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Finding Easter After Sunday

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We find ourselves in the midst of Eastertide, a period on our calendars that stretches 50 days from Easter Sunday to Pentecost Sunday, from the resurrection of Christ, through the ascension, and ending with the gift of the Holy Spirit to the disciples. I found myself mostly unprepared for Easter this year. This happens to many people for different reasons at different times, but I am assuming it was a more common occurrence this year with us all sequestered at home. My wife and I gathered for church at home with our 4 kids ages 0-6 for the past four Sundays now. The first two services were picture perfect. We sang together, prayed together, and the kids did an activity while we listened to the sermon. The last week sang a more discordant tune. Fights occurred before, during, and after church started. We administered discipline before, during, and after church started. Those two Sundays were the lead-up for our home Easter. So, to revisit the earlier point, we did not feel ready for Easter. Others, I’m sure, also didn’t feel ready, perhaps for different reasons. There was isolation and loneliness. Some gladly would have traded the silence in their home for the cacophony of noises in ours. For others, Easter came and went with little impact. Some blessed ones enjoyed and worshipped their Savior at Easter with vigor and joy. For all of us, God calls us to remember that he will meet us wherever we are on that spectrum.

A sermon I heard recently reminded me that not being ready for Easter puts us in good company. Most of the disciples were not ready for Easter. From the scripture, we can see how many different people reacted to the risen Christ.

John 20:1-10 English Standard Version (ESV) 20 Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3 So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. 4 Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, 7 and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus'[a] head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples went back to their homes.

John 20:19-28 English Standard Version (ESV) 19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews,[a] Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” 24 Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin,[b] was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” 26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”

Our first group is Mary, Mary Magdalene, John, and Peter. All of them went to the empty tomb. The women saw the stone had been taken away first and ran to get John and Peter. Then they all ran together to the tomb. These were people hungry to know what was going on. They were searching for meaning in the events that had destroyed their lives. We see from the text that they saw and believed. It also says, “for as of yet they did not understand the scriptures, that he must rise from the dead”. This wasn’t a story they fabricated to fit something they already believed. They were confronted with a powerful truth and responded with belief. They wanted to take that news straight to the followers of Jesus. Some of us went into Easter like that, feeling defeated by life and looking for a sign of hope and foundation.

Our second group is the disciples in the locked room. The same night of the day he was resurrected, Christ revealed himself to them. They see his hands and feet, and the scripture says it made them glad. They received a message from him to go into the world to spread the gospel. He explained to them that, through himself, all who believe are forgiven of their sins. This was (and is!) a powerful promise that shouldn’t lose its punch, even after hearing it as often as we have. This would have been even more impactful to these people, who mostly only knew animal sacrifice, the method of forgiveness for thousands of years. Easter changed their world. Some of us approached Easter like that, waiting with our friends and family, and glad to hear good news that someone has brought.

Our last group involves the unfortunately nicknamed Doubting Thomas. Something that’s easy to miss is that Thomas did not experience and believe Easter until eight days later. Thomas had heard about it before then but thought the other disciples had seen a ghost. Thomas had travelled with Jesus and the disciples and seen and heard great things. However, Thomas wasn’t ready for Easter on Easter Sunday. He found Easter on the inauspicious date, two Mondays after Easter Sunday. Thomas is who I identify with on this Easter. I wasn’t ready on Easter Sunday. The strangeness of our world, the conflict with my family, and my lack of belief prohibited me from wanting Easter. However, we can live fully in the knowledge that Jesus will meet us where we are. Whether we’re searching the tomb, or a week late to a meeting, He meets us. We are forgiven and we are blessed.

Jesus redeemed the disciples at Easter. On Good Friday, the disciples became a disbanded group of misfits, who had misguidedly followed an addled prophet. They ended as they started, with no status or power. They had lost to the government that had long oppressed them, the government they’d hoped the Messiah would overthrow. They lost to the religious leaders that had pursued and harassed their ministry for the previous years. Some fled, others denied, and all lost hope. Here’s the joyous message. Even if we weren’t ready for Easter, Jesus was ready for us. Jesus, at Easter, transformed the disciples into redeemed believers. They just all didn’t know it on Easter Sunday.

