Sunday, April 27, 2014

It's Still Easter

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
April 27, 2014

Year A: The Second Sunday of Easter
Acts 2:14a, 22-32
Psalm 16
1 Peter 1:3-9
John 20:19-31

It’s Still Easter

            Alleluia! Christ is risen!
            The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
            I’m obviously biased, but we had the most amazing Holy Week and Easter here at St. Paul’s.
            The highlight of Holy Week was, of course, our Stations of the Cross. I wish you all could have been there. It was so moving and powerful – haunting, as one parishioner said – to make our way around the neighborhood stopping and praying at places where there have been acts of violence in just the past year.
            And then we had the Easter Vigil service – by far the most complex and, I think, the most beautiful service of the year.
            We began in darkness – the room lit by just the Paschal Candle – and then gradually own little candles gave the church a soft glow. We had two baptisms – Adama and her son Aalim – and then, finally, we moved from shadow to light.
            Alleluia! Christ is risen!
            The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
            Then finally on Easter Day it really felt like Easter. The weather was sunny, just perfect, really. Lots of us were beautifully decked out. The church was nearly packed. The music was glorious. Easter eggs were hunted. And we shared in a bountiful feast in the Parish Hall.
            Last Sunday we heard the story of Mary Magdalene going to Jesus’ tomb early on the first day of the week. She is horrified to find it empty. She ran to tell the disciples that someone must have stolen the body of Jesus.
            And then later Mary Magdalene was back at the tomb, weeping over the sadness of the whole thing – the betrayal, the rejection, the death and now the final indignity of a stolen body.
            Mary was weeping when she met Jesus the gardener.
            And so last week we ended the resurrection story – this story of death transformed into new life – we ended the Easter story with Mary Magdalene going to the disciples to tell them the good news – the best news ever, “I have seen the Lord.”
            And then, Easter was over. Or so it seemed.
            Maybe we spent time in the afternoon with family or friends.
            And then on Monday or over the following few days, most of us went back to our ordinary lives. We went back to work. We went back to school. We went back to our usual worries and fears – worries and fears for ourselves and worries and fears for those we love.
            Paying bills.
            Keeping a job.
            Finding a job.
            Getting good grades
            And all the rest.
            For many of us the joy of Easter quickly faded – became maybe just a fond memory of some good church services and dressing up and eating good food.
            And even here in church, Easter week is traditionally pretty quiet and, as always, our attendance today is down quite a bit from last week.
            It sure feels like Easter is over.
            And at the start of today’s gospel lesson it sure feels like Easter is over, doesn’t it?
            We pick up right where we left off last week. The Evangelist John tells us on the evening of Easter Day the disciples were meeting behind locked doors. Mary Magdalene has told them the good news – the best news ever – but they’re still afraid.
            John tells us that they are afraid of the Jews.
            It’s important for us to remember that all of Jesus’ disciples – as well as Jesus himself, for that matter, - were all Jews. So this isn’t a conflict between Jews and Christians because there aren’t any Christians yet. Instead this is a dispute among Jews – it’s a dispute between Jews who believed Jesus was the long-awaited messiah and those who didn’t.
            Anyway, the disciples are afraid. It feels like Easter is over before it barely got started.
            Suddenly Jesus appears – the same wounded Jesus but somehow different – able now to enter through locked doors.
            Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”
            And then he gives them the gift of the Holy Spirit. Not only is it Easter but it’s a kind of little Pentecost!
            For the disciples, it’s still Easter!
            Alleluia! Christ is risen!
            The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
            Well, it’s Easter for all but one of the disciples.
            We’re told that Thomas wasn’t there that evening of the first day, the evening of the first Easter.
            I always wonder where Thomas went, why he wasn’t with the others.
            He might have been afraid so he was in hiding away from the others. Though that kind of fear doesn’t seem to match the little that we know about him.
            In my imagination I always see him devastated and angry about Jesus’ death. I imagine him disappointed in himself, disgusted that like just about everybody else, he had abandoned his Lord in his hour of need – abandoned Jesus to death on the Cross.
            I imagine Thomas by himself out in the wilderness, shouting up to the sky, crying out to God:
            “Why did this have to happen?”
            “Where were you?”
            “We thought Jesus was the long-awaited one. Why have we – why have I - been disappointed, fooled again?!”
            For Thomas out there somewhere alone, it’s definitely not Easter.
            And it’s still not Easter when the other disciples tell him the good news – the best news ever: “We have seen the Lord.”
            Of course, Thomas earns his eternal “doubting” nickname by not believing his fellow disciples. But, let’s face it, we wouldn’t have believed those guys either. And, for that matter, the disciples were all “Doubting Thomases,” not believing Mary Magdalene’s story of seeing the Lord, not really believing until they saw the Risen Jesus for themselves.
            Then we fast-forward a week later.
            Everybody’s back together, this time including Thomas.
            The Risen Jesus appears again and despite what he said before Thomas doesn’t need to touch. He sees and he believes, crying out, saying more than he probably knew or understood, “My Lord and my God.”
            It’s finally Easter for Thomas.
            So, what about us?
            It was definitely Easter last week. But, with all of our worries and fears, with all of the demands of everyday life, is it still Easter?
            After all, Thomas and the other first disciples had a real advantage over us: they could actually see the Risen Christ.
            Well, I can only speak for myself.
            It’s still Easter when I gather with a family in a hospital room and we hold hands in a circle of love and pray for one that they love so much – love and hope in the midst of fear and suffering.
            It’s still Easter.
            It’s still Easter when I reflect on how we’ve been together for almost a year – when I think of all the good that God has worked in and through us. It’s still Easter when I think of all the exciting things that God has in store for us in the days and weeks ahead.
            It’s still Easter.
            It’s still Easter when I look at these beautiful new hangings made for us by the talented and generous Virella Clark, given by her to enrich our worship and to give glory to God.
            It’s still Easter.
            It’s still Easter when this afternoon youth and adults from St. Paul’s and Incarnation and many other churches will kneel before the bishop reaffirming their faith, wanting to publicly follow the Risen Lord we can’t see or touch.
            It’s still Easter.
            And, it’s still Easter when in just a moment we gather once again at the font. Even though we don’t see the Risen Jesus the way Thomas and the first disciples did, it’s still Easter when we say yes to God by renewing our baptismal promises. It’s still Easter when, like Thomas long ago, Shari declares her trust in Jesus, her Lord and God, our Lord and God.
            It’s still Easter.
            It’s still Easter.
            Alleluia! Christ is risen!
            The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!