Year C; 2 Easter; 4.28.2019
Recently, I saw a photo of a restored stone-carved frieze on the exterior of the Lincoln Cathedral. Lincoln Cathedral is located north of London and dates to Norman times. It is one of the mostgrand cathedrals in England. I love this stone carving because it depicts the risen Christ wearing his majestic stone crown as Christ the King. His robes are full. His eyes are clear and direct.
His feet stand on the chest of a large horizontal body of a figure that could very well be the devil. This horizontal figure has a helmet-like head and it is very wide. It kind of looks like a Darth Vader figure. It has bulging, empty-looking eyes, gritted teeth and lashed together hands and feet. He clearly has come under the power of Christ and has been rendered weakened.
To the left of the frieze is a similar-looking helmet-head figure, mouth wide open with small human beings coming out of his mouth. These little figures are looking up at Christ the King and are reaching out to him. He calmly, majestically has hold in each of his hands the hand of two figures. He seems to be pulling them toward him. This is what is called theHarrowing if hell.
In in our Apostles’ Creed we say, “He descended to the dead.” Or “He descended into hell.” Our Savior went down to hell and saying, “Let me go release from bondage all the righteous who have gone before me. Let me demonstrate the ‘forgiveness of sins’ that my Father sent me to teach. Let me take you by the hand of love and bring you to dwell with God.”
The ancient stone carving on the Lincoln Cathedral points to the mission of the resurrected Christ. The mission he clearly stated again in the resurrection appearance from John’s gospel reading this morning: “peace be with you,” and “the forgiveness of sins.” The disciples were huddled together behind a locked door. They were afraid, it says, “For fear of the Jews.”
They were scared. They had just witnessed the very public crucifixion of their innocent friend. What would happen to them?
But ever since the writing of John’s Gospel, passages like “For fear of the Jews” and other negative descriptions of Jews in Scripture have fueled anti-Jewish attitudes, violence and hatred.
We saw it once again in this country yesterday. As worshipers were observing the last day of Passover and the annual Yom Hashoa Holocaust remembrance in their synagogue in San Diego, a man took his semi-automatic weapon there and started shooting. Synagogues across the country have increased their security.
The rabbi of that synagogue was injured. His finger was bleeding as he preached to his congregation courage, strength and persistence in faith.
As followers of the resurrected Christ, who tramples on the evil of this world, we stand with Christ on the chest of the evil one and vehemently reject these acts of hate – bombings of mosques, churches and violence against synagogues. And we beg God to help us to be bearers of Christ’s peace and forgiveness.
Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And he breathed his Spirit on them – his Spirit was of reconciliation, not of hate. Reconciliation, you could say, starts at home. To be at peace with our family members is one way forward.
There is a story from the wisdom of the ancient Desert Fathers and Mothers that illustrates the depth of peace and reconciliation. In her book, “The Wisdom of the Desert Fathers,” Benedicta Ward shares this story:
“A brother was vexed with another brother who, when he learned of it, came to ask pardon, but he did not open the door to him. So the other went to an old man and told him of the matter, and the old man replied, ‘See if there is not a motive in yourheart, such as blaming your brother, or thinking it is he who is responsible. Youwant to justify yourself,and that is why he is not moved to open the door to you. In addition I tell you this, even if it is he who has sinned against you, go, settle it in your heart that it is you who have sinned against him and think your brother is right, then God will move him to reconcile himself with you.’
“Convinced, the brother did thus; then he went to knock at the brother’s door and almost before he heard the sound, the other was first to ask pardon from the inside. Then he opened the door and embraced him with all his heart. So there was deep peace between them.”
Surely, this is the commission Christ the King gives us all: To share in the reconciliation of the world to God and to each other. And to pass the peace of God over and over again, and to release us from our own captivity of fear, hate and the darkness of closed doors.
Christ the King is alive now and breathes the deep peace of his Spirit on us all. He sends us forth to bring his peace and forgiveness to others. Alleluia!