Several years ago I preached a sermon on the Sunday after Easter entitled, “After Easter, Then What?” The gist of it was this: After all the hoopla surrounding Easter – the sunrise services and early morning breakfasts and pageants and cantatas – after pulling out all the stops and singing at the top of our lungs, “Jesus Christ is Risen Today” … what then? Where do we go from here? Is the rest of the year just one big anti-climax?
In a sense, it is. Everyday life pales by comparison to the resurrection of Jesus. Yet, that’s where we live, isn’t it … in the every day of life? Except for a few high moments here and there, most days are mundane and routine and anything but extraordinary.
And that’s a problem because, if we’re not careful, faith can easily amount to little more than going through the motions, where the transforming power of the resurrection is dumbed down to an historical event, rather than the catalyst of new life.
I hate to say this, but, be honest: Here we are, only a week after Easter, and, already, the Lilies are beginning to fade.
We’re not the first to experience the post-Easter doldrums, of course. Take the 21st chapter of John. Peter announces to the others, “I’m going fishing.” Some take that to mean, “I’m going back to fishing … back to my old way of life, in other words … to which the others respond, “We are also coming with you.” (John 21:3)
So, it’s a valid question: After Easter, then what?
To get at the answer, I propose a series of sermons between now and Pentecost based on the First Letter of John. John wrote it around 100 A.D. from Ephesus. It’s a pastoral letter intended to encourage and instruct the congregations in that area of Asia Minor, seven of which are named in the Book of Revelation. William Barclay explains the context of the letter this way:
“Many (of John’s readers) were now second or even third generation Christians. The thrill of the first days had, to some extent, at least, passed away. … In the first days of Christianity there was a glory and a splendour, but now Christianity had become a thing of habit, ‘traditional, half-hearted, nominal.” … John was writing at a time when, for some at least, the first thrill was gone and the flame of devotion had died to a flicker.” (The Letters of John and Jude, Daily Bible Study Series, p. 3)
In particular, the early Christians were plagued with two pressing issues: lethargy and heresy. Lethargy – a lack of energy and enthusiasm – came about because the Christians lost sight of their distinctiveness as disciples of Jesus Christ. They blended in with the world around them. And heresy – false teaching – came about as a result of competing ideologies and those who were eager to put their particular spin on the gospel message.
We’ll be watching out for both lethargy and heresy as we go along because they’re still very much alive in the church today. But, most of all, we’ll be looking for that eternal flame of God’s Word embedded in this letter that enables us to celebrate the resurrection, not only throughout the season of Eastertide, but through the changing seasons of our lives. John starts out by saying,
“That which was from the beginning… that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us… that our joy may be fulfilled.” (1 John 1:1-4)
From the outset, John wants to make it clear: He and his followers are writing from first-hand experience: “We declare to you..that which we have seen and heard.” Not long after the resurrection, Jesus told his followers,
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you. You will be witnesses to me in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
A witness is one who testifies to what he’s seen and heard and, like the big murder trial at the courthouse last week, some have more to say than others. Some were right there; some were a step or two removed. Yet, each testimony was important in reconstructing the events and getting at the truth.
The same is true of our Christian witness: Some have more to say than others. At the extremes, some describe the saving grace of Jesus Christ as an unforgettable moment in time; others, as a lifelong process of growing in grace. The majority fall somewhere in between.
Yet, all experiences are valid. What’s important is that you share what you’ve seen and heard and experienced of God’s amazing grace. It doesn’t have to be earth-shaking or profound. Most religious experiences are not all that dramatic.
Just say what you know. That’s all there is to it. Yet, in sharing your journey of faith, others will know what to look for as they seek to experience God’s love for themselves.
Years ago, there was a banner hanging in the Fain Presbyterian Church in Wichita Falls, Texas that read:
“Someone first told you about Jesus;
who have you told lately?”
Sharing what you know of God’s love is one of the best ways I know of leading others into a lasting relationship with Jesus Christ. It’s also a good way of keeping the spark of Easter glowing. John goes on to say:
“This is the message which we have heard from him and announce to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all…If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:5-7)
Light and darkness are a couple of John’s favorite themes. Light represents the righteousness of God and darkness, its evil counterpart. To walk in the light is to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and to feel his presence every step of the way. To walk in darkness is choose your own course and pursue your own selfish desires, and that inevitably leads to alienating yourself from God and pitting yourself against others, and that, in a word, is the nature of sin.
