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Sermon, "After Easter," based on the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus

Sermon 4/12/15
Multiple Texts

After Easter

            Last Sunday, during our sunrise service, I talked about how easy it can be sometimes, or at least has been in my own life, to “miss” Easter. After all the build-up, all the special Holy Week services, somehow Easter can seem less intense. Part of it is because we focus first on something that is empty: Jesus is not in the tomb. And that’s a bit harder things to get our heads around. And sometimes we can be like Peter and the other disciple who ran to see the empty tomb, only to quickly go back to our place of fear and darkness without understanding. It is Mary Magdalene, who stays at the tomb, weeping, grieving, who is still present to have the very first encounter with the resurrected Jesus.
            But if we have a chance of sort of missing Easter on Easter Sunday, we really have a chance of missing Easter on the Sunday after, this, the second Sunday of Easter. In fact, it has a non-technical name: it’s typically known as “low Sunday,” because after the hype and fanfare and sometimes increased attendance and participation and Holy Week and Easter, the Sunday after is pretty quiet, pretty empty, a kind of emotional letdown. Jesus’ resurrection – that was so last week, right? Actually, though, the Great Season of Easter is 50 days long. It goes all the way from Easter Sunday up until Pentecost Sunday, when we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit, which we will celebrate at the end of June. These 50 days include the 40 days between Resurrection Day and the Ascension, the day Jesus returned to God and no longer was physically present on earth. Sometimes we forget, that for over a month, the scriptures record the resurrected Jesus as continuing to appear to and interact with and share teachings with the disciples and other close followers of Jesus. Normally, throughout this season of Easter, these post-resurrection appearances of Jesus in the Bible would be spread throughout our Sunday services.
But this year, we’re rolling it all up into one, today. Throughout the service, we’ve heard nearly every scripture that refers to this “post-resurrection” time. Next Sunday, we’ll begin spending time looking at dreams in the Bible, and talking about our dreams, and God’s dreams for our lives and for Apple Valley. We’re going to get serious about thinking about where God is leading us as individuals and a congregation. We’re going to see how big we can dream with God, right up through Pentecost, when I hope we will celebrate some of our dreams that will lead us forward. But today, before we begin that process, I want us to think about resurrection and new life. What does Jesus do and tell us in this time between resurrection and ascension? Yes, Christ is risen, Christ is risen indeed! But so what? What does it mean? What does Jesus hope it means for us? I think as we look at all these post-resurrection appearances, we get some clues.
First, I think we see in these passages the same temptation we experience with Easter. In the second part of John 20, which continues directly after the Easter morning story we read last Sunday, we find that Jesus appears to the disciples where they are all locked in a room, hiding in fear. This is after Peter and the other disciple have seen the empty tomb, and after Mary Magdalene has presumably found them and shared with the them the good news that Jesus has been resurrected and is alive and that death has not been victorious. And the disciples respond by: Hiding. Trembling. Doing nothing. Essentially sticking their heads in the sand. Jesus is alive – resurrection has happened – but it seems to make no difference! Not, at least, until Jesus comes to them and encourages them and breathes on them and speaks words of peace to them. I worry that sometimes we’re the same way. Has resurrection made any impact on us? If we have this good news, but don’t share it, don’t let our lives be changed because of it, if being Easter people who serve a God who conquers even the power of death makes no real impact on our lives, causes nothing about our lives to change: what’s the point? It’s so easy to go back to life as usual. Easter was so last week. But new life isn’t just a momentary event. It’s a new beginning, and like those seeds we talked about last week, we have to cultivate life, continue to nourish it. It doesn’t go from seed to fruit-bearing plant in a moment. There’s growing to be done. How is new life, resurrection, taking place in you?
Another theme in these post-resurrection stories is that we see Jesus encountering whatever stumbling blocks there are to moving forward for the disciples and followers and effectively removing them from their path. There’s Cleopas and the other disciple, walking to Emmaus, who seem confused about what has been happening, and don’t recognize Jesus, but Jesus walks with them, explains things, reveals himself to them, breaks bread with them. There’s of course Thomas, forever stuck with the label of one moment of doubt out of his whole lifetime. I feel sorry for him – what one mistake, one misjudgment would you like made into a nickname that sticks with you forever? All Thomas wants is to see Jesus for himself, to touch Jesus and verify that this outlandish story is true. Jesus says that we’re blessed when we can believe without seeing, but he doesn’t withhold proof from Thomas. Instead, he guides his hands to touch the wounds of the crucifixion. He gives Thomas exactly what he needs to believe and act on what he’s experienced. And then, of course, there’s Peter. Peter, Jesus’ closest, most devoted disciple: his last moments before the crucifixion were full of shame as Peter denied and abandoned even knowing Jesus, just as Jesus said he would. He’s a failure. He must be nervous, anxious about what Jesus will have to say to him. But what Jesus gives Peter is a gift: three times the opportunity for Peter to state his love and commitment to Jesus, three times a command from Jesus to go forth and carry on the work that Jesus began. Three strong responses to cancel out the pain of three denials. As we move on from here and begin to dream with God, we will find a lot of stumbling blocks – excuses that we’ve built up of why we can’t do something and why God can’t really be asking us to do that and why we aren’t qualified or ready or the right person or it isn’t the right time. To me, these resurrection stories show us Jesus removing every excuse we’ve got. There’s nothing God can’t work around. With God’s help, it’s time to put away our excuses, and clear the path forward.
            And then, I’m struck by how these post-resurrection scenes end. In John, Jesus is giving Peter the commands: Feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep, follow me. In Matthew, Jesus gives the disciples authority and tells them to go, make disciples – fellow students of Jesus – teach them about Jesus, baptize, share the news about Jesus everywhere! In Acts, when we read about Jesus returning to God’s eternal home, and the apostles are left staring up into the sky, the messengers of God say to them, “Why are you standing here staring at the sky?” The implication is clear: “Don’t just stand there! Get on with it! Go!” The final words, final teachings of the resurrected Christ on earth are all grounded in action words. The disciples have work to do. They should get going. They aren’t meant just to bask in the joy of resurrection, treasure a pleasant feeling of happiness. They’re meant to go, to share the good news, to teach others all they’ve learned and experienced, to help others get on God’s path, to feed and tend a hungry, waiting flock. They’ve been given authority. They’ve been equipped. The barriers removed from their path. After Easter, after resurrection, everything begins!
            What about for us, friends? What does “after Easter” look like for us? If we are tempted to go back to business as usual, then, well, I’m not even sure why we’re here! If we’ve got excuses – fear not! – Jesus has a “nice try” way of removing excuses large and small, showering us with love and grace along the way. Christ is alive, and new life is ours! So let’s go, and do something with the new life we’ve been given. Let’s go, and live out God’s dreams for us. Let’s go, knowing the Christ is with us, in us always, even to the end of the age. Amen.  


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