Scriptures: Luke 24:1-12; Acts 17:22-34
What Comes After Easter?
A couple of weeks ago, we celebrated Easter. We celebrated the Day of Resurrection. By the way, I look up Easter – that is, the word “Easter” – and frankly, they're not sure where it came from. The Orthodox and the Catholic church call it Pascha. We get “paschal lamb” from that. It's a transliteration of the Hebrew word for Passover.
Some people thought maybe “Easter” meant eastern, because it happened at dawn. One person thought that it came from the name for the Easter bunny, which was an actual character in German folklore, the Osterhase, who laid eggs. And they weren't the only ones in that region that thought an animal delivered eggs. I think it might be in Finlandia they thought a fox did it.
When we celebrate Easter, what comes after Easter? At Easter, what do we celebrate? How should we celebrate it and why? I mean, when we celebrate Easter, is it Spring we're celebrating? Is it new life? Is it the resurrection, and if so, whose? And what do we do after that Day of Resurrection?
We're going to be having this sermon series on the resurrection for the next five or six weeks, until Pentecost. In the Church calendar, it's called the season of Easter, or Eastertide – the fifty days after Easter and before Pentecost.
Eastertide may sound somewhat familiar to you, because we usually use the word Christmastide after Christmas. Christmastide only lasts for a couple of weeks, until Epiphany. But during that time we celebrate Jesus' birth, we continue to give gifts, if we follow the old traditions. After all that song “The Twelve Days of Christmas” didn't come out of thin air, with all those gifts on the twelve days. That was all in terms of greater and greater gifts until you get to the wise men – the magi – who gave their gifts to Jesus.
So we have Eastertide after Easter. And we have traditions about Easter that aren't like the Easter bunny. We have symbols that we use, aside from the cross and the empty grave. The tradition of cooking hard-boiled eggs, because the egg was a sign of new life. I remember somebody was telling me, but I can't remember what it is, so I can't share with you, that each piece of the egg means something, with the egg white, the yolk, and then the shell – I'm pretty sure it was the empty tomb.
It used to be a tradition that on Easter you would wear white, and I was told by somebody that that's the first day of the year that you should wear white. We wear new clothes – new Easter bonnets, new dresses. We dress up our kids. We show that newness in life.
But what do we do after Easter? One thing about the Jewish culture is they liked to celebrate things for a long time. Their weddings took seven days of celebration. How would you like that, when it's someone in your family getting married? And Passover is seven days. Jesus spoke of the kingdom of heaven in terms of a wedding banquet. A party, a celebration, joy.
How long should we do it? How much should we do it? Well, our Easter season is really, if you go by the Scriptures, not fifty days but forty days. Because it speaks of the time after the Resurrection that Jesus was with his disciples. Then he ascended, and he told them to go to Jerusalem and wait until the Holy Spirit comes. That was on the day of Pentecost, ten days later.
So if we look at Eastertide and we look at it scripturally, what is it that Jesus was doing during that time? What is it that makes Eastertide worth celebrating? What is it that we should look for after Easter?
The first thing Jesus was doing was showing himself to people. In John and in Matthew he shows himself to the women who came to the tomb. Here in Luke, to angels come and tell the women what happened. The women go to the disciples, and what the disciples did was actually, frankly, the typical response back then and even now, to word of the resurrection. “You're fooling us. This can't be true.” If it was today, I can see somebody saying, “Am I on Candid Camera?”
They did not believe it. Jesus came and visited the disciples. Then they believed – except for the one who was absent, whom we call Doubting Thomas (who I think gets kind of a bad rap, but that's a totally different sermon). And then finally he believed. We'll be talking more about this next week.
But why was it so hard to believe? What make the Christian claims of the Resurrection so different than other things and historical claims? Why was it so tough to believe that Scripture calls it a stumbling block? In Acts 26, when Paul is speaking to Agrippa, he calls Paul crazy, as learned as he might be. He thinks Paul is nuts for talking about the Resurrection.
Even in today's reading, in the Areopagus, it says that a few wanted to know more, a few followed him and believed, but a lot of them scoffed. Would they do that? And what's so important, then about it. Why does the Resurrection even matter? We'll be covering that in week four, and then looking after that at why it's some important in our lives and for our lives.
The Resurrection is central to our faith There is really nothing more critical to our faith. I know we like to celebrate Christmas, and I know we just had good Friday, but you know, we celebrate good Friday because of Easter Sunday.
For the early church, it was the Resurrection and Christ coming back again that was the key. Paul himself said – I believe in one of the Corinthian epistles – that if the resurrection didn't happen, that we believe in vain, and we are still in our sin, and “oh, what a wretched man” is he, the most wretched man in the world.
It was a physical resurrection. It wasn't a resuscitation – which we'll talk about next week – like with Lazarus, who was raised but then died again. It wasn't some sort of spiritual transformation (which frankly, a lot of people still believe today). The pagans believed you'd be transformed into a spirit and you'd go into the afterlife.
The Jews thought of it as Sheol, which was sort of a holding place for the dead, until the last day, the day of judgment, when everybody will be resurrected to be sent to heaven or hell. But even then, they don't specify physical resurrection.
The Greeks had their underworld, Hades. And eventually you would get judged there and you would go to Elysium or Tartarus. But you never came back from Hades, from the afterlife. You never came back from heaven or hell. Not physically. Not to visit.
Even the Egyptian gods with their pantheon, while they do have Osiris, who on the surface sounds somewhat similar, he never came back from the underworld. He was a god, supposedly, like Jesus. He was killed, he was cut up into a number of pieces. Then his mom gathered them all together, and he was reborn as a god in the underworld. But you see, he wasn't alive in our world, in our present time.
What Jesus did was unique. That is what makes it so hard for people to grab hold of. And that's why it's so important for our lives. It's why we need to understand about the resurrection, why we need to understand how it is different, why we need to talk about it.
It's very important, because Jesus spent forty days talking about it. Do you want to know what the first Eastertide was about? I think two things were happening. Number one, they were celebrating. They were having a party. Jesus spoke of heaven being a party, a feast. They were crushed at the crucifixion, and after the resurrection they were unbelieving in their joy.
Jesus liked a party. His first miracle was at a party, at a wedding feast. They ran out of wine. His mom said, “Son! Do something about this.” He had a few things to say to her, but in the end he was a dutiful son, and he took care of it. And the wine he produced was even better than what they had before. The life that he brings is better than the life before.
A lot of times the people didn't recognize him – and yes, the Holy Spirit might have been blinding their eyes. But he didn't look the same. He was in his resurrection body. Yes, he had the scars on the wrists/hand, and the hole in his side. But even in the Gospel of John, when Mary is there in the garden afterward and she sees Jesus, she doesn't recognize who he is.
She thinks he's the gardener, until he says, “Mary.” She hears that voice, of the one she's had this personal relationship with for three and a half years, the one she heard, so many times, speak her name. She cries out, “Rabboni!” and falls to her knees to cling to him in worship. And he pushes her off and says, “Not yet, I still have more things to do.” That was Easter. Well, those more things were appearing to people. One at a time, eleven at a time, five hundred at a time. (We'll talk about that in the third week.)
He appeared, showing that he was there, showing that he was raised, showing that he was physical. A little bit past this, in Luke 24:36-43, he appeared and he ate with the disciples. Why? Because ghosts don't eat. He was physically resurrected.
He taught them, from Scriptures, how it pointed to the fact that the Son of God must be crucified, suffer, die, and then be raised on the third day. He had spoken of it before his death, and they didn't understand. He spoke of it after his death, and they still needed it explained.
Does that tell you how difficult a concept it is? Even though it's simple, it's so hard to believe. But it's our whole reason for celebrating. And Jesus did it for forty days before he ascended. They he told the disciples they needed to wait for the Holy Spirit. They waited for ten days in Jerusalem, and on Pentecost, which we will celebrate, the Holy Spirit came down.
