Easter C: Easter’s “Already”

The readings for Easter Sunday are:

First Reading        Acts 10:34–43 or Isaiah 65:17–25

Psalm                    Psalm 118:1–2, 14–24

New Testament      1 Corinthians 15:19–26 or Acts 10:34–43

Gospel                   John 20:1–18 or Luke 24:1–12

Let us allow Luke to be our guide to celebrating Easter. We want to think Resurrection means something today, not just after we die. Luke shows the way.

Before we read the appointed Easter Gospel from Luke let us back up in his account to a few very special verses regarding the Kingdom or Rule of God.

A few chapters earlier Luke reports that Jesus said this: “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; 21 nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.” (Luke 17:20-21)

Before Jesus words that we remember as the Words of Institution of the Eucharist in chapter 22,  he makes this promise: “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; 16 for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.”

In chapter 23, just a few verses before our Gospel reading, Luke tells us about one Joseph of Arimathea, who asks Pilate not to let the scavengers at the body of Jesus. He takes it, wraps it in linen, and places it in a new tomb. Why? Because “he was waiting expectantly for the Kingdom of God.”

Now, comes our Reading of the first twelve verses in Luke 24, where one very powerful verse asks, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” The hope for the rule of God is not dead. It has arisen with Christ.

One reason Luke writes his Gospel is that in the 40 to 60 years after the crucifixion the Kingdom seemed to be nowhere to be seen. If Jesus was the Messiah, why was he killed? Why was Jerusalem now lying in ruins? Why was no Davidic King on the throne? Why were the Romans and death and taxes still the only things that were sure and certain?

Today, two millennia later, it still seems that way. And we need Luke more than ever. We don’t think in terms of Kingdom, but how can we say the world is better off for Christ? No day goes by that we don’t fret when someone points out that bad, bad things still are happening to good people. Tragedy seems to be the one constant, from the mothers and children fleeing the carnage in Ukraine to aunt Jane, who did so much for others all her life, and is now lying in her own soiled linens in an understaffed nursing home.

If Jesus were the messianic king, where is he now ruling? Where is the rule or the Kingdom of God?  We have all the proof we need that it certainly is not here yet!

Not yet!

But  Luke’s beautiful Gospel does indeed point us to the other side of things—to the “Already.”

We hear the message ring out: For many incredible things we don’t have to wait. We just open our eyes of faith. This is why “today” is one of Luke’s favorite words:

Today, the angels tell us: Today is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 

Today God’s promise of release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, freedom for the oppressed, and the year of the Lord’s favor—it all is coming true….Today.

Today we’ve see a paralyzed man walked – Today we see strange things.

Today. When Jesus comes to eat with Zacchaeus the hated tax collector, and Zacchaeus realizes he has cheated people to enrich himself, Jesus rejoices and says, “Today salvation has come to this house.”

And to the penitent thief on the cross Jesus says, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

Jesus says though the Kingdom of God is not easy to point out in conventional ways, it is already taking shape among us. And this Gospel helps us come alive to two very special ways this is so.

First, the Holy Spirit now is the dominant force in our lives. It opens our eyes and it empowers our hearts.

As Jesus himself is conceived by and anointed with the Spirit, so people like Zachariah, and Elizabeth and Mary are filled with the Spirit.

God gives the Holy Spirit to all who ask for it.

Jesus’ disciples are to be “clothed with power from on high.”

Jesus goes at length to explain that when you follow him there will be trouble and persecution. But it is in times like this that the Holy Spirit works through us to help us endure.

I heartily recommend that we talk to our loved ones and neighbors about the Holy Spirit. In today’s world we are being told a great deal of vacuous things as children and teens, like, “You can do anything if you put your mind to it and work hard at it.”  But then, when real life problems come up such as trouble in a marriage or a problem pregnancy, how often are we quickly advised to get a divorce or an abortion. “That’s life. You can’t fight it.”

But life doesn’t have to be that brutal. God is already ruling, and that means he gives the Spirit to us if we ask. Have we considered that with the Holy Spirit we may already have the Kingdom of God among us, and we might be empowered to do impossible things like salvage a marriage and make room for a new life? I believe that as Christians in a democratic republic we should not force our ethics on others; but we certainly should still believe and proclaim that the Holy Spirit empowers us to do what seems impossible.

I believe we see the greatest way the Kingdom of God is already among us in the Eucharist we celebrate in Christian worship.

Let’s not think the Lord’s Supper is just the end of our worship. Let’s see it as it is: the beginning of the Kingdom of God. It is where Jesus changes the way we set a table. The Great Banquet of God, that Jesus described in chapter 14 of Luke, is happening now and changing the world. We Christians don’t invite only those who can pay us back. We go out to the hedges and alleyways to invite those whom others shut their doors to. Well, as congregations and as individuals  we may not be perfect in doing this, but we should know enough not to have rules to exclude. We are compelled to say all are forgiven sinners. All are invited and welcome. And, after all, it is still Christ who is doing the gathering whether we are aware or not.

Jesus has told us the Kingdom, though hard to see, is among us now.

At the Last Supper Jesus adds a vow that he will eat Passover with us only in the Kingdom of God—but that Kingdom came quickly on the very first Easter Day, by way of Jesus’ Resurrection. It came with the two disciples at the dinner table on the road to Emmaus, and again when Jesus shares a fish dinner with the eleven later that same day.

Jesus continues to welcome tax collectors and sinners of all sorts. And, as he breaks bread with us, our eyes are open to who he is and to the way he is even now ruling our world.

We are like Peter, in Luke’s second volume, the Book of Acts, chapter 10. Bad blood between Jews and Romans was boiling more and more after Jesus’ death. But Jesus was already changing things among believers of all religions and races. God had a Roman Centurion named Cornelius send slaves to Simon Peter’s house to invite him to dinner. Of course Peter, a good Jew, would rather die than break the Law of Moses by eating with an impure Gentile. But while the slaves were on their way Peter got hungry. While his meal was cooking, he fell into a trance and saw a sheet full of non-Kosher foods, and a voice said, “Get up Peter, kill and eat.”

Peter protested, “I could never eat anything profane and unclean.”

The resurrected Jesus then answered him, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”

If you ever say to yourself, “Jesus changed nothing. Everyone is corrupt. The world is still the same old dirty place,” please remember this:  If you are looking for the change—look around. “The Kingdom is among you.”

All you need to do is ask and you will receive the Holy Spirit to see things anew and act anew. 

And please remember what it means when we gather at the table for the Lord’s Supper. This is the beginning of the Kingdom. As we or anyone else around this world walks up to receive the Body and Blood of Christ, we are NOT CORRUPT.

Yes, there is the “not yet.” There is corruption in this world as it is. Even the disciples are still corrupted by their culture’s low estimation of women as they consider the women’s report of the Resurrection “an idle tale.” But in Holy Communion we have the beginnings of the world as it should be. By the Spirit we believe no one who comes to this meal is unclean or profane. All are welcome because God has made us all clean.  

Jesus is even now gathering us into God’s Kingdom.

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About John

John is a retired pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America who has served congregations for over 40 years, including in rural, suburban, campus ministry and urban settings. His love of Border Collie sheepdogs has been fortified by his many friendships with shepherds all around the world. Nothing he has ever or will ever accomplish is as significant as the patience God, his wife and his friends have shown in putting up with his deficiencies.
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