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.
But that first Easter evening their number was not complete. Thomas refused to be a sitting duck by returning to the Upper Room, so his answer to “What now” was going “off the grid,” so to speak. Surely the other ten urged him to stay, to be with the rest of them as they tried to pick up the pieces and move forward. But he refused. He looked a lot like someone with hurt feelings, lashing out. He felt betrayed, that he was mistreated by Jesus. He wants to strike back. He doesn’t want peace from Jesus; he wants an apology. He is lacking faith, so he lacks peace. But like kids with hurt feelings act like they don’t want mom or dad to comfort them, but they really do want mom and dad, Thomas is in the same boat. He wants what the ten had. He wants Jesus to speak peace to him, to show him His hands and feet and side. But in that first Easter week his anger was still too hot. So he likely said what he thought were his final goodbyes to the ten, his traveling companions for the last three years.
But the Holy Spirit in the apostolic word softened his heart. He was still raw that week later, but he came. He opened himself up, just like the upset child starts to soften to mom and dad. He joins the ten in the Upper Room. And in His mercy, Jesus appears. He is remarkably patient with Thomas. He comes in peace to bring peace. He invites Thomas to probe the scars. Whether he did or not, John does not say. But John does say that Thomas responds immediately: “My Lord and my God!” There is relief—Your Word was true! You died, but now You live, just as You said. You have defeated sin and death to give me peace and life and forgiveness! And even though Thomas now bears that moniker of “Doubting” as long as this world exists, I doubt it bothers him. If anything he would say that it is a perfect demonstration of Jesus’ grace and mercy. He comes, even for doubting sinners. He comes to silence those doubts and to give faith in their place.
That apostolic question of “What now” has resonated throughout the generations. It was certainly an all-important question for those who were Baptized into the faith in the Church’s first few centuries, when Christianity was illegal and confessing the Faith could have meant immediate death. And it has been the question of all the faithful, even to this very day. “What now” for all of us, as the joy and ceremony of Easter are in the rear view mirror, as the lilies around the Altar begin their inevitable journey towards death as the blooms’ bright white and fragrance that filled the church last week disappear and give way to brown? What about life in the Church as we start our march towards the long and sometimes tedious “green season” of the twenty-seven weeks after Trinity? What now, as we go back into the stuff of this life that weighs on us in countless ways? Man cannot live on Easter candy alone, on plastic eggs and emotional highs. That isn’t to say that Easter triumph and Easter joy aren’t the foundation of our faith; they certainly are. But triumph and joy need to be sustained by something. They need a foundation greater than themselves.
Indeed, what now! St. Peter has the answer: “As newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the Word.” That is the answer for Thomas, for the unbelieving disciples, for those new to the Faith, and those who have heard the joyous proclamation of Easter for ninetieth time or more. Desire the Word. Cleave to nothing but the Word. Be like babies. Our grown tastes and cravings are fickle. We get bored. We don’t want the same food, the same drive, the same clothes, the same routine each day. But look at the babies. All they want is milk. They don’t grow tired of it or refuse it because it’s not spicy enough or they really wanted Chinese food for lunch or to go to a nice Italian place for dinner.
It’s the same thing for us spiritually. Don’t give into the boredom sin tries to create in your hearts. Don’t stray. Desire the pure milk of the Word, the pure milk of Jesus, crucified to pay the price for your sin and resurrected to give that forgiveness to you. In that pure spiritual milk and everything else contained in the Word there is a depth of knowledge, of faith that can never be exhausted. In this God-given, Spirit-delivered Milk is nutrition that will never end.
Everything in the Word flows from and delivers us to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and what it means for us Christians. Chiefly it means that in them, in our Baptism into those central events in Christ’s life, a perpetual Easter began for us. In them imputed to us is a joy that sin and death can never destroy, that time and repetition can never dim. The victory which overcomes the world is our faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus for us.
But we know ourselves. We can tell ourselves that the pure milk of the Word, that Good Friday and Easter are enough, but our sinful nature creeps in with the “What now” question, the boredom with always hearing the same thing. Our human nature is inconsistent. So how do we hold fast to the Easter triumph and joy when we become weary and faint? The One who gave us the Easter gift also preserves it in us! St. John taught us in the Epistle that that Christ comes to us, not only in the Word and in the water of Holy Baptism, but also in the Body and Blood of Christ in Holy Communion. If our faith grows weary or weak, we come to the Blood of Christ. This Blood strengthens us in holding fast to the mystery and joy of Easter. In other words, the Lord’s Supper is the Sacrament that gives us perseverance. Coming to this Feast week after week not only proclaims the Lord’s death until He comes, but it reminds us that this is but a foretaste of the Feast to come, a preview of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb in His Kingdom which has no end. In heaven there is no more “what now,” no boredom, no fickle palates, only Christ, only endless worship, only eternal communion and fellowship with the God of our salvation.
So when the “what now” creeps into your spiritual life here, pour a glass of Milk and the Holy Spirit will do the work. Come, hear the Word, receive the sacraments, be forgiven. Pray in thanksgiving for what God has given and for the needs of others and the world around you. Read the Psalms, read the life-giving Words of Holy Scripture. In that Milk is nutrition enough to hold you, rich, vibrant flavors enough to fulfill your longing until the days when longing ceases and gives way to eternal satisfaction and peace.
Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
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.