You know, we have an advantage over those disciples. They got to see Jesus face to face, and I admit that would be really cool. But the fact of the matter is, we have the Holy Spirit. They didn't. We have the Scriptures completed. They didn't. We have the Word of God to guide us in our celebration. They were just learning.
So in a way, we're better off than they were. If we already have our relationship with Christ, if we understand salvation, then shouldn't we celebrate all the more? I joke a lot about us Presbyterians being called “God's frozen chosen” and our typical face, when I look out there, is [looks very somber]. Now you guys are good – you chuckle at my jokes, most of the time. There was a church I preached at where I would tell a joke and I would get … nothing.
One time, when I had some humor in my Christmas Eve sermon (you remember Moo Cow?) I got chastised after the service by a couple of people for being irreverent on the eve of Christ's birth. Why? It's a celebration. I'm not saying we need to clap our hands and raise our arms like the Pentecostals or the charismatics. But shouldn't it be a time of smiling, a time of joy, as we worship together? And we worship what? Our God and King, who saved us and gives us new life.
Resurrection life. Not just afterlife, but “after-afterlife.” Wrap your head around that one for a moment. You have life. You have afterlife. And then you have after-afterlife. Because Jesus went down to Hades. Jesus came back. Jesus promised that this isn't the end. Some of us, who are going to be lucky, even get to skip the afterlife and go straight to the after-afterlife. When Christ comes back again, we'll be changed in the twinkling of an eye. Isn't that exciting? Shouldn't that be a reason for celebration? Shouldn't that be a cause for joy?
Chris came and saved us and gave us new life, and He gave us a purpose. Do you know what that purpose is? “To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” Enjoy God. Enjoy His presence. When you you enjoy something, and you share about it, it should be infectious, shouldn't it?
Look at COVID, how it spread. If you truly know the joy of that new life, why wouldn't you share? Why wouldn't you spread the party? For all of our somberness in worship, we Presbyterians like to party. At our potlucks, there's more food, and better food, than just about anywhere. (I like to think it's because of our Germanic and Scottish roots, but I'm biased.)
We understand the concept. Do we live it out? Do we take time after Easter to focus on the resurrection, to understand its importance, to learn more about it? Anyone who teaches – and we have quite a few teachers in here – anyone who's been a teacher knows this: review is important for remembering and understanding.
So when somebody comes and asks you, “How can you be so joyful when the world is going to hell?” – and there's a lot of that going on today, between wars – not just in Ukraine but there are a lot of other places, persecutions of various minorities – in China and in Iran and Syria. I saw a meme online the other day, on the Babylon Bee website. The headline to its news article was “Chinese Christians pray for Americans in their persecution. The article went on to talk about they felt for us here in America with the persecution we're undergoing, and they're praying for us to strengthen.
Obviously, it's satire there. They're the ones who are being shut down. They're the ones who are being killed. Yes we have our problems here in the U.S., and yes, the culture is getting more and more hostile to us. But at least as far as I know like no, no one has been jailed simply for believing, and no one has been killed if they didn't recant.
We can celebrate. Why is it that we don't celebrate as much as those Ukrainians did that we were talking about three weeks ago? Remember? They were in the subway and they were singing. And what were they singing? They were singing hymns of praise to God, even while there are bombs going off. Why? How could they celebrate? How could they sing praise to God during that moment? Because they knew that there's something more. That there's life after life. That there is the resurrection. And even before Easter – because that was before Easter, that little story – they were celebrating what was to come.
Surely afterwards, we can do it as well. We can celebrate once a year. We can learn for several weeks. And then we can practice, every single day, that joy, that celebration of the truth of salvation, and share it with others, so when their road is dark, they can cling to it as well. And may you glorify God, and enjoy Him forever, and today.
In the name of Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.