Good Friday portrays what we do with God when we have God in our hands. Easter shows what God does when God has us in His hands. What a contrast! What a cause for celebration!
The resurrection of Christ is the stackpole around which the Synoptic Gospels cohere. Each writer begins with the events of the first Easter and backtracks from there in organizing events, stories, and illustrations to tell his version of Jesus’ life.
The development of the Christian year has four guiding principles that are helpful to keep in mind when designing worship services and sermons related to the Christian calendar, especially regarding Easter. Reiteration is important because religious constancy can come through faithful repetition. Creative repetition helps bring the meaning of a season to life for worshipers and enables us to put fresh contents into old forms.
Following the Christian calendar assists worshipers with appropriateness. There is a time to mourn and a time to dance. Lent is the time to mourn and Easter is the time to dance. Because Lent is a somber, down-beat season, worshipers are relieved when this wilderness journey has ended. This relief often enhances the celebration of Easter.
Giving serious consideration to the Christian calendar also assists the church in separation. We are to be in the world but not of the world. We are to be unlike the culture while we remain in the culture. One way for us to be unlike the culture is to extend the celebration of Easter beyond one day. The season of Eastertide developed early in the Christian church as the link between Easter and Pentecost. Many events happened in the lives of the disciples following Jesus’ resurrection that brought dramatic changes. As they encountered the risen Christ, their perception of life and discipleship began to change as they too were resurrected.
Baptism is a dramatic way to begin the celebration of Easter. Goethe said that the highest cannot be spoken. It can only be acted. Baptism represents the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ and the death, burial, and resurrection of the persons who commit themselves to be disciples of Christ.
Every person needs a fresh start, a new beginning. Baptism on Easter dramatizes the cleansing and freshness that is available to everyone through God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness. Easter is the Christian new year, and it may be appropriate to wish worshipers “Happy New Year” on Easter as a way of helping them to capture the emotional significance of the day.
Sunday is identified as little Easter. Beginning with Easter and continuing through the following five Sundays, why not focus your sermons on aspects and attitudes in our relationship with God that will lead us to live resurrected lives?
Paul’s experience of Jesus’ appearance to him on the Damascus Road could serve as the basis for an Eastertide theme such as “He appeared also to me.” Exploration of texts of the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus with contemporary application may help members of your congregation to exclaim, “He appeared also to me.”
In the following paragraphs I will share some Scriptural texts and sermon seeds that might germinate for you as you plan your preaching for the Eastertide season.
“I Am the Resurrection and the Life”
It was after the resurrection of Lazarus and some time before his own when Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). The sign and reality of resurrection are seen in Lazarus and Jesus. The sign of resurrection was shown in Lazarus and provided an earthly analogy to resurrection. What happened to Lazarus may be identified more accurately as physical restoration or resuscitation.
There are contrasts between Lazarus and Jesus’ resurrections. Lazarus came forth after men had rolled away the stone; Jesus needed no human help to move the stone. Lazarus was bound by his grave clothes; Jesus passed through His. Lazarus returned to earthly relationships and died again; God raised Jesus to a qualitatively new life that no longer knew death. Lazarus was a sign of resurrection; Jesus was Himself the reality of resurrection. Resurrection is not a continuation of this life but the annihilation of death into the new, eternal life.
Faith was required to see in Lazarus more than a medical marvel, to believe that he signified the possibility of eternal life in the midst of time. Jesus kindled and raised up such faith. Jesus lived such faith as a venturer. He marched into Jerusalem to offer Himself to the city. He knew He was hazarding death, but He took chances based on the assumption of more life in store in which to continue the venture. He staked everything on laying down His life, believing He would take it up again.
Through the resurrection of Christ, God said no to the judgment hall, no to Golgotha, no to the tomb, and no to living on the wrong side of Easter. Hearing the no of God encourages us to say yes.
Easter compels us to say yes because it is a word about life and death. Easter says that God shares with us fully all that it means to be human, even the deepest tragedies of our lives. In part Easter is the church’s way of saying that God refuses to stop loving people like you and me just because our bodies die. We matter ultimately to God.
Just as God created us in His image and shared passionately and fully our human condition, suffering with us in the midst of history, God continues to value us and love us infinitely even in death. Easter confirms the word from Jesus, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:15-26).
“I Have Overcome the World”
The Sunday following Easter dramatically demonstrates the scattering of disciples. “Where have all the people gone?” expresses the reaction of many of us the Sunday after Easter.
In the liturgical tradition this Sunday is identified as Low Sunday, perhaps both because of low attendance and because of the emotional let-down that naturally follows the climax of Easter. There is a word of hope for us in the promise of Jesus: “I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
The excitement and enthusiasm that Easter stirs often causes us to make unprecedented promises without counting the cost. We celebrate prematurely all the confidence we have that we will be loyal, faithful disciples.
