Festival days can be miserable days. Periods of celebration for some people almost always are times of depression for other people. The more some folks laugh, the louder other people weep. Times set aside for rejoicing can become terribly troubling.
Rereading the resurrection stories in the gospels with this reality in mind, I was surprised to find there what we experience here. The ancient biblical narratives about the resurrection of Jesus contain a mixture of ecstasy and despondency, an intermingling of delight and discouragement. Just as news of Christ's resurrection caused an explosion of joy among some believers, other believers experienced an erosion of hope. Luke tells us that on the very day of the resurrection, as word of Christ's presence swept through Jerusalem, two downcast disciples of Jesus headed toward Emmaus to forget the whole matter.
Easter came and some folks missed it. It happened in Jerusalem. It happens where we live. It happens every year. Christ arose and not even all of his former followers realized his presence. Some people always miss Easter.
What about you? For whatever reason, did you miss Easter this year? Please don't misunderstand my questions. I am not asking if you were present in or absent from a service of corporate worship on Easter Sunday. My concern is an experience with the resurrection. We do not have to be "out of church" on Easter Sunday to miss Easter just as people did not have to be out of Jerusalem to miss the risen Christ. Maybe you were in a worship service and you saw the joy around you but did not sense any joy within you. Perhaps you heard hallelujahs resound in a sanctuary but realized they found no resonance in your heart. Maybe you listened to the reading of the resurrection stories failing to find their meaning for your life. Some of us may identify with a Nikos Kazantzakis' character who exclaimed, "God forgive me . . . this year . . . I have not felt Christ rise."
This sermon is for those who missed Easter. If that sermonic intention leaves you out-if you caught the joy and felt your spirit swept along with it, great. You are richly blessed. Act on what you know. But, if you missed Easter, please allow a few truths from the biblical text to address you.
Christ understands. That is the first truth. If you missed Easter, Christ understands.
The gospels of the New Testament do not demand that we understand Christ. Rather, they offer the burden-lightening insight that Christ understands us. We do not have to understand Easter to experience Easter.
Christ's capacity for understanding defies our comprehension. This one who inspires magnificent visions also ministers amid shattered dreams. This one known as the Prince of Peace does not shy away from chaos and conflict. This one who taught us to pray accepts people who are so troubled that they can't pray. This one who offers salvation identifies with people confounded by feelings of lostness. This one who offers unmatched encouragement knows better than any other the depths of discouragement.
Do you hear? Do you grasp the meaning? If you did not sense the joy of Easter morning, if you have not felt Christ rise, if you cannot shout hallelujah, that does not mean that you must drop your head and take off toward Emmaus or some other place to give up. Christ understands. He understands you. So, Christ appears.
The presence of Christ among us does not depend upon the quality of our understanding of Christ or even upon the nature of our reception of his presence. Christ appears in the midst of people not even looking for him.
Jesus appeared to a woman who intended to anoint his dead body. She did not have the slightest suspicion that Jesus might be alive. Jesus appeared to two despondent travelers worn out because of their grief. (Grief will wear you out.) They were not looking for Jesus, only trying to pick up the pieces of a shattered faith and carry on without Jesus. So unexpectant of the resurrection were the disciples of Jesus that when Jesus walked into their midst, some thought he was a ghost and others refused to believe what they saw.
None of the resurrection appearances of Jesus were marked by dramatic settings or regal greetings. Jesus was mistaken for a gardener. He showed up on a dusty road. He walked along a shoreline watching his disciples fish.
Notice the common sights of Jesus' appearances and the ordinary routines which he blessed with his presence. We do not have to tour an empty tomb in a garden in Jerusalem to know the reality of Easter. Even if we could not sing hallelujahs on Easter Sunday, this hour we can know the one who inspired them. Christ comes to our world, to us; at meal times, in fun times, amid our work, and in the face of our worries. Jesus comes to people of faith and to individuals plagued by doubts. He comes in hospital rooms, offices, bedrooms, clinics, and sanctuaries.
If you missed Easter, please know that Christ understands and still appears. Moreover, Christ interprets us.
The Bible bears witness to a consistent correlation between meeting Christ and achieving a measure of self-understanding. It certainly happened that day on the road to Emmaus. The risen Christ who comes to us, understands us and interprets us so we can better understand ourselves. Christ helps us understand the pain of rebellion against God in relation to the joy of obedience to God; the drain of despair in relation to the exhilaration of hope; the grief of anxiety in relation to the peace of assurance. Christ challenges us when we need challenging, warns us when we need warning, affirms us when we need affirming, loves us when we need loving, corrects us when we need correcting, and directs us when we need directing. Christ will take us where we are, show us where we ought to be, and assist us in getting there.
If you missed Easter, please don't miss this truth about the Christ. Allow him to lead you into better self-understanding.
Oh yes, and there is one more truth here: Christ commissions us.
Jesus commissioned to ministry every person to whom he appeared as the risen Christ. Communion with Christ and a commission from Christ are inseparable.
Sharing the gospel and caring for people are non-negotiables for persons who have found, or been found by, the Easter experience. All must hear the commission of Christ-both those looking for something to do and those who seem too busy to do anything else.
It is in faithfulness to the commission of Christ that we discover the real fullness of communion with Christ. To find the resurrected Lord, we must look among the homeless, the bereaved, the suffering, the abused, and the hungry-right where he told us he would be. Christ is found where the unlovable are loved and the grieving are comforted; where the bread and the cup are blessed and consumed.
Though you may have missed Easter this year, a discovery of the risen Christ, whenever it occurs, will set you scurrying about in response to the good news.
A noted pastor named R.W. Dale, like many other pastors, had preached scores of Easter sermons. Then, one year, something different happened. Dale was completely overwhelmed by the confession, "He is risen." Never before had the truth dawned so forcefully and realistically. The pastor was transformed. Subsequently, he instituted a policy calling for the singing of an Easter hymn every single Sunday of the year. One who had missed Easter previously wanted to be sure that no one missed Easter repeatedly.
My friends, if, for whatever reason, you missed Easter last Sunday, you can experience it today. Christ understands and eventually appears. Christ interprets us and commissions us. Today, right now, the risen Christ waits to become our living Lord.
Maybe only now can we move from a grinding despair or a numbing loneliness to see the staggering power and hear the inviting call of the risen Christ. That is OK, because, now, even if we missed Easter before, now, we can say with so many others who have gone before us, "Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!" and welcome the risen Christ into our lives with the intimate personal confession, "My Lord and my God!" Amen.