believe. So this lesson from Peter could have been preached at a first century baptismal pool as an exhortation to be prepared for enduring the cost of their faith if trials and persecution was to come their way.

II

What seems significant about this baptismal sermon is the way it holds the crucifixion and the resurrection together as one event.[2]

In truth, each needs the other to be wholly true. Without the crucifixion, we might be tempted to be triumphalistic as though we walk between the raindrops of the reality sin and evil and suffering. We would become escapists and many Christians seem to take that position in their denial of injustice and their refusal to connect the dots between faith and life.

We escape to our private comfort and insulate ourselves from the world just outside our doors. We blame suffering on social or personal sin while minimizing our own involvement in them so we’re not touched by sin’s stain. When we do this, we pervert personal salvation into an escape from our responsibility to respond to the unjust suffering around us.

The Bible holds the cross and resurrection together, and we live in the paradox. The old world is still with us and we participate in it.

Fred Craddock suggests that reading I Peter is a good reminder of our purpose as the church. He says our purpose is pretty simple:  It’s like a family that gathers at the reading of the will. We read this letter as a document that tells us what our inheritance is. “Sometimes,” he says, “I forget that this is what we do every Sunday: Read the will. That is what we are here for, to read God’s will so all the children of God can know what their inheritance is.”

III

The history of the Christian church is filled with the brave stories of incredible times of suffering. But those stories are repeated in countless ways by brave followers of Jesus who in their time made the crucifixion and the resurrection tangible as gifts of God’s grace in a broken world.

Here’s a small story to illustrate. In September 1957, Little Rock was the center of a very large American struggle over racial equality. Nine black children under a federal mandate attempted to attend an all-white school. At the end of the first day, Elizabeth Eckford, a 15-year old girl, was separated from the others because her family had no phone to hear of the plan for protection that had been formulated for them. She turned around in confusion and found herself facing a mob of some 200 enraged white faces shouting and cursing and threatening to lynch her.

One person had the courage to contradict the crowd. At no small risk to herself, a white woman named Grace Lorch pushed through the crown, took the black girl by the hand, and led her through the mob to the bus that would take her safely home. This is the kind of cross-bearing which strengthens our hope and bears witness of the crucified and resurrected Christ

We have these stories as gifts. The stories of faith lived in the face of difficulty and suffering are the most sacred stories we have to tell. By living out our faith and facing the challenges of the day, we are rightly remembering our baptism.

Easter faith is so much deeper than butterflies and Easter eggs. There’s something larger going on in the resurrection of Jesus than sweet candies and new Easter outfits. For the suffering church, there is the abiding promise of the love and care of God.

[1] Bo Reicke, The Epistles of James, Peter, and Jude, The Anchor Bible, Doubleday: Garden City, NY, 1964, 72-74

[2] Thanks to Larry Bethune for this observation, “The Darkness Between the Flashes,” University Baptist Church, Austin TX, 4/18/93

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