In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Ghost.
Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
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 we must be next.” So, they hid in their latest home base: the Upper Room. They locked the doors, they prayed their prayers under their breath, almost like Anne Frank hiding from the Nazis. Thomas refused to be a sitting duck, so his answer to “What now” was going “off the grid,” so to speak. Surely the other ten and the women and anyone else connected 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 felt betrayed, scared for his life, and refused to live by faith. He wanted sight, he wanted touch. Unless he could see Jesus in the flesh, stick his fingers in the holy wounds, he was out. And since that wasn’t possible because something he couldn’t yet explain had happened to Jesus’ body, he said what he thought would be his final goodbyes to his traveling companions of the last three years.
After all that, the disciples ask “What now?” The women report an angelic message of Jesus’ resurrection. Peter and John seem to confirm their story, and so does Cleopas and another disciple who saw Jesus on the way to Emmaus. But they had yet to see 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. Just look at St. Mark’s condensing of all these events: after the women’s report and after the Emmaus disciples, St. Mark records “they did not believe” (Mk. 16:11, 13). Even Jesus rebukes them for their unbelief and hardness of heart (Mk. 16:14). But before that rebuke they ask, “What now? If Jesus really is alive, He must be mad! We abandoned Him in Gethsemane and watched, ashamed, from a distance as He died. If He is alive, He is coming for us it won’t be pretty.”
And “What now” for those new to the Faith, who were Baptized at the Easter Vigil? “What now” for all of us, as the joy and ceremony of Easter are in the rear view mirror, as we see gold vestments for the last time until Christmas, as the lilies around the Altar begin their inevitable journey towards death as the blooms bright white and fragrant last week start to turn a decaying brown, and life in the Church starts its march towards the long and sometimes tedious “green season” of the twenty-seven weeks after Trinity? 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 eightieth time or more. Desire the Word. Cleave to nothing but the Word. Be like babies. Our palates are fickle. They get bored and their desires swing wildly. 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 something authentic from Little Italy.
So it is for us spiritually. Don’t get bored. 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!
The peace of God which passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Sermons from Mount Olive
Mount Olive follows the historic one-year lectionary (series of readings).