We all have milestones that we look forward to throughout our lives. First steps. Learning how to ride a bike. Getting your driver’s license. Graduating from high school. Leaving home. Landing your first adult job. Each of these has a build up before they happen. Some of that is simply anticipation — oh man, any day now my kid is going to start walking! — and some of that involves weeks if not years of preparation.
Two springs ago, we planned a graduation party for our oldest, who was finishing high school. It took months of planning to pull off the event that may have lasted a total of three hours. Almost a year out, we booked the pavilion we planned to use. About that same time we started praying for good weather. Then we started talking about food plans. How much would we need? What would we make? What would we order? When did we need to have our food orders in? Who needed invitations? When should we send them? Who would help with set up and clean up? What was the budget for the event? I think you get the picture. So much planning went into an event that was really important to us — our daughter had worked hard and done well after all — but when it was all over there was a bit of a relief and even a let down.
Whether or not we had held the party, she was a high school graduate. It celebrated her, but it didn’t really change her reality. And after all of this effort, we were glad to have done it but equally glad not to have to do this again for several more years!
Easter Sunday can feel like that. On my end, as a pastor, so much time, effort, and creativity goes into make that one day special that there’s not much left in the tank for what comes after. On the end of the congregation, it’s something you look forward to. It’s a day when you dress up and have family and friends join you. The music is always top notch. The flowers and flowered cross are stunning. The kids are excited too, especially about the candy in their Easter baskets.
But then a week passes. And here we are again. Not quite as dressed up. More room in the pews. The flowered cross is gone. Like the Sunday after Christmas Eve, this Sunday is called a “low Sunday” because attendance usually goes below average. Usually the associate pastor preaches because the senior pastor has taken the week off. (So you know, neither of us took the week off, and somehow the associate pastor got this Sunday off, and the senior pastor is preaching. I wonder how she pulled that one off…)
So, today is all about this: What do we do with ourselves after Easter? Christ is risen from the dead — now what?
That’s a question the disciples faced directly in the hours and days after the resurrection. Our text begins in a locked house. Mary Magdalene, who had encountered the risen Jesus already, had shared her news with them, but let’s be honest: it’s difficult news to grasp without seeing Jesus. The disciples are fearful. Their teacher had been lynched; they wonder if they’re next. It’s still only Sunday evening, so while the news that Jesus’ tomb is empty is spreading, there is a very real danger in being associated with Jesus in that moment.
Suddenly, Jesus is standing there among them. He is present with them, surely startling them both because he’s physically there and because no one had unlocked the door to let him in. Jesus speaks a blessing, “Peace be with you.” It’s a blessing he says three times in our passage. He shows them his nail-pierced hands. He shows them his spear-pierced side. This is no apparition. It is Jesus, fully embodied, fully with them. They move from fear to rejoicing. He was dead, but now he’s alive!
Again, Jesus speaks blessing over them. “Peace be with you,” but this time he commissions them to more. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” They have a purpose. They are to move from this locked house and go into the world to be Jesus’ people wherever they are. But they don’t do it alone. The presence of Jesus through the Holy Spirit is with them. It’s John’s version of Pentecost. It’s his way of telling any who would follow Jesus that you are not alone. You are never alone.
But Thomas, one of Jesus’ disciples, wasn’t there when Jesus came. He’s missed the big encounter that all the others had. I want to say that history has been unfair to Thomas in calling him Doubting Thomas. John actually records this and two other times that Thomas speaks. First, connected to the raising of Lazarus, Thomas urges the others to go with Jesus because they should be willing to face the same danger Jesus will face in Jerusalem. “Let us also go, that we may die with him,” he says. Later, while sitting at the last supper with Jesus, Thomas asks, “Lord, we do not know where you are going, how can we know the way?” To which Jesus famously responds, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” Thomas is no shrinking violet. I wondered this week why Thomas wasn’t in the locked house with the others, and — this is total speculation — but I can picture him fearlessly walking the streets of Jerusalem, willing also to die for Jesus. He’s all in.
So, his friends share the news that they saw Jesus, and all Thomas demands is what Jesus did for them — he wants to see it for himself. Faith sure is easier when you’ve had a direct encounter with Jesus. All he wants is the same experience that all the other disciples had. He wants to see the nail-pierced hands. He wants to see the spear-pierced side. Perhaps he’s thinking, “I was the only one brave enough not to be locked up in here, and they’re the ones who saw Jesus? What’s up with that?”