The last high school basketball game I played was in the District Tournament against a rival school. We were running our offense well, making a high percentage of our shots, playing aggressive, solid defense.
The game was intense. We had the opposition on the ropes. We had doubled the score on our opponent. We were going to win! The buzzer sounded. We all breathed a sigh of relief. It was only the end of the first quarter. We lost the game.
Public worship is a spectator event for too many of us. We come to worship wanting to receive, but with little if any intention of giving of ourselves. The excitement and enthusiasm of Easter worship may stir the fire in our bones, and we leave saying, “It has been good to have been in the house of the Lord.”
The buzzer sounds. We are relieved. We look up the next week or the next month to discover that it is only the first quarter. We have scattered and left Christ alone with our empty promises.
What type of response might we expect from the One we have abandoned? Reprimand? Rejection? A guilt-inducing tirade? When life was crumbling around Him, Jesus remained calm and serene. He was confident of God’s presence providing hope and faith (John 16:32).
No one knew God and people like Jesus did. He was able to forgive and trust people. He loved them as they were. When they were disloyal, Jesus was willing to start over with them. Jesus said to those He knew would fail Him, “Be of good cheer.”
He continued loving, forgiving, and trusting others. This One who was falsely arrested, unfairly tried, unjustly condemned, and innocently executed said, “I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). This is a faith that cannot be beaten. This is a Master worth following.
“I Have Seen the Lord”
For the last four Sundays of Eastertide I encourage you to use four post-resurrection appearances of Jesus as texts, building bridges from those experiences to contemporary living.
One of the most intriguing appearances was to Mary Magdalene. After leaving the tomb for the second time, Mary turned away and there was Jesus, but she did not recognize Him.
Is it so strange that Mary did not recognize Jesus? She was overcome with grief. She never thought life would come to this. The only person who had really treated Mary as a person was Jesus and now He was dead. She was in a state of shock and confusion. She was searching, not knowing where to search, but unable to abandon the search. She was looking for a dead Jesus but was confronted by a risen Lord.
Each of the Gospel accounts tells of Christ’s appearance to a woman or women. Mark and John tell that Christ appeared to Mary Magdalene, but neither made a reference to other women. Mark wrote that the companions of Christ did not believe the testimony of Mary Magdalene.
Is it any wonder they refused to believe Mary Magdalene? There were numerous reasons not to believe her. First, she was a woman. In the Jewish world of the first century the testimony of a woman was not highly regarded. Second, Mary was from Magdala, a notoriously wicked town. Third, there was a question mark about Mary’s sanity. Jesus had cast out seven demons from her.
Mary Magdalene had seemed improved since she had associated with Jesus, but apparently she was regressing. She was claiming to have seen and talked to a man that everyone knew was dead. Not only that, she claimed He talked to her. Mary Magdalene seems to have been the least qualified to handle the most momentous news in spiritual history.
The proof of the resurrection for Mary was not the empty tomb but the appearance of the risen Lord. She was so excited that she grabbed for Jesus. Never again would she let Him out of her sight! But Jesus said, “Do not hold me” (John 20:17).
The temptation is just around the corner to keep a relationship the way it used to be. Jesus was saying to Mary that a change had occurred. He wanted her to share in the reality of His resurrection.
Mary first experienced a hint of the resurrection when she was liberated from the demons. Now, she was experiencing a clearer understanding of resurrection as Jesus invited her and others to live resurrected lives. This was an invitation to die to living for themselves and rise to live in a new dimension of service to God. Mary Magdalene was an eyewitness to the most important spiritual news of all time. Thus she, the unlikeliest of all people, was able to say, “I have seen the Lord” (John 20:18).
“Peace I Leave With You”
The first disciples of Christ were frightened and insecure. The horrible memory of a crucifixion and the rumor of an empty tomb kept them from showing their faces in Jerusalem. All of them were marked people.
If the Jewish leaders were on a witch hunt, some of them might be next. They huddled in a room and locked the door. If the Jewish authorities or the Roman soldiers wanted them, why did they think bolted doors would keep them out?
Fear immobilized those first disciples. Even though Christ had promised them peace, they felt no peace. They either forgot the promise or thought the crucifixion declared null and void all that Jesus had said. Surely no more downhearted and unhappy people could be found than this frightened group of broken people. The dream that Jesus had awakened in them had come to nothing.
You and I are locked up by our fears. As children we were afraid of falling, afraid of loud noises or catastrophes, afraid of being abandoned. These fears continue to hound us. As adults the fear of falling becomes the fear of failing, the fear of losing our places, our jobs, our esteem. The loud noise of divorce, disease, or death continues to frighten us as does the recurring fear that our support network will evaporate.
Margaret better expressed what fear is like than anyone else I have met. She was an attractive woman in her thirties, mother of two children, and wife of one husband who decided he no longer wanted to be married to her. She had found a job, but now she needed to seek a better one.
