2nd Sunday of Easter (A)
April 19, 2020
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
In 1849, a cholera pandemic swept around the world. Cholera is a contagious and deadly disease spread by contaminated water. The 1849 pandemic was actually the third of seven worldwide cholera pandemics, but the United States dodged the brunt of the first two. We weren’t as lucky the third time. To give you an idea of how bad it was, the Covid-19 pandemic has killed eleven thousand people in New York City. An 1849 cholera equivalent is 87,000. In Saint Louis, ten percent of the city’s population succumbed. As there is with Covid-19, there was a lot of speculation about its cause: bad odors, poor hygiene, and sadly, immigrants. Some considered it God’s atttempt to get the world’s attention. I can’t deny that the same thought has been in my mind, and perhaps it’s been in yours as well. So, it’s fitting that we ask, what’s God’s purpose in this pandemic?
The text that I’ve chosen for my sermon is from the prophet Jeremiah, who was called by God to warn the people that, because of their sins, they were going to be punished. Jeremiah though did have good news as well. He says, “For I am with you to save you, declares the LORD; I will make a full end of all the nations among whom I scattered you, but of you I will not make a full end. I will discipline you in just measure, and I will by no means leave you unpunished.” In other words, while the unbelieving nations will be punished and destroyed, His people wouldn’t be completely destroyed, just punished. I know it sounds like small consolation perhaps, but it’s significant.
Now I don’t blame you if you think this is a pretty poor sermon choice for the Sunday after Easter, it’s not a typical one, and yet it’s fits the situation. We live in a world that has been completely corrupted by sin. Now don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of good in the world. In many ways, this epidemic has revealed a different side of people, a desire to step up and to sacrifice for the benefit of others.
However, the epidemic has also revealed mankind’s sin and ugliness: hoarding and price gouging, blaming and bickering, greed and envy, threats and violence. Just like those in Jeremiah’s day, twenty-first century people worship themselves and the things they create. They neglect the poor. Immorality and drunkenness aren’t secret sins but activities that people can be proud of. And what does it say about our nation when abortion is considered an essential service and church services aren’t?
This epidemic is a call to repentance because unrepentance leads to death, destruction, and damnation. What we must know is that we have a responsibility for the sins of the world. Now I don’t mean we’re responsible because we endorse abortion or price gouging. We’re responsible if we’re not speaking out against the sins around us. Are we publicly condemning abortion? Are we speaking for children without a voice? Are we warning people of God’s anger or are we keeping our heads down and mouths shut? Part of repentance is acknowledging that we’re not the witnesses that God has called us to be, and as a result, unbelievers are marching on to their destruction.
God says to us, “I will discipline you in just measure, and I will by no means leave you unpunished.” That is to say, “I will discipline you so that you don’t regard yourself as innocent.” If we, or our family, are spared a Covid-19 infection, it’s not because we’re innocent, while those who get sick are guilty. All of us are guilty. All of us sin. All of us fall short of the glory of God. All of us chose the world’s vices over the God’s virtues. How often do our lives reflect the world around us and not the God within us? And you know what we deserve: God’s temporal and eternal punishment. Punishment here and punishment hereafter. The epidemic is a call from God to repent of our sins; those around us and those within us.
We’re aware of our sins and I’ll wager the disciples were very aware of theirs. For three years they had followed Jesus and at the first real threat to Jesus, they scattered like rats from a sinking ship. Denying, running way, hiding, doubting, not believing the women; there was no escape from their sins. No escape at all, until Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” I think John may have been underestimating the excitement in the room when he wrote, “the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.” I can’t imagine what it must have been like to touch and hug the Risen Savior.
In the Gospel, Jesus said to Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” It’s not that Thomas wasn’t blessed, it’s that you’re more blessed because you believe that Jesus is alive even though you’ve never seen Him. Peter writes, “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” Peter is talking about your peace! And not just any peace, like the peace you want after a hectic day. This is the peace that you need after you’ve been separated from God. This is the peace that tells you all is forgiven. This is the peace that says you can stop running or hiding from God, because He’s not angry. He’s not angry because His vengeance was heaped upon His Son, the Son who was dead, but was now alive. The same Risen Savior who stood before the disciples, stands before us. The same Risen Savior who pronounced peace to the disciples, speaks it to us. His resurrection proves His death brought peace to a sinful world. You have peace because Jesus died and rose for you!
In his book Lamentations, Jeremiah writes, “For [God] does not afflict from His heart or grieve the children of men.” God didn’t want to hand the Jews over to the Babylonians and He doesn’t want to send epidemics or allow disease to take the lives of His people. He does what He doesn’t want to do to bring us to repentance so He can do what He really wants to do – give us His peace, forgiveness, salvation and the joy of seeing Jesus with our very own eyes.
In time, the cholera (collar-a) epidemics came to an end. While the disease still rears its ugly head in poorer parts of the world, it’s treatable and doesn’t kill like it used to. In time, the Covid-19 epidemic will also come to an end. In time, something else will rear its ugly head and cause worldwide illness. So, what’s God’s purpose in all this? Like in 1849 and all the epidemics and suffering before and after, it will be a call from the Lord to repent; to repent of our sins and to repent of the ways we contribute to this sinful world. But not just repent! Like in 1849 all the other years it’s also a call to hear “Peace be with you!” Peace! The peace that comes from the forgiveness of sins that was bought with the blood of Jesus and guaranteed with His resurrection. We don’t get to see the Risen Christ, and yet we’re abundantly blessed because His word of peace fills our hearts and echoes in our ears.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen