Christ is Risen! He Is Risen Indeed!
Today we find ourselves in the second week of Easter, in a season we call Eastertide. Eastertide is a 50-day season that goes from Easter Sunday to the feast of Pentecost. It is a time when we read of the many accounts of the Risen Lord to the disciples. Accounts that are raw and tender; for the disciples are experiencing a bit of trauma in the aftermath of Jesus being brutally tortured and crucified. These events stretch the disciples’ grasp of reality as what Jesus foretold has come to pass: Jesus prophesied that: “ He will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and insulted and spit upon. They will flog Him and kill Him, and on the third day He will rise again.”…(Luke 18:32-33). Today we read of an encounter between Jesus and the disciples in today’s story from John. Jesus passes through locked doors, addresses their fear, brings peace and breathes Holy Spirit on them all. I wouldn’t be surprised if we agreed that Thomas’ refusal to believe in the resurrection seems quite reasonable. As a result, Jesus returns specifically for Thomas showing him scarred hands and a scarred body, and Thomas falls on his feet and worships Jesus, declaring “My Lord and My God!” which is the only time in the gospels anyone calls Jesus God. All these accounts of the Risen Lord that we will read through Eastertide drive home for us the reality that:
The tomb is empty. Death has lost its sting. Jesus is Alive!
We have been given a living hope that carries us through tough times, through all times bad and good.
Eastertide is a joyous season, but it doesn’t do away with the pain and scars we carry. It’s not like we can flip on a switch on Easter Sunday, and make all our grief, frustrations, and fears go away. For me, for my family it is a very sad time. During Eastertide, the month between April and May, my family observes the death anniversaries of four loved ones. My brother Sean who died of an intentional drug overdose when I was 14. My brother Chris who died a little more than a year later in a car accident. We think of them during this time, and we not only feel their loss, but the loss of not knowing the men they would have become had they not died, since they died in the 20s. On top of their deaths, my mom and my dad also died during this season. So, every year, when April and May come around, memories resurface, especially those memories surrounding their deaths, a mild depression settles in, and I feel sad once more. Yesterday, we had the funeral service for Gail Master’s brother Tommy, who died on Good Friday. For Gail and her family, the joy of Easter is now tinged with the grief of Tommy’s passing.
Although I am sad during this season, it is a sadness mitigated, alleviated, by the message of Eastertide, by the promise Peter assures us, of a living hope. What is hope if it is not alive? What is hope if it is not borne out of the uncertainties and the sorrow we bear? This living hope is based in the reality that Jesus is called the first fruits of the resurrection. Our living, loving Savior wants us to know that his resurrection is a guarantee of our own eventual resurrection. That is the meaning of first fruits in the bible. Not only is Christ the first and the best of the harvest of resurrection but also first fruits also promises there is more to come. We, too, are guaranteed to be raised to life. Our loved ones will be raised. In our first lesson, we hear how Peter reassures the suffering believers, believers who are being persecuted and exiled because of their faith in Jesus, that through “mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.”
Peter reassures us that although we suffer grief or go through trials, we can also greatly rejoice. Our new birth comes to us through our baptism, and through our public profession of faith that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior, or as Thomas put it, “My Lord and My God!” Our spiritual inheritance is not like an earthly inheritance that can be taken away, can diminish over time, or evaporate due to a whim or change of heart. Our inheritance in Christ is permanent. So, we can rest assured that in our trials, in whatever we are facing, that hope stands firm.
In Eastertide we hear of Paul’s powerful teachings on living hope:
Our mortal bodies – destroyed by death – will be swallowed up by life.
Our souls will be clothed in glorious bodies.
We shall bear the image of Christ and we shall be raised by the power of his resurrection.
Swallowed up by life
Bearing the image of Christ
Reassuring and comforting thoughts, are they not? The tomb is empty. Death has lost its sting. Christ is alive!
Eastertide gives us hope because we recall that before his death, Jesus promised to go and prepare a place for us. The night before he died, Jesus reassured his disciples: In My Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and welcome you into My presence, so that you also may be where I am. (John 14:3) Eastertide reminds us Jesus was going home but to a home that belongs to us as well Jesus’ priority was to get heaven ready for us! What does Psalm 23 remind us? “ I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever more. “
So, Eastertide makes death a homecoming – as it is referred to in many Christian traditions. Home, where we truly belong, where we fully know love and joy. That the message of our living hope – home on earth is just a foreshadow of a heavenly abode where are loved ones, and where we will dwell. Home on earth is temporary, subject to shifting vagaries in our mortal circumstances. Nothing on earth is made to endure, not even our lives. Eastertide acknowledges this; our experiences on earth validate this; but our faith claims a hope that Jesus won for us an eternal home, an eternal existence where love endures, love is eternal.
Eastertide reminds us of these spiritual realities: that though we mourn we are not crushed; and though weeping endures through the night, joy comes in the morning. Our fears are stilled. Death gives way to victory of life, to a living hope, won for us by Jesus.
All of us grieve in these mortal lives at one time or another we shall experience loss of a loved one, of something we love. Like the early believers, we go through difficult times. Our relationships can be strained. Our health may not be good. Our finances may be shaky. The violence occurring around us in the world, latest stabbings, gun violence, the meanness of spirit we see around us disturbs us. Pain and oppression still have a toe-hold in the world despite the joy of Easter. Even though it is Eastertide, and here in spring life is bursting forth in nature, our spirits continue to waver, like Thomas wavered. But Eastertide we are giving a living hope: that there will be a time we are reunited with our loved ones: our circumstances are in God’s hands, and we have a living hope for today, and for our future; there will be a day; when all tears shall be wiped away, there will be no more death, mourning, no crying and no pain, the old order will pass away, a new order will triumph.
So, during this Eastertide season, whatever is rocking our world in a good way and in a bad way – we embrace with this living hope. We are scarred like Jesus but hope still finds us. We are in lock down at times but hope still finds us. Fear still shadows us but hope still finds us: a living hope through Christ that brings us the Holy Spirit and peace. So let us rest in this living hope that carries us through whatever we must face and renews us for the journey. No matter what Eastertide brings to you – challenge or joy – sorrow or peace – uncertainty or hope –we can face it all -- because the grave is empty, death has lost its sting and Christ is alive!