Sermon for the First Sunday after Easter
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
April 11, 2010
As I mentioned last weekend, this morning has been traditionally known as Low Sunday. No, that name doesn’t come by looking at the Parish Register of Services comparing attendance from last Sunday to today. Rather, it’s yet another marker of time that our Church Kalendar makes use of. We are closing the Octave or eight day celebration of Easter, and this is the eighth day following our Church’s highest Feast day.
In ancient times, converts to Christianity would have gone through a lengthy process of catechesis and instruction in the Christian Faith, culminating in their baptism at the Great Vigil of Easter. Following their baptism, they would have received a white garment symbolizing the fact that they had been mystically washed and were now a new person cleansed from the stain of Original Sin, and now clothed in the sinless, righteousness of Jesus Christ. This new garment was an outward sign of the grace that was inwardly working within each new believer that they might become sanctified and strive to be holy, as our Lord was holy. On this Low Sunday, they would have taken off their white garments for the final time. As St. Augustine said, “The Feast of this day is the end of the paschal solemnity, and therefore it is today that the Newly-Baptized put off their white garments. But though they lay aside the outward mark of washing, namely, their white raiment, the inward mark of that washing remaineth in their souls unto eternity.”
We too, who renewed our Baptismal Vows at the Easter Vigil celebrated and recollected that inward mark that we received at our individual baptisms, that we might be reminded again whose we are, and in whose name we serve.
One of the most important things to remember about today, Low Sunday, the Sunday in White, the First Sunday after Easter, or whatever name we give, that this is when the Christian faith is lived out and is given eyes, and ears, and feet, and hands, and mouths.
Our lives as Christians are lived outside of the high feast times from Easter Sunday through today
If we think about Peter, James and John when they were with Jesus on the mount at His Transfiguration, they wanted to live on the mountaintop forever, and setup three little shrines, and bask in the glory that they beheld
Jesus had something else in mind, he required that they go back down from the mountain into the valley and out into the highways and bi-ways
It is here that one truly lives out and shares the Gospel
After Jesus’ death, all of the Gospels begin to come to a rapid close. Matthew, Mark, and Luke have only one chapter containing the resurrection appearances prior to the brief Ascension accounts in Mark and Luke. John’s Gospel has two chapters devoted to the resurrection, but it, like Matthew, is silent regarding the Ascension.
However, in these brief accounts following our Lord’s Resurrection, we see Jesus confront three of life’s rawest, and most real emotions.
First, Jesus confronts the emotion of grief
In the section of John’s Gospel which immediately precedes what we heard a few minutes ago, we hear of Mary Magdalene’s return to the tomb, and she looks inside in utter disbelief, and with a sense of grief that has completely overcome her
Not only has she lost her Lord and Teacher in the sense of his death, but also now, she can’t even grieve his loss by being able to perform the sacred rites of final preparations of the body
I know for some when you have lost a parent, or grandparent, or sibling, there was that time that you wanted to spend with the body before the casket lid was closed for the final time
For many, this is a critical part of the grief process
It is beginning to be able to say goodbye, and begin the healing that is a part of letting go
For Mary, she has been robbed of this opportunity
After her encounter with two angels, she sees someone that she thinks is the gardener, and as she asked the angels, she asks this person where Jesus’ body was
She is crying out in grief
And this person says to her one word, and turns her grief into joy
He calls her by name
The Word of God speaks a word, and transformation has begun
Just as in the beginning of Creation, a Word is spoken, and transformation begins
Mary has her own Transfiguration experience with Jesus in the sense that Jesus tells her that she can’t simply cling to him there in the garden, because her life had to be lived outside the garden walls
She had to spread the News, that Jesus had risen from the dead, and that she had been called by name to proclaim that truth to the world
Second, Jesus confronts the emotion of fear as we heard in our passage today.
Jesus’ disciples were all gathered together that first Easter evening, and were clearly caught in the grips of fear
We are told that they were behind locked doors terrified that they were next, and that the Jewish authorities were coming after them because of their association with Jesus
They certainly had good reason to be afraid because Jesus had just told them four days earlier that they would in fact drink the same cup he drank from, and they would be despised, hated, and persecuted because of who they were and the Man that they followed
Fear is one of those strange emotions that strike us in different ways
For some, fear is a motivator, and allows us to do extraordinary things
For others, it curls us up into a ball in the corner, and we pray that no one is around to see it
In either extreme, there is something noticeably absent when we are caught up in the midst of fear
That one thing is peace
That is why Jesus tells the disciples twice within this encounter “Peace be with you”
He gives them His peace to wash over their fears and calm their spirits
They, like we, have hard work to do as His disciples, and it cannot be done within the grip of fear
It is accomplished only through His peace which surpasses all human understanding
Thirdly, Jesus confronts the emotion of doubt which we hear in the section that immediately follows our passage this morning.
In one verse of Scripture, one of Jesus’ chosen Apostles gives rise to a term that we all know and use – a Doubting Thomas
Forget the fact that it is Thomas who tells his fellow disciples that they too should go with Jesus to die with Lazarus when Jesus tells them that they are going to Bethany
Forget the fact that during Jesus’ farewell discourse, it is Thomas who asks of Jesus, “Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?”
To which Jesus replies, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the father, but by me.”
Instead, we always remember Thomas in light of our Gospel this morning:
“Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe”
If we blame Thomas for anything, we cannot blame him for being real
He is being asked to believe the most extraordinary thing imaginable, and he has a sense of doubt
Even though he had witnessed three years’ of testimony that would clearly point to the fact that this is not at all beyond the realm of possibility, he remains human
He still tries to get his human comprehension around divine revelation
He wants physical evidence, of a supernatural event
And what does Jesus do?
He says to Thomas, come and touch my hands, look at the nail prints in my feet, place your hand in my side
Don’t let your doubts stand in the way of your belief
You know it to be true, and yet, your humanity is clouding your ability to see my divinity
You’ve actually seen and now believe
Blessed are the ones who are going to come after you who haven’t seen and yet still believe
Blessed are the ones who hear from your own lips, that you actually touched the risen Jesus, and you know that he is in fact the Your Lord and Your God
Blessed are you and I who come to God’s Holy Altar in faith to experience His Real Presence in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood
Blessed are you and I when we believe in our hearts, and then our eyes are opened to see Jesus’ presence in each other
Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe
May we who have not seen and yet believe, bear witness to the One who died and rose again, so that others might also believe in the Son of God. That they too might know and call upon the very God who gave his life so that we might have life, and have it more abundantly. That they too might come within the saving embrace of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, to whom we ascribe all might, majesty, dominion, and power, both now and ever more.