Easter Sunday

What is there about Easter for a clergyperson not to love? Sanctuaries and worship spaces are decorated with beautiful flowers, the hymns are triumphant, brass players augment the strong organ and hymn singing. People pay particular attention to their attire, children sport new Easter outfits and some women even wear hats. Best of all, pews are full, sometimes for several worship services. The minister lives for Easter Sunday and even though we know better, for a moment or two, we entertain the notion that this is all about me, all these people have come to hear what I have to say and if I get it right this year they will come back again next Sunday for more.

Some even spend sermon time on Easter scolding those who show up only twice a year, “Chreasters” the New York Times cynically called them in a recent editorial about the decline of religion in American culture. I never did it, maybe poked a little gentle fun by reminding the Easter crowd that we do this every Sunday, same time, same place. It always got a laugh, but if you are coming to church just once a year, why wouldn’t you come on Easter, when the church lays it all on the line?

Most of us take a little break after Easter, a Sunday or two off, a well deserved vacation after the the intensity and busyness of Lent, Holy Week and Easter with its with its round-the-clock celebrations and responsibilities, from Easter Vigil on Saturday evening, to Sunrise Services at 6:30 added to the full schedule of Sunday services. I did it almost every year, took a week or two off. And yet, I always felt that the days and weeks after Easter are the most important of the church year. The good folk who come to church on the Sunday after Easter, even though the minister is away somewhere relaxing, are the deeply faithful, the steady, loyal heart of any congregation. And theologically, homiletically the issues in the days and weeks after Easter are, “now what?” and “so what?”

I’ve always loved the authentically human way Jesus’ friends conduct themselves after the trauma of crucifixion and the mystery of resurrection appearances According to the Fourth Gospel, they do essentially nothing. They remain in a locked room in Jerusalem, hiding I suppose, waiting for things to settle down so they can sneak out of town and return to Galilee and their lives before they met Jesus. When the first resurrection appearance occurs Thomas was not in the room with the rest of them. Where do you suppose Thomas was? Frederick Buechner speculates that he is sitting on a park bench somewhere, feeding pigeon, thinking it all over. I think he was grocery shopping. Ever the realist, Thomas is tending to business, procuring food. When Jesus appears Thomas misses it and, completely understandably, refuses to believe it when his friends try to explain what happened. It will earn him forever the name “Doubting Thomas”, but I prefer “Realistic Thomas”.

What Thomas misses is not only the experience but the first post-resurrection words of Jesus, “Peace be with you”, and then, “as the Father sent me, so I send you.” There’s the “now what?” answer. People who experience resurrection are “sent”. There’s the answer to “so what?” People who have experienced the victory of life and love over evil and death are sent out of the room, the hiding place, the safe, secure place, back out into the world.

That is why the days and weeks after Easter are so important. Friends of Jesus, fresh from triumphant celebration, are sent back out into the world, the very world that rejected, tortured and killed him, which is to say, the real world, the world in which we live.

I totally understand the impulse to stay in that safe, secure room. It has been a long time, it seems, since the world has looked quite so ominous and disconcerting and frightening. North Korea has nuclear weapons and seems ready to use them. Iran continues, undeterred to develop nuclear capacity. Israel does not seem much interested in a just and peaceful resolution with the Palestinians. Suicide bombers in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan do their ghastly work as American troops prepare to come home. At home there are fiscal issues that seem unresolvable given congressional gridlock, a sequester that weighs heavily on those most vulnerable. Global warming, guns, violence.

The “now what?” and “so what?” of Easter are that people who have experienced resurrection are sent into the world to live intentionally, faithfully, courageously, justly, and hopefully with those haunting first resurrection words burning in their hearts. “Peace be with you. ..As the Father sent me, so I send you”.

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