Text: 1 John 1:7
Date: Easter II + 4/12/15
What’s the first word that comes to your mind when I say “sin”? “Transgression”? “Wrong”? “Bad”? “Debt”? I mean what is the word that comes to mind when I ask you what is the fundamental effect of sin? The first word that should come to mind when we talk about sin is “separation.” This is what it meant when, for instance, after their transgression of God’s Law, Adam and Eve discovered that they were naked. That is, because of sin they were now separated from God, and able to calculate everything now from the perspective of what is to my personal benefit or detriment. Not only were we separated from God but also from each other, the creation and even our own selves.
Sin is the fundamental flaw of the whole human race, and is the root cause of all this bad news. For example, whereas the amazing accomplishment of establishing a more perfect union by means of the Constitution of the United States has made our nation a model of unity, “e pluribus unum,” “one from many,” “one nation under God,” “a shining city on a hill,” today it is as if the seams of our unity are being ripped apart by mob rule assisted by out-of-control politicians and others bent on pitting various groupings of people against each other the only beneficiaries of such conflict and confusion the aggrandizement of personal political power for a few. A symphony orchestra would no longer be a symphony if every musician just went off on their own playing whatever melody they personally preferred or refusing to play at all. Then there are the more personal effects of sin, the separation of the bond of marriage called divorce, or of bodily health called sickness and disease. The ultimate of sin is the separation of the body from the soul in death.
Jesus once mentioned a list of some of the separations of sin that sound as contemporary as today’s news: wars and rumors of wars, nation rising against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, earthquakes and famines (Mark 13:7-8). Who would have thought in our day that there would be increasing national tensions and shocking, horrifying outbreaks of atrocious violence? The only cure, finally and ultimately, is to defeat and eliminate the cause of it all, sin, sin itself.
Sin. Separation. Okay, and so how is that done? Well, that, of course, is the ultimate meaning of Christmas with its Emmanuel, God now with us. It is the ultimate meaning also of Epiphany, God revealed to us; of Lent, God saves us; of Easter, God reconciled to us; and of Pentecost, God now in us and we in Him. The defeat of sin is the ultimate message of the Bible. Jesus said He had come to proclaim good news to the poor, liberty to the captives, recovering of sight to the blind, and “to set at liberty those who are oppressed” (Luke 4:18). He is, as John the Baptist said, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Having paid the debt of sin for the whole world on the cross and having conquered sin and death by rising from the dead, where sin is forgiven and taken away so is all separation and unity is restored, unity with God, with our neighbor, with creation and even with ourselves.
Today we hear of that unity in St. Luke’s description of the early Church, saying, “The full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul…they had everything in common” (Acts 4:32). St. John writes in his first epistle describing this restored unity with the word “fellowship,” “that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” “If we walk in the light…we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:3, 7).
In today’s Gospel on that first Easter day in the evening we see the first disciples gathered together. But wait! Just a minute! For they were not gathered together in faith and joy and gladness but in fear. And besides that they weren’t even all there, but Thomas was off by himself somewhere. So we have this mystery, namely, that though by our baptism into Christ and by faith in His death and resurrection we are freed from sin, death and the devil, and we are reunited in fellowship with God and each other, still we continue to experience the effects of the separation of sin in this life. The complete deliverance, it turns out, awaits our Lord’s final return or at least our own separation from sin when we die, “For one who has died has been set free from sin” (Rom 6:7). Until then in this world we remain “simil justis et pecatur,” saint and sinner at the same time. Until then the our prayer is, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” and the Lord’s prayer is “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you…I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one” (John 17:21, 23). For to pray for unity means, of course, that we’re not there yet.
That’s why we gather here, before the lectern and pulpit of God’s Word, before the remembrance of our baptism, before the paschal candle of Christ’s presence among us, before the altar where we regularly receive the food of eternal life. Because we must still contend against sin, separation, death and the devil. For this we must rely on the gifts God gives by His Spirit. And He really gives those gifts through outward means we can see and hear and handle. On that first Easter day Jesus instituted the office of the holy ministry saying to His apostles what He continues to say to all apostolic ministers to this day, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven” (John 20:22-23). This is where you can receive Christ’s forgiveness of sins. The forgiveness spoken to you here by Jesus’ authorized representative is real forgiveness before God. God gives you a new birth by water and the Spirit in Holy Baptism. He gives you forgiveness, life and salvation through the eating and drinking of Christ’s body and blood.
It is this unity as the Body of Christ that equips us to live, to fight the good fight, to survive the remaining effects of sin all around us, to survive even if it means the confession of faith by martyrdom. Here we are together in the unity of faith. Here we regularly recall and confess St. Paul’s words to the Ephesians perfectly describing us, saying, “you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked…. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus…. For we are [now, still] his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:1-10). We gather here in unity and oneness of faith that knows that God is not finished with us yet. And if God is not finished with us, neither should we ever be finished with one another!
Though we do not yet see it, still we believe in one, holy, catholic/Christian, apostolic Church. It is one because there is only one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all. Therefore, the Apostle Paul says, “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the body of peace” (Eph 4:1-3). And that is the gift of this Second Sunday of Easter: Peace. Today Jesus once again stands among us and says, “Peace be with you.” Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed. By faith in Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, by believing you have life in his name.