What’s next? (first Sunday after Easter)

Good morning, Friends!

I hope you’re all doing well this morning. It’s a week after Easter. Most of us were here last week, and we heard a beautiful musical version of the events leading up to Easter morning. I want to thank the choir and Anna again for all your hard work and practicing.

People often say that the most important book you read, is the first book you read the day after graduation. Same idea – people say that the most important workout you ever do is the one you start the day after you leave an exercise program.

What matters isn’t your retirement party, but what you choose to do on the morning you get up on the day after you retire. What matters isn’t all of the flowers and decorations on your wedding day, but how you live your marriage.

In exactly the same way, even though Easter Sunday is a great day in the church, a day we celebrate with joyful singing and all kinds of praise, in a way, what matters more, is what we do in the weeks that come after Easter.

Does Easter change our lives even just a little bit? How do we respond to the news that Christ is alive in the world? Did we just go back this week to “business as usual”, or is there any lingering sense of wonder for us?

And just so you know – it wasn’t one bit easier for that first group of Christians, the people who were closest to Jesus. They didn’t know what was going on!

They were scared. They were confused. They heard rumors of this and that going on, and they didn’t know what to make of it. I wrote a book about Easter a few years ago, and it’s called Rumors of the Resurrection. Because for that first group of Christians, rumors were all they had to go on at first.

This year, during the weeks leading up to Easter, we’ve been reading from the gospel of Luke. This first Sunday after Easter, I think the most important thing we can do is to hear the rest of the story, in Luke’s words.

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.

While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” Then they remembered his words.
When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.

Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.

Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened.

As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him. He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”
“What things?” he asked.

“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive.

Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”

He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.

While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”

When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence.

He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”

Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.

Luke 24:1-53

Well. What do we do with that? Where do we go from here?

The story of Easter, in every gospel, begins with a small group of women, who go to the cemetery and find that the tomb of Jesus is empty.

I always like to point that out, because there are some people around today who still say that women can’t be ministers. I always say, “Look at the Resurrection! Women were the first ministers of all!”

What was the message they brought back to tell everyone?

The place of death is empty. We went to the grave, and there was nobody there. Instead, we were given a message. The message is, “He isn’t dead, he is risen! He’s alive again!”

Crickets. That was the response they got. Nobody believed them. Only one person, Peter, even went to the cemetery to check. Peter saw the empty tomb, the empty grave clothes, and even Peter didn’t really believe. It says he went home, wondering what had happened.

First part of the Easter story – it was women who made the discovery.

Second part – the message: Jesus is alive. He’s not long-ago-dead. He’s not missing. He’s alive, he’s fully present, and he kept showing up, again and again, to prove that he’s with us.

Third part of the Easter story – disbelief. Even among the best of Jesus’ followers, there were doubt and questions. So, if you have doubts and questions about Easter, you’re in great company! So did almost every one of the people who were there, who were eyeball witnesses to what happened. They doubted. They were confused. They really didn’t get it at first!

Fourth part – and this really stands out in Luke’s version, which is why we read it today – Jesus met people. A whole lot of people. Christianity isn’t about one or two people having this great experience of meeting Jesus, and everybody else having to take it on faith. Christianity is about a lot of people, meeting Jesus where they least expect to see him.

Two disciples meet Jesus while they’re walking down the road. Jesus was literally the very last person on earth they ever expected to meet that day.

They knew Jesus was dead and buried. They saw it with their own eyes. They’d heard rumors that he was back, but they didn’t believe them. They were so blinded by their skepticism that they didn’t recognize Jesus when he was walking right beside them.

I’m going to give you a hint about that part of the story: that’s us. We are the ones who are blind. We are the ones who think that Jesus is dead and buried, today. Ancient history. Great story, but gone and forgotten.

But Jesus still shows up, and walks beside us. Jesus comes, and sits down at our table. Jesus shows up when we least expect Him, and says, “Hey, there!”

The two disciples said, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us, as he walked with us and opened the Scripture to us?”

That’s one of the great signs that Jesus is here. When our hearts are on fire. When we feel that burning, living presence, as we hear God’s word, and it becomes God’s word to us all of a sudden. Hearts on fire, hearts burning with recognition. Easter.

There are other signs that is present. Madeleine L’Engle says that joy is one of the infallible signs of the presence of the Holy Spirit. The apostle Paul says that when you experience love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, then God is there.

Many people feel Jesus is present when their sins are forgiven. Other people feel God is present when they feel a sense of wonder, of awe, or reverence. God is so great, and we are so small, and yet God comes to be with us. We matter, we are loved, we are a part of God’s plan.

Whatever way it happens, whenever Jesus shows up, it’s an Easter moment, and it takes us straight like an arrow back to the discovery that Jesus is alive.

Does anybody remember the rest of the Easter story that we listened to this morning?

It says that Jesus came among them, and he said, “Peace be with you!” And then he said, “Why are you so scared? Why are you letting doubts take control of your hearts? I’m here! It’s Me!”

Does anybody remember what Jesus told us to do, in today’s reading?

It says that he told us, “You are my witnesses. Go everywhere, and tell people that I’m alive!”

Jesus said to talk with people about repentance – that means turning our lives around – and talk with people about forgiveness – that means starting over, getting a new chance. It means hope. It means restoration. It means new life, in place of the old one.

Jesus said, “You know me. You’ve seen me. You’ve heard me teach. You’ve seen me heal. You’ve had meals with me. You’ve walked with me. Go and tell people all about it. That’s your job now!”

And then it says Jesus blessed them. Jesus shared his blessing, he shared God’s love. Jesus laid his wounded hands on them, and he prayed for them.

In some ways, I think that’s the hardest part of the Easter story to accept. Not that Jesus is alive. I can accept that. I have seen enough things, I have experienced enough things, to know in my heart that Jesus is with us.

But to have Jesus say, “You’re my witness now. I want you to go and tell the story, I want you to help people believe.”

To hear Jesus say, “You are someone I have chosen, to talk with people about turning around. How have you changed your life? How did I make things that were impossible for you, to happen?”

“How are you living, as someone who’s been completely and totally forgiven? How has your heart been healed? Can you tell people how I have walked with you?”

And in spite of all your doubts, all your fears, all your falling back, all your mistakes in life – to feel Jesus blessing you, forgiving you, healing you again, holding your hand, changing your heart.

The same blessing that Jesus reached out with then, Jesus is still reaching out with today. We are just the most recently blessed ones. And we are the ones Jesus is sending out today.

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