So, Thomas doubts. He despairs. He might even be angry. And Jesus lets him deal with that news and those emotions for a whole week, but finally — finally — Jesus comes to him. Thomas is with the others. The door is shut, yet Jesus suddenly appears again. “Peace be with you,” Jesus says. He goes straight to Thomas and shows him the wounds. Thomas then makes a profound statement, “My Lord and my God,” he says. He’s the only one to say those words in any of the gospels. The crucified Jesus is the same as God. It’s quite a profound idea, so let’s give Thomas more credit than he’s usually given. Sure Thomas had doubts, but Thomas also had a faith that was bold and admirable.
What does it take to believe? For these disciples, they all needed an encounter with Jesus that empowered and sent them on with their lives. But we don’t all get that privilege, do we? Jesus speaks directly to all of us as he encounters Thomas. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” This is good news for the whole world. In Jesus, God is making all things new. God has made the way to eternal life. It’s a Jesus-centered life that’s already started and goes on forever. Can we believe that too without seeing?
That’s a question that we face all these years later. It’s after Easter. What do we do with ourselves? Christ is risen from the dead — now what?
How do we experience Easter now that the big party of Easter Sunday has come and gone? Here we are. It’s one week after Easter, one week after Jesus was raised from the dead. It’s the same amount of time Thomas waited to encounter Jesus. What brought us to worship today?
For some of us it’s just routine. It’s what we do. We didn’t give much thought to it. It’s Sunday, so we go to church. But do we come expecting anything? Do we come looking to encounter a risen Savior, a faith that is alive? The routine can get dull. We can grow bored. We stop paying attention. We forget that the news of Easter has changed everything — including us! The risen Jesus has breathed on us and gifted us with the Holy Spirit. Jesus has sent us to share this good news, to live this good news, to be this good news. So, if you’re here today out of a routine that has grown cold, wake up! Christ has a mission for you, a purpose for your life, so let’s get to it.
For others of us, we experience Easter from a place of confusion. We’re here in faith, but faith without understanding is hard. The resurrection of Jesus is a tough pill to swallow. It’s easier to believe that it’s simply an idea, not an actual event. Plus, the way John describes Jesus is strange. He just kind of appears in locked houses. Can he now just pass through walls? Is that a quirk of resurrection? And so we come with our confusion. We come with a bit of “I believe, but I need help with my unbelief.” So, if that’s you, it’s OK. Jesus meets you in your confusion too. He shows up even in those hard spots, offering all of himself for your wholeness. He does this because he loves you even in that place of confusion, but he also does this because he desires more for you. He wants to give your life purpose.
For others of us, we experience Easter from a place of fear and even doubt. That’s precisely the place Jesus’ disciples found themselves in when they encountered the risen Christ. We may want to believe it to be true, but if it really is, then it will start to influence every aspect of our lives. When we go down the path of believing that Christ is risen from the dead, it affects everything — how we treat others, how we make plans, how we consider what is best for society, how we handle the resources of our lives. And it becomes easier to just get into the flow of what is normal and expected. We may not really want to encounter Jesus because his way is disruptive to ours, and so fear or doubt can be more comfortable than faith.
But also for others of us, we experience Easter as hope. In Christ’s resurrection is the promise of ours, and so we are learning to live our lives in the manner of Jesus with the help of his Holy Spirit. It is Easter hope that empowers us to go into the darkest places in our lives, in our community, in our nation, and in our world to bear the sacrificial love and life of Jesus with us. It’s what allows us to encounter discouragement and still press on with hope.
Christ is risen from the dead — now what? “Peace be with you” is a word that Jesus speaks to us today, even in our routine, even in our confusion, even in our fear, even in our doubt, and also in our hope. Peace be with you. As the Father has sent Jesus, so now Jesus sends us to carry on the mission. With the Spirit’s help, we bear love in our homes and community. We bring hope. We receive and give peace.
There is no hangover from this wonderful party. There is no questioning if all the build up was worth it. There is only peace and blessing that we carry with us as Christ’s own in a world yearning for good news.