Life After Easter

These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire Presbyterian Church family. While effort is made to give credit for work done by other, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given. Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered. Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.

Acts 2:14a; 36-41

Sometimes around Christmas, you will hear people say, “I wish we could keep Christmas all year!” But have you ever, even once heard anyone say, “I wish we could keep Easter all year!” Why is that, do you think?

It’s not that we, in the church, don’t try… After a long and purple filled and reflective 40 day period of fasting and repentance and confession season called Lent… after a long, hard week watching Jesus march into Jerusalem and die on a cross… we celebrate Easter day which is only the beginning of a  50 day season to celebrate the resurrection. You’d think we’d be glad to have a 50 day party after 40 days of fasting and repentance! And yet, again and again, we rarely celebrate it for that long. A day is all that it gets.

I wonder why we are not eager to keep Easter longer. Is it lack of promotion? Or is it something deeper…Is it the fact that after Easter… we must return to the world as we know it?–  which is still a world waiting to be transformed.

It was that way for Peter and the others, you know… after Easter… it was not all sunny and bright with the disciples living happily ever after. This is not a movie… this is real life. After Easter… the Roman authorities and the religious establishment do not simply lie down and passively watch Jesus followers proclaim the resurrection. There is resistance… there is persecution… eventually, the followers of Jesus will be excommunicated from the temple for promoting their faith. Some will die, like Stephen.

Life after Easter does not look easier… in some ways, it looks harder.

And you know that. After Easter we still must fight cancer, fight death… fight the powers and principalities… Rome, bad religion, ideological fighting, political posturing… same old, same old, some would say. Believing in the resurrection does not change our circumstances or the world around us. You know that.  God does not save us—any of us—from suffering and pain and dying. Christians are not given a free or fast pass. Peter would tell you that… so would the others.

BUT, what Peter WOULD tell you is this: God works through crucifixion and through the suffering of Jesus… through the tragedy and pain to save us.  He saves us, as he saved Jesus, THROUGH them! Resurrection did not erase Good Friday… when God raised Jesus from the dead, he was offering us a way through the suffering to a living hope. Not around it, but through it!

My friend Roland Perdue put it this way:
“We are not exempt or safe from suffering, pain and dying. We are saved, made whole and complete through and in spite of them. Be not amazed! Be not afraid! Look through the tomb, through the tragedy, through the hurt, look through the painful personal relationship, the disappointed hopes, the divorce you still don’t understand, (the diagnosis that scares you to death), the lost job or the boring job. Look through all of that into resurrecting life which Jesus gives to us. The Lord of life calls us into life through the tomb.”[1]

Peter said it this way, “This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses… (v32) Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.”  It was through crucifixion that resurrection happened.

This is the message… the belief that had changed Peter.  And what a change it was. The Peter we meet in Acts is not the same Peter we met in Luke’s Gospel.

Oh yes, now he looks and sounds so bold and defiant for Christ… but let’s not have a short memory about Peter. True, he had always been a leader among the disciples… but a few weeks earlier he had betrayed the Lord three times with oaths and curses. When the going got tough, Peter ran away. Peter had denied his Lord from fear. The rest of those followers, they wept bitterly and became depressed after the death of the Lord.

Then something happened to Peter. Resurrection happened to Peter. Not only was Jesus raised from the dead, Peter was resurrected as well.

If you remember the Easter story, Jesus especially wanted Peter to know about the resurrection. He is named. “He wanted to make sure Peter was told, not as a rebuke, but so Peter would know that he was alive and that he still loved him. When the women told them the news, Peter ran to the tomb… He had to see. He had to know. He saw the empty tomb and Luke says he was amazed at what had happened.”[2]

What happened changed Peter’s life. Peter’s faith was resurrected because he encountered the risen Christ… and faith grew in him, in Mary and all the disciples after they encountered the risen Christ… It was faith in the crucified and risen Christ that filled them with conviction and hope—not because Easter had changed the world, but because Easter had changed them!

