Christ is Risen Indeed

Alicia Vargas
Sermon for PLTS Chapel—April 30, 2003

Shortly after the war was over, a pastor stood in the ruins of a bombed out building, preparing to address the people. When he was ready, he spoke:

The war is at an end—even though here and there troops are still shooting… the enemies are beaten. Ultimately, they can no longer start mischief. They still behave as though… the battle were not fought and decided; we must still reckon with them, but fundamentally we must cease to fear them any more.

This pastor was not in Iraq or anywhere else in the Middle East, and the war was not the one which “just ended” in Iraq. And the year was not 2003. The pastor and theologian was Karl Barth. He was standing in a bombed out building in Bonn, Germany, in 1946, shortly after the end of WWII, delivering a lecture to theology students as life in the post-war era tried to pick up and go on as best it could.

And even though he was speaking shortly after the conclusion of the war, and even though he was talking about the end of the war, he was not talking about WWII. The enemies which had been defeated were sin and death. And the One who had achieved victory over them was The Victor, Jesus Christ. This was, according to Barth, the Easter Message.

Today—2003—after a war and after Easter.

We here—in Seminary.

“In Seminary,”… The other day, one of those depressing days during the war, I was looking around here in the chapel and I was struck with a thought: Look at these seminarians, my God, a bunch of hopeful people.

Here you are preparing yourselves (spending your time, your energy, your money), to go out there where wars never end, in that world that is so often of darkness and of pain—often caused by ourselves on each other. Wars between peoples, between countries, between economic classes, between individuals. Subtle wars of exploitation, of abuse and neglect, self-hatred, hatred to others, economic domination, discrimination of all types.

But here you are, either super naïve or very hopeful. You are either in denial of the evil reality out there or you’re aware of that reality but are preparing yourselves nevertheless to go out there and confront it with the gospel because you see something that is not there yet!

O blessed are those who believe without having seen!

And then I came across this story of Barth among burnt out buildings, destruction, talking about the battle that has been forever won… just precisely when I was frozen-up realizing that the human race will continue battling, warring, it seems, forever.

And then this text: The disciples frozen-up with the fear… then, of the Jews. So much fear today of one another… and with reason. And then the resurrected Jesus breaks in—breaks into that room with the frozen-up disciples—and breathes the Spirit in them and sends them out… precisely into the world that they fear.

I send you as the Father sent me.

But they see his wounds. Jesus got hurt. So they fear even more? Crucifixion for us too? Spears through our side? Did you say “Peace” Jesus? Those are not peace signs!

And we know the disciples went. In the Sundays after Easter we start again proclaiming their Acts in the first lesson. The disciples went out of that room of fear indeed. And they confronted their unpeaceful world with Jesus’ words of Peace. The same words that we’re entrusted with now. The same words that you, hopeful disciples, are preparing yourselves to take out there.

“Peace with you,” we can say with Jesus.

“Peace,” not just as a greeting, but “Peace” proclaimed with the authority and power of the Holy Spirit conferred on us by Jesus.

…and he breathed on them the Holy Spirit.

And “Peace” with the responsibility also conferred on us by Jesus.

I send you as the Father sent me.

That “Peace” that John reminds us of is not of this world. Not the world’s imperfect peace that is supposedly there until hostilities start again… between peoples, countries, and even within ourselves. Not that peace, but the “Peace” that is Jesus’ own, given to us.

Jesus in John 14:27:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

“Peace” proclaimed without fear precisely among the battles of the world. And sometimes, because of the battles, we do get hurt and we have wounds to show for it. And sometimes we hurt others, we wound others in our struggles, even within ourselves.

But in John 16:33, Jesus again:

I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution, but take courage, I have conquered the world.

The battles rage on as if they have not been won, the buildings are burning, there are still bombs and grenades ready to be used, there is still injustice, and self-righteous and blind exclusivities, and abuse of power, and hatred for self and others, and hopelessness, and you name it… .

But all these things have been defeated. Justice, inclusive love and respect, empowerment of the voiceless, forgiveness and hope… all are realities in the risen Christ… and we’re sent to proclaim it.

“The game is won,” says Barth, “even though the player can still play a few further moves. Actually he’s already mated. The clock has run down, even though the pendulum still swings a few times this way and that. It is in this interim space that we are living: the old is past, behold all has become new. ”

We can go ahead with the resurrected Jesus now, the war, indeed all the wars, are behind us. As Barth puts it: “It may be burning behind—and truly it is burning—but we have to look, not at it, but at the other fact, that we are invited and summoned to take seriously God’s victory in Jesus Christ. Then we may live in peace and not in fear.”

Our world is burning indeed, but Christ is risen; He’s risen indeed. Christ is risen; He’s risen indeed. Christ is risen; He’s risen indeed.