Download or listen to the Second Sunday of Easter: “Pure Milk of the Word” (1 Peter 2:2-3 [Antiphon of the Introit for Easter II])
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I’m sure you’ve all seen them. The articles in the newspaper or a segment on the news about this or that daycare center, where a child has been harmed or even killed. A person who is supposed to care for a child is accused of doing something or not doing something that causes that child harm or death. These accounts are usually accompanied by warnings to parents to choose daycare centers carefully; to do background checks or get references or find out about the place’s reputation in the community. After all, you’re entrusting your child to this person or people. (I am not now arguing whether daycares are good or bad things.) But if you can’t take care of your child, shouldn’t you know about the person who is? And shouldn’t you make sure that the person is going to take good care of your child?
Well, around the time that Peter is writing, there was a similar discussion going on. Not about daycare centers, but about whom a mother should choose to nurse her child. There was all sorts of advice, from doctors, and experts, describing the person who would be best for a wet-nurse. The person should be moral and of upright character, shouldn’t be a drunkard or stay out all night partying, should speak Greek well—because the nurse was one of the very first people who would speak to the child, so good grammar was important. They believed that the sort of character a person had would determine the quality of the milk given to the child. So parents should be very careful whom they chose as a nurse.
I don’t know if Peter was aware of the medical literature on how to choose a nurse, but even if he wasn’t, he has something similar in mind when he says, “Long for pure milk of the Word.” Not “spiritual.” That conjures up (pun intended) images of wispy spirits and things that are not physical. But Peter has in mind something very physical: the Word of God. And what Word of God? What is the pure milk for which Christians should long? He tells us just a few verses before: he says you were born anew, not from perishable seed, but from imperishable, through the living and abiding Word of God, and this Word is the Gospel that was proclaimed to you. This Gospel that gave birth to you is the same Gospel that nourishes and sustains you as you grow up unto your salvation. Right at the beginning of his letter, Peter writes, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, according to His great mercy, gave us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, into an inheritance imperishable, undefiled, unfading, which has been and is being kept for you in heaven” (1 Peter 1:3-4). The new life into which Jesus entered by His resurrection is new life for you.
This, and nothing else, brought you from death to life, and still nourishes you, just as a newborn infant is nourished by the milk it is given. And how much more important even than childcare and wet-nurses is the eternal and unfading Word of God? The grass withers and the flower fades, but the Word of our God remains forever. And this is the Gospel that was proclaimed to you. It is the Gospel that was proclaimed to the disciples, locked in that upper room. It is the word of new life that they receive when Jesus twice says “Peace” to them. They see His hands and His side, and they rejoice, because they know that it is exactly the Lord who was dead who is standing before them, not as some undead ghost, but as the only definition of life that matters. And then He breathes new life into them. He doesn’t just blow on them. The word for what Jesus does is only used one other time in the entire Scriptures, in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, when God looks at the muddy, lifeless man that He has made, and He breathes the Spirit of life into him, and Adam becomes a living being. That’s what Jesus does: He breathes into them the Spirit of new life, and says, Receive the Holy Spirit. And then He tells them to go around speaking the same word of life, breathing new life into dead people by forgiving their sins in His Name. Those who want to stay dead, well, their sins are bound to them, tying them to the graves they have dug for themselves.
And then Thomas, not “doubting,” but unbelieving Thomas. Jesus comes again and speaks the word of life, “Peace.” And Thomas doesn’t have to touch. He doesn’t have to do anything. There’s the Lord, there’s the crucified and resurrected Lord, and unbelieving, dead Thomas is suddenly alive. And then to the disciples in Acts. “With great power the Apostles delivered the testimony of the resurrection of the Lord, Jesus, and great grace was upon all of them” (4:33). What those Apostles had seen with their own eyes, what they had heard with their own ears, what they had touched with their own hands, they now proclaimed, so that every single person who heard their testimony might believe that Jesus Christ is the Christ, the Son of God, and have communion with the Father and the Son in the joy of the resurrection; that they might have life in His Name. New life, breathed into many through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. And what did they do? They made sure that no member of the Body of Christ was in need. Whatever anyone needed, someone gave. They didn’t do it to make a point. They didn’t do it as a means to an end. They didn’t occupy the Roman financial district. No one had to tell them to do it. New life means new life, for both soul and body.
And today, on this second Sunday in Easter, the second Sunday of the resurrection of our Lord, He comes again, breathing Peace into our hearts, whatever trouble, whatever grief, whatever sin it is in which we are held fast. He comes, as He did in those first weeks and months after His death and resurrection, to choose people for Himself. He comes to people who are far too at home in this world, and He snatches them from the jaws of death and defeat, and breathes new life into them by His living and abiding Word. He makes you exiles of life in a world overshadowed by death. All by the Word. This is the same pure milk of the Word that feeds Christians, whether they are newly born or grown old in this creation. He says, again, I have washed your sins away in the bloody bath of baptism. I have risen from the dead; I cannot die again, and neither will you. He says, again, I forgive you all your sins. I have risen from the dead; I cannot die again, and neither will you. He says, again, My Body and My Blood are for you, and for your life, imperishable, undefiled, unfading. I have risen from the dead; I cannot die again, and neither will you. You know what your neighbor needs from you. You know what love requires, because you have My life in you. You have tasted and seen that the Lord is good. So keep hearing, keep eating, keep drinking. Long for the pure milk of the Word, who is Christ. He is your life, your inheritance, your salvation—your resurrection.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 4/13/12