May the peace of the risen Jesus be with you, my sisters and brothers in Christ!
In times like this when we have to face social distancing and empty churches how can we preach to the empty pews the message of the empty tomb? This question brings me back to the text of John 20. It begins with the story of the empty tomb. Mary Magdalene first discovered the tomb empty and reported it to Simon Peter who also went to the empty tomb with John. But they did not understand “the scripture, that he must rise from the dead” (John 20:9).
Jesus appeared to Mary first, and later in the evening of the Easter he came to his disciples who were forced to ‘social distance’ behind the locked doors of the house for fear of the Jews. Jesus stood among them and said, “Peace be with you” (John 20:19). Jesus’ ‘Shalom!’ on Easter evening resonates with his last words on the cross: “It is finished” (John 19:30). Thus, peace of reconciliation and life is fulfilled in Jesus’ victory over sin and death. Jesus’ ‘Shalom!’ is not so much a greeting of everyday life but the most merciful and consoling invitation for those who have the sickness unto death. We are ‘the patients’ who must willingly acknowledge our disease/sin and to receive with joy the healing/salvation from the one who surely “took our infirmities and carried our sorrows”, and the punishment upon him “brought us peace and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:4-5).
We remember that Jesus’ second ‘Shalom!’ for his disciples was when he said to them, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21). This is rather a frightening call of the Lord for his servants to leave the private space of beautiful solaces and to face again the public sphere torn down by the empire of mammon. However, before they are called to be ‘the agents’ for the Kingdom of God, i.e., the peacemakers or the ambassadors of Christ for reconciliation, they ought to
be poured on by the power of the Holy Spirit.
As Jesus sent his disciples “he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’ (John 20:22). Jesus breathes into each of us the breath of life to become a new creature. At the same time, Jesus breathes into us all, as if we were those slain in Ezekiel 37. As the Jewish people in Exile whose lands had turned into the graves, returned to their own by the quickening of the Spirit, we are called by the authority of the Holy Spirit to be the Church, the body of Christ in the public sphere of our times.
Surely, I am not the only one who has been shocked by a recent photo of the inside of a refrigerated truck full of the bags of the dead Americans. Indeed, we are now passing through the dark valley of death in these trying times. Recollecting the tragic image of the corpses in my mind, I overhear the challenging question of God: “Son of man, can these bones live” (Ezekiel 37:3a)? The prophet’s answer, “O Sovereign Lord, you alone know.” (Ezekiel 37:3b), leads me into a profound insight that the hope of the resurrection of body and life everlasting is not the inner-worldly possibility of evolutionary process, but solely the eschatological grace of God’s sovereignty and His eternally faithful love. Therefore, Paul boldly proclaims: “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you” (Romans 8:11).
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ! Do not be afraid of facing the rebellious world estranged from the origin of life, our triune God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. First and foremost, we need to recover the fundamental sense of fear of God in the form of ‘public vigilance’ over the idolatry of money in the name of free market which has thrown our healthcare system into shambles. Let’s “lay the sick in the marketplaces” where the living Christ is present (Mark 6:56). We should be part of ‘a Great Reset’ after the storm of pandemic has passed in order to celebrate Easter in the public sphere of our life.
Ironically, human social distancing has allowed birds to thrive and brought people together in love, though separately clapping, singing, and dancing. Let’s repent our sins of self-interest, privatizing every corner of public lives and services, as well as destroying the precious habitat of wild animals which might have caused the spread of viruses unheard of previously. Resist cold xenophobia and hot racism blaming the innocent for the pandemic. Instead, let’s be in cool solidarity and remain with warm human bond in taking global ethical responsibility to stop the vicious cycle of pandemic spread from the global North to the global South and again to the global North and so on.
Finally, people called Methodists from everywhere to everywhere, do not forget the risen Christ’s empowering admonition: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:22b-23). If you believe that Jesus’ resurrection restores a dead person to life, take sin in deadly earnest and commit yourselves to the evangelical ministry of forgiveness with all your heart and might for “a dead person can only be raised, resurrected, and grave sin can only be forgiven.” (Karl Barth) Let’s praise God “for as by a man came death, by a man also has come resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:21-22).
Therefore, I solemnly ask you on behalf of the almighty God who raised Jesus from the dead to witness to all people in fear and trembling: “Come from the four winds, spirit of life, and breathe on these slain so that they come to life again” (Ezekiel 37:9). Let them come back to life and rise to their feet, a mighty host.
Jesus is risen! Happy Easter!