Preached on the Third Sunday of Easter at St. Matthew & St. Timothy Church, New York City
For three Sundays now, we have been hearing stories of resurrection. Easter stories. Stories of Jesus’ friends responding to the mind-blowing reality of a resurrected Christ.
First we hear from the two Mary’s at the tomb. Together they go to the place where Jesus was buried, only to find the stone rolled away, the tomb empty, and an angel of the Lord indicating that Jesus has up and moved on to Galilee. Always going places, that Jesus. Can’t keep him down. The women are terrified! Not only is their friend missing from the place where they laid him, but their world is surely turned upside down and inside out, if what the angel says is true and Jesus has beat death after having been dead.
Then we hear from our doubting friend Thomas. I don’t know about you, but Thomas’ story always makes me feel a little better about myself. Like me on some days, Thomas has his doubts. And yet he is still counted among the faithful disciples of Jesus, and he even gets a whole story dedicated to his stubbornness as Jesus appears specifically to him saying, put your fingers in my wounds and your hand in my gaping side. And as Mother Carla reminded us last week, it is because Thomas doubts that he is later able to exclaim with confidence, “My Lord and my God!”
That brings us to this week. This week we’re on the road to Emmaus with Cleopas and his friend—both followers of Jesus. They seem to spend the whole day with an unrecognizable Jesus, who unpacks the scriptures for them and calls them “fools” just like in the good old days. It is not until Jesus breaks bread with them that they recognize him—and then he disappears. We sing about this at Eucharist sometimes: “The disciples knew the Lord Jesus/in the breaking of the bread.” And then they turn to each other and say, “Were not our hearts burning within us?” Aw, man! How could we be so dense!
Each of these vignettes speaks to our persistent and exuberant proclamation throughout the fifty days of Easter:
Alleluia! Christ has Risen!
The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!
Only, the responses of Mary, Thomas and Cleopas don’t really resonate with our weekly exclamations. If you were to say to any of these followers, “Alleluia! Christ is risen!” They would likely respond: “What’s that supposed to mean? Are you sure? Oh. My. God.”
And if we really take seriously Mother Carla’s weekly exclamations, “Alleluia! Christ is risen!” Perhaps before we can say, “The Lord is risen indeed,” we, like the disciples, need to ask: Wait… what?
What do our lives look like after Easter? And I don’t just mean, well now we have eternal life thanks to Jesus’ victory over death, though that truth clearly has massive implications of its own. No, I mean what is the impact of a risen Christ today. And tomorrow. And the day after tomorrow. What does Easter look like in my everyday life right now.
Christ is risen. So what?
Christ is risen. What now?
Like Mary and Mary at the empty tomb, we need to take a moment to realize, with trembling even, that our world has been turned upside down. Death doesn’t mean what it used to. The God we worship is more powerful than any “end” or “finality” death once represented. And nothing can separate us from the love of God, not even death. Jesus has changed the world and there’s no going back.
And like Thomas poking Jesus’ wounds, we need to spend some time contemplating just how crazy this idea is. Rather than just accept the resurrection as if it’s simply an event we remember every Easter, we need to grapple with the unbelievable implications of Jesus returning from the dead with wounded hands, feet and side. And then believe it. We have to name our doubts before we can proclaim the mystery of our faith.
And finally, like Cleopas on the way to Emmaus, we need to be continually schooled by Jesus while our hearts burn within us.
Only then can we begin to live into the everyday reality of life after Easter. Only then can we live our lives as people who begin to comprehend the significance of a resurrected Jesus.
Peter tells us that it’s through Jesus we come to trust in God. It’s through our fear, doubt, wonder and celebration of Christ’s resurrection from the dead that we find faith and set our hope on God.
And it’s in response to that truth that we have what Peter calls “genuine mutual love,” so that we can “love one another deeply from the heart.”
This is what the every day Easter life looks like. This is what it looks like to be “born anew,” having received the Holy Spirit after Christ’s death and resurrection. First comes the trust in God; then comes the genuine love. First comes the grappling with fear, doubt and wonder so that we can believe the unbelievable with courage and conviction; then comes a love that is equally courageous and life changing.
And you know what I’ve discovered here at St. Matthew and St. Timothy? That just as courageous faith makes for genuine love, so does genuine love make for courageous faith. I know this because the love you have shown me over the past two years here has given me a new boldness and courage in proclaiming my faith in Jesus—in English and Spanish. This post-resurrection-Easter-courageous-genuine-love is life changing stuff—and I know that because your love has changed my life.
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.