Happy Easter, everyone! This continues to be the season of New Life, New Creation, Resurrection – and it will continue to be for the next seven weeks, all the way to Pentecost on June 4. We know we keep our Christmas celebrations going for twelve days – a great feast to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Incarnation of God in human life. But Easter is fifty days, and those additional forty-two days should tell us something about the importance and scope of Easter. The joy of Easter, the hope of the Resurrection, the reality of God’s New Life given to us is so immense that it takes fifty days every year to wrap our heads and hearts around it.
The world around us was probably done with Easter by Monday, or maybe Wednesday at the latest when the jelly beans got eaten, the flowers on the dining table started to fade, the Easter dinner left-overs had been served….unless you had a ham, and maybe it is only now finding its way to becoming split-pea soup. And all of that is based on the assumption that the world at large paid any attention at all to Easter.
And yet, for Christians, Easter is the foundation of everything. The trampling down of death by Jesus’ death and rising to new life is central to our faith, because it means that when we are connected to Christ we share in his life. We experience in the here and now God’s ultimate goal for us and for all creation; the future has come to meet us in the presence of the Risen Christ., the One we follow as Lord. No wonder it takes fifty days to really dwell in that reality!
Now, all the joy of Easter season, and the upsurge of faith that our Holy Week and Easter Day worship inspires, does not eliminate difficulty, fear, pain, sorrow, or doubt. The very fact that every year the Church assigns the passage about Thomas to be read on this day – with all his doubts, and the fear of the other disciples – tells us that faith and the power of the resurrection co-exist with the pain and difficulty of life in this world. It was true then, and it’s true now.
The second lesson, the passage from the First Letter of Peter, makes this very clear. The letter was written in Rome, sometime near the end of the first century, by a Christian elder who was writing in the tradition and authority of the Apostle Peter. He was writing to Christians in northeastern Asia Minor who were young in their faith. Many of them were Jews who had migrated there from Palestine and had come to believe that Jesus was the Messiah and had formed churches with Gentile Christians. At that time there was no heavy-duty state-sanctioned persecution of Christians taking place. Rather, the fact that many of them were not Roman citizens but resident aliens, and that they had embraced a faith that was new and greatly outside the mainstream of the accepted practice let these small Christian communities in for a great deal of suspicion, criticism, and general discrimination. The author of the letter is writing to remind these followers of Jesus that the difficulties and problems they were suffering because of their faith were going to lead to a stronger, truer, more authentic faith in the long run – like gold being purified by fire. And he commends their joy and hope in God’s future; the time when the fullness of salvation will arrive on earth as it is in heaven.
Sometimes when a person first comes to faith in Christ, or begins to take prayer and their relationship with God seriously, they get the mistaken idea that once you are in Christ, once you give your heart to God, everything else should be smooth sailing, that there will be no problems, no challenges. That is simply not true. You are embarking on a life-long journey of spiritual growth and development as your heart, soul, mind, and character are conformed to Christ. And if that isn’t challenging enough, the very fact of living and believing and acting as a Christian is going to put you on a collision course with the values and behavior of the world – at least occasionally. This is not something to be wondered at or complained about – although it may well be painful. Instead, it is a natural consequence of serving the Lord and Creator of the Universe who is Truth (with a capital T). Standing for and with Jesus will inevitably cause conflict at some point with those for whom Truth and the love of God is not convenient, gets in the way of their own plans and projects, whether personally or in society.
At the Easter Vigil last Saturday we renewed our Baptismal Covenant, as we do at every baptism and on every baptismal feast day. It’s a reminder and a recollection of our attention to focus on what we are about: faith in the Triune God; continual prayer, fellowship, study, and worship; resisting evil and repenting of sin; proclaiming the Good News Gospel by what we say and do; loving our neighbor; striving for justice and peace in society, and respecting the dignity of all people. These are the values and practices that will sometimes land us in a confrontation with those we work with, socialize with, perhaps with members of our own families. We are called to pursue and work for the Peace of God, but expect push-back.
The author of First Peter goes on to commend the joy and faith that these young Christians have, even in the face of their trouble and aggravation, even though they received their faith through hearing the Gospel, and not through the experience of having known Jesus in this life – either in his mortal body or is resurrection body. They celebrate because they know, as The Message translation puts it: “God is keeping careful watch over us and the future. The Day is coming when you’ll have it all—life healed and whole.”
And that is the way we are called to live – with a joy grounded in the hope of God’s future; a joy that sees God’s purposes for the world straining to come to fulfillment; a joy that is not undone by conflict or adverse circumstance. This is the joy that lives at the heart of God and of the world, and it shines most clearly at Easter. This is the joy of God’s love and presence for which we were made; and it enlivens our faith.
Christ is risen! Let us, therefore, practice joy in this season of Resurrection. Amen. Alleluia!
Victoria Geer McGrath
All Saints’ Church, Millington, NJ
Second Sunday of EasterApril 23, 2016