Posted by Damon Webster with
in Gospel

To Whom Shall We Go

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This is Holy Week. On Sunday we watched Jesus riding on a donkey into Jerusalem, welcomed like a king, a much anticipated hero. As the week continued we saw him healing many, making parables from fig trees, and clearing the temple of those who sought a profit there. Embarrassed followers and skeptics watched as a woman dropped in on a dinner party and poured oil over Jesus's head, "preparing me for my burial," he explained, perhaps bringing up more questions to the bewildered and disgusted guests.

The plot against Jesus had been coalescing day by day, and so we find ourselves at Thursday--often called Loving Thursday when Jesus, "having loved his own who were in the world, now showed them the full extent of his love." (John 13:1)

There's one disciple that we can zoom in on, and in fact his antics and quick words show up often through all four of the gospels. I'm referring to Peter. Before his strong pledges of fidelity in John 13, and his outright denial of Jesus in John 18, there's Peter the disciple in John 6. He's been with Jesus as he feeds the five thousand and walks on the water. Crowds have been following Jesus, eager to hear what he says. But then the teaching gets hard. Many followers can't stomach what Jesus talks about when he says, "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink."

"From this time," John tells us, "many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him." The word disciples here means followers in general. These are not the close followers, the Twelve. We know that because Jesus then turns to his twelve close friends and asks, "You do not want to leave too, do you?"

When Jesus asks the disciples this question, we can be sure that he already knew that one day they would all flee. In our celebration of Holy Week, that fleeing is just around the corner. But here in John 6, the Twelve are solidifying their devotion.

Before anyone else can answer, Peter becomes spokesman: "Lord," he says, with an earnest look, "to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God."

Peter's understanding of Jesus is still developing. Here he speaks of him as a prophet having the words of eternal life and a priest, the Holy One of God.1 Later he will acknowledge that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. But the words that rivet me are found in Peter's brief question, "To whom shall we go?"

I'm riveted because, perhaps like you, in recent weeks I have wondered where to safely turn. I have too often greeted the morning with a sense of dread, the evening with a feeling of hopelessness and questioning. I start reading a news article and feel myself falling headlong into despair. I have learned helpful ways to cope: monitor my news consumption carefully, get exercise, maintain a schedule, tell a trusted friend when I'm feeling really low, do some work with my hands. And these things help. But they are not enough. The next morning comes with its own share of questions and uncertainty.

The words of Peter met me on one of those dark mornings, speaking a truth that echoes the Psalmist and many before him. "To whom shall we go?" Peter asks. Amidst other words of comfort sent my way – "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble." "The Lord your God is with you wherever you go."2 – Peter's question is made to Jesus Christ, face to face. And so it becomes for me a prayer that I make to a God who came to us, face to face. "Lord, I have no where else to go."

And this brings us to tonight, merely hours before the crucifixion. Jesus has washed his disciples feet. He has shared bread and wine and told them, "This is my body, given for you. This is my blood, poured out for you."

Did Peter remember the time, months prior, when Jesus had said with such astounding metaphor, "I am the bread of life"? Did he remember the hard teaching: "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life."

"Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood." The Jews who heard Jesus preaching were appalled that he would say they needed to drink his blood. And they were rightly appalled. The Mosaic law forbade drinking blood because that is where life is. We are not to feast on the lifeblood of anything else, save Jesus's blood alone.3 His blood is our life.

In the midst of questions, loss and the anticipation of loss, we seek peace in a thousand different places and we don't find it. Yes, there are important and life-saving practices to follow and we should follow them. But thanks be to God – our ultimate hope is not in them. In fact, our ultimate hope is not in setting up a peaceful and routine life. We began Lent with a reminder of our frailty: Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return. This Lent has surely been an illustration of such truth like no Lent in my lifetime. So obviously we are not claiming protection from illness or death by our worship of Jesus.

What we are claiming is God's loving presence with us in life and in death. Even when, like fearful Peter in Mark 14, we call Jesus names and swear we want nothing to do with him, Jesus doesn't forsake us. He continues to remind us to feed on him, to feast on him, because he is our life.

1. Readings in John's Gospel William Temple, pg. 98
2.  Psalm 46:1, Joshua 1:9
3.  Readings in John's Gospel William Temple, pg. 92

Posted by Laurel Stevens with