What Now? That is the question for today, for the first Sunday after Easter. As we hear today’s Gospel, which gives us both the first Easter evening and the first week after Easter, that is the disciples’ question. What now? In their context, it was “What now? Jesus is dead, and surely we’re next. If that’s what they did to Jesus, what will they do to us?” So, they hid in their latest home base: the Upper Room. They locked the doors, they prayed their prayers under their breath, a preview of Anne Frank hiding from the Nazis. But there wasn’t just fear. There was confusion, too. The women reported angels proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection. Peter and John seem to confirm their story. Mary Magdalene says that she has seen Jesus in the flesh. Cleopas and another disciple who saw Jesus on the way to Emmaus say the same thing. But not all of them had yet seen Jesus in the flesh, so they didn’t know what to make of it all. “Doubting” may be attached to Thomas, but it rightly belongs to all of them.
This Easter, I have a challenge for you. Before you eat your Easter dinner, go home and read all four Evangelists’ resurrection accounts. When you read you’ll find something interesting. Only St. Matthew gives us the slightest hint of joy, but even that is combined with fear. The Easter attitude we know, that we look forward to, was nowhere to be found on that first Easter. St. Mark is the most blunt. The angel tells the women that Christ is risen and to go share the good news with the disciples. And what do they do? “They went out quickly and fled from the tomb…and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” So, the Christians are terrified, and, as St. Mark goes on to record, Jesus appears to them, not to comfort them, but to rebuke their unbelief and hardness of heart because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen.
There is one simple thing that we are gathered to celebrate this morning: the fact that Christ is risen from the dead. These simple words are the backbone of Christianity. There is no forgiveness without these words, no salvation without these words, no eternal life without these words.
One of the Christian’s realities is that of now and not yet. All the glories and riches of heaven have been won for you by Jesus’ death and resurrection. They are yours! But not yet, because you’re still in this world. All of the benefits of being God’s own child are yours now because you are Baptized into Christ, but you don’t get to fully enjoy the benefits of that inheritance yet. Heaven is yours by a free gift of your loving heavenly Father and the sacrifice of the obedient divine Son. Salvation is given to you day after day by the working of the Holy Spirit in the Word and the Sacraments. But day after day you suffer the effects of living in a sinful and dying world. This is a pattern we know well. Now, but not yet.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Now, we see laid in the grave the One who built the earth’s foundation. To us, thinking in earthly terms, this seems like an ending. Death is final. If all we think about is the death of a mere mortal, then, yes. Death is the end, until the Last Day, the day when Jesus brings about the bodily resurrection of all flesh. But this death, the death of Jesus, is different. For Him, His death is part of recreation, part of the giving of life. Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” On the cross Jesus declares that He has finished this work, He has given to us the life He came to win.
One of the better known Psalm verses is from Psalm 118. The Psalmist writes “This is the day the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” It’s a very pious thought, a good Christian expression. God has made this day, and I will rejoice in what He sends me. However, to leave the verse’s meaning at that misses its context. If you read all of Psalm 118 you find the cry of Hosanna and “Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord.” The Psalmist writes things like, “All nations…surrounded me like bees.” “You pushed me violently that I might fall.” “The Lord has chastened me severely.” “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” “Bind the sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar.” Psalm 118 is all about Holy Week, especially Good Friday. So when we say “This is the day the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it,” we’re talking about today, the day on which Jesus Christ tasted death for our sin.
As st. John opens his record of Our Lord’s last three days, he opens it with one of the most beautiful and profound statements the Holy Spirit inspired. “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.” This statement summarizes everything that will follow—the foot washing, the institution of the Supper, the final time of instruction, His high priestly prayer for His disciples and all Christians, His patience and willing endurance through trials and mockery and beating, and finally His triumphant death to reconcile all to the Father. “Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.”
As we ponder Our Lord’s Passion, we often talk about His emotions. The ones we think of the quickest are emotions like sorrow, anguish, heartbreak, depression, pity, sorrow, and the like. Our first thoughts are sadness. But as Isaiah talks about the Lord winning salvation for His people, he gives us a noticeably different list. Some of the emotions he ascribes to Our Lord are anger, fury, and a desire for vengeance. For whatever reason, that’s not the first place we go. But it does help present us with a fuller picture of Jesus’ heart and mind while He suffers and dies. As much as it might sound backwards, those hot emotions are a sign of His love for His creation.
Sin and the Word of God cannot peaceably coexist. Sin will stop at no length to silence those who preach the Word, desiring ultimately to exterminate it. The pages of Holy Scripture and the countless volumes on Church History show where men have sought to destroy the Word and Christ’s Church. From the third chapter of Genesis to this very day we can see Satan undermining the Word by stirring up doubt in our minds, inspiring critics of Scripture rather than students, and raising up leaders who endorse heresy and governments which label the clear Word of God as hate speech.
As we move towards Jesus’ crucifixion, we see the number of things that came together that resulted in the events of Good Friday. Tonight’s Gospel shows us that one of the greatest sins that brought about Jesus’ death is greed. We see it in Lazarus and the Pharisees and the Chief Priests. They are greedy, they covet what Jesus has. So, they do what they feel they need to do to get Him out of the picture, to put things back in place.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.