Of course, we all do it all the time. Like the Burger King commercial, we want to have it our way. It takes a while to grow up and realize that God’s ways are best … that only God’s ways are fulfilling and lasting … that only God’s ways lead to a life of perfect peace and unity with others.
In his letter, John recognizes our sinful nature and has the grace not to put us down. His one word of advice is to be honest about it. He says,
“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us the sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:8-9)
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In the Reformed Faith, we believe in confessing our sins to each other, rather than to a priest. That means when you’ve said something or done something to hurt someone, you have to go to them and admit what you’ve said or done and apologize and ask for their forgiveness.
That’s not easy. It takes a lot of courage and humility and the willingness to reconcile your differences and be reconciled to one another. But I don’t know of a better way to keep the spirit of Easter alive, because when you let even minor offenses go unresolved, they tend to fester and grow, and that leads to division and strife, and that’s like throwing cold water on the fire.
The Good News is Christ is on our side. As John says,
“…we have a Counselor with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous. And he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the whole world.” (1 John 2:1-2)
This is the gospel message in a nutshell: Christ died for us that we might live together in the unity of his Spirit, sharing the Good News of God’s love, mercy and forgiveness, both by what we say and by what we do.
This is what Jesus asked of his disciples: “Love one another, just like I have loved you.” (John 13:34) It’s more than a commandment, it’s an opportunity.
The story is told of Yogi Berra. The New York Yankees were at their peak and were negotiating contracts for the next year. A group of reporters interviewed players as they emerged from the owner’s office, and one of them asked Yogi Berra about the terms of his contract. In his characteristic, plain-spoken style, he said, “You wanna know about the terms of my contract? Well, I’ll tell you. I’m gonna get to play baseball for the Yankees next year, and would you believe it, they’re gonna pay me besides!”
That’s the spirit! When we love another as Jesus loves us, it’s a win-win situation – everyone comes out ahead.
But let’s be honest: Some people are harder to love than others. I had a friend who used to describe a woman in his church as a rough grade of sandpaper. You know what I mean. So, yeah, it’s easy to love those who love you and are always smoothing things over; it’s not so easy to love those who are a royal pain in the neck.
So, how do you do it? With us, it’s a stretch; but with God, all things are possible. John put it this way: “We love him, because he first loved us,” (1 John 4:19)
Because God took the initiative and proved his love for us in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we’re free to love others, warts and all – not out of obligation to them, but out of gratitude to God.
I’ve never known anyone who comes closer to doing this than a friend named Christina. We first met when she and her husband were gearing up to serve as missionaries in South America. That was in 1983. In 1985, I took a small group from our church to visit them in the mission field. There I saw first-hand how she worked with women battered by their husbands and beat down by the harsh circumstances of life. I watched as she led Bible studies and taught life skills, all with the humility and quiet confidence of a saint.
Today, she works in an urban mission in the heart of a large city, where she counsels with homeless and destitute men and women, trying to restore their hope and help them make sense out of their lives. She tells them about Jesus, to be sure; as importantly, she binds up their wounds and fills their stomachs and listens to their painful stories with heartfelt compassion. How does she do it? Not of her own strength, to be sure, but by the strength of God’s love flowing through her.
One day, as I thought about Christina working day in and day out with people off the streets of Edinburgh, it dawned on me how fitting it was that she had been named Christina. I’d say it was Providential. After all, the name, Christina, is a diminutive form of Christ, and that’s what she is – and what we’re called to be – a form of Christ to the people we’re called to serve.
In the final analysis, this is the best way to keep the spirit of Easter alive and burning – to fulfill Christ’s command and love one another in his name. Bernard Barton got it right when he penned the words,
“Walk in the light, and thou shalt know
That fellowship of love
His Spirit only can bestow
Who reigns in light above.”
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible.
Copyright 2009, Philip W. McLarty. Used by permission.