This is the truth that can change us as well…What happened to Peter and the others can happen to us… Not everyone, as Peter said, will welcome this message… but for those who do… life is never the same again…. They will be saved (to use his words) from this corrupt generation… and the way this generation thinks and acts and lives. For if life belongs to the Lord Jesus Christ, if the crucified Jesus is, as Peter proclaimed, both Lord and Messiah, then we approach the same old world with a whole new perspective… new power… a new and living hope… Because he lives, we shall live also… not just after death… but now!

In the drama, “The Trial of Jesus”, John Masefield has the centurion Longinus report to Pilate after the crucifixion of Jesus. Longinus had been the officer in charge of the execution… He comes back at the end of the day to give Pilate his report. Pilate’s wife begs the centurion to tell her more about how Jesus died.

After he gives her the account of Jesus’ death, she asks, “Do you think he is dead?” Longinus answers, “No, lady, I don’t.” “Then where is he?” asks Pilate’s wife. Longinus replies, “Let loose in the world, lady, where neither Roman nor Jew can stop his truth.”

Indeed, the Risen Jesus is let loose in the world. His truth changed the lives of Peter and the disciples… his truth continues to change hearts and lives today

It is the truth that filled their lives with faith, hope, courage, love and boldness… It is the truth that compelled them to tell what they had experienced… to witness to others this good news of resurrection… to pray… to worship… to share and tell the world that thanks to what happened on that first Easter… we can live because he lives.

When Peter shared that message, Luke says, it cut people to the heart… it began to change them…  they wanted to know what to do… they repented (changed their way of thinking and being)… were baptized… and Luke says, about 3000 people were changed that day… 3000 people who now were able to face life and even suffering and death in a whole new way.

That’s what Paul was telling the Christians in Rome , in chapter 8 of Romans, wasn’t it?  It is a passage I usually read at the time of death, during a funeral… but when I think about it, Paul did not write it for a funeral… he wrote it to inspire Christians who were facing their own struggles… perhaps the Christians who were beginning to wonder… after Easter… if it was true… perhaps to Christians who were struggling to deal with persecution and death…

Paul wrote these beautiful words to friends who were struggling, to share with them how he was able to face the struggles of life. He said:

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us…

31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
    we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

That’s quite a confident statement to make in the midst of everything they were facing. But Easter will do that to you. Easter will grab you and pull you into response. Easter will give you confidence and courage to face what still looks like a Good Friday world.

A few years ago the Reverend Gardner Taylor was featured in Time Magazine … they called him, “the dean of black preachers in America”… He was one of the giants in his day and is now retired in Raleigh. Born in 1918.  He’s a powerful preacher. One Easter he preached a powerful sermon with a passage I want to share with you, and to end my sermon as well…

As you listen to him, think of all the struggles and suffering he endured as an African American in the 20th century… “”Jesus,” he says, “the fairest of God’s children, on Friday died and was buried in a cemetery. But on Sunday, the angels say, ‘Not here’. Over and over, you in this congregation will give and have given mother earth some frail clay, once a live and laughing presence, but then a still and cold body. And now, this morning, Luke gives us the message: ‘Not here.” Thanks be to God! When I walk in a cemetery and think of those I have loved and lost, I hear a voice say, ‘Not here.’ Midst tombs and sadness, I remember how some whom I have loved, have panted out their last, but ‘not here!’ No more bondage to the savagery of death. ‘Not here!” No more frightened, helpless submission to the triumphs of disease and hell. ‘Not here!’ No more frightened fugitives from an everlasting captivity. ‘Not here!’ Here, the first preachers of the resurrection give trumpet voice to that proclamation on that first Easter morning. ‘Not here! He has risen!’

The next time you are called to follow some beloved but lifeless form,and stand at a grave whose dust will be forever sanctified to you, may you hear the angels trumpet those wonderful words: ‘Not here!’ Somewhere else. Storm clouds never rise, not here. Somewhere else. Where the day never dies and the song never stills, that is where they are now. With God. But not here. Why? Because Christ has risen! He is risen indeed!”

And nothing in life or in death will ever be able to separate us from the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Oh my, knowing that, don’t you wish Easter could last more than 50 days?! 

Amen



[1] Roland Perdue sermon, “Through the Trees” FPC Charlotte

[2] Jim Wallace, adapted from blog on the Risen Christ

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