Throughout the past year she often had either cried excessively or been on the brink of tears much of the time. She entered my office, sat down, and in the first two minutes diagnosed her situation with the quip, “I’m suffering from a bad case of the what if’s and I’m afraid to’s.” Margaret was locked in fear. When people gain any liberation from their fear bondage, it seems to be more like a resuscitation experience than a resurrection event. We come from the cemetery of buried feelings, bound and gagged by fear. We are frightened souls behind locked doors. We aren’t sure whether we are trying to keep people out or ourselves in.
Our only hope is for the risen Lord to come through our locked doors, stand among us, and breathe on us. Jesus was recognizable and capable of communicating after His resurrection, although His body appeared and disappeared at will in spite of locked doors.
The primary purpose of Jesus’ appearances after His resurrection was to establish identity and continuity of the earthly Jesus with the risen Lord. The appearance effected a transition: from the seen to the unseen, from the temporal to the eternal, from the limited to the universal, from the physical to the spiritual.
The disciples also were being transformed: from fearful to peaceful, from spectators to witnesses, from powerless to powerful, from vacillating to authoritative.
Christ broke in on those first disciples and sought to dispel their fear, insecurity, and suspicion. After he had passed through the locked door, Christ breathed on His disciples and began forming them into a new creation, a new kind of existence.
Here we are, twenty centuries after the first Easter, too often living on the wrong side of Easter. We have locked ourselves in fear, immobilized our resources, drawn to ourselves those who agree with us, and shut ourselves in. Christ seeks to break in upon us and breathe into us a new kind of existence.
“Do You Love Me?”
Standing on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus and Peter had a disturbingly moving dialogue. The initial impact is confrontational, and I feel the discomfort of Peter as Jesus asked him three times, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” (John 21:15).
The three questions by Jesus and Peter’s three affirmations correspond to Peter’s threefold denial of Jesus. Through this process Peter was forgiven and reinstated to service. Jesus was willing to entrust even His little lambs to one who had completely violated the most sacred oath only a few days earlier.
There is no sin, no mistake when forgiven that is to keep another from serving God in any capacity. For us to claim that a person is forgiven and then to deny that person the opportunity of serving God through the church is blatant hypocrisy.
Lip service is insufficient response to Jesus’ question, “Do you love me?” Each time Peter confessed his love, Jesus linked it with a command to tend and feed the flock of God. The same linkage follows our confessions. Christ is asking for our commitments.
Genuine commitment is tempered with love. When commitment is not undergirded by love, the commitment becomes a duty to keep, an obligation to fill, or an exercise in guilt reduction done for relief. The depth of our love for Christ is revealed in the action we take to shepherd and feed persons created by God.
Life service in the name of Christ is what is needed to eliminate duty, obligation, and guilt from commitment so our commitment will be tempered with love. Jesus was saying to Peter — and He says to us — that promises of love are demonstrated in and through relationships with others.
The question Jesus asked Peter is repeated daily to us, “Do you love me?” The authenticity of our affirmative response is demonstrated in the care and nurture we give to others. Jesus asks, “Do you love me?” Then he instructs us, “Then love my people, all my people.”
“My Lord and My God”
None of the disciples has had more scorn heaped upon him than Thomas, unless it is Judas. Anyone who offers a skeptical glance or comment about what another is saying has opened himself to be labeled a “doubting Thomas.” Although Thomas has been ridiculed by those who lived centuries after him, an examination of John 20:24-29 does not indicate that either ridicule or contempt was the attitude of his peers or of Jesus.
The disciples were gathered in a room when Jesus appeared to them, but for some unknown reason Thomas was absent. There is no judgment or condemnation expressed because Thomas was absent. The next time he joined the disciples, they told him they had seen the Lord. Thomas, perhaps still rebounding from the jolt of Jesus’ crucifixion, said that touching would be believing for him.
A week later Jesus appeared in their midst again, and this time Thomas was present. Jesus invited Thomas to touch His scars, but John’s text is unclear as to whether Thomas actually touched the wounds or if seeing was believing for him. In any case Thomas took a quantum leap of faith when he exclaimed, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). Once Thomas found answers to his questions, he was clear about his belief and his commitment.
Another important aspect to this series of events with Thomas is that, although he did not believe what the others had seen and believed, he was not criticized by others nor ostracized from the group. How often do we take this approach in the church today? Too often we are looking for a few people who believe just like we do. We need people like Thomas who will challenge us to examine what it is that we believe and why.
Doubt is the mother of faith and many times there is more faith expressed in sincere, honest doubt than in the recital of a creed or an affirmation of faith. Doubt gives expression to the questions we have, and as we seek answers to those questions we learn, grow, and cope with our doubts. Doubts cause turbulence in our lives, but often in the midst of doubting Christ breaks into our lives and speaks to the storm, “Peace be still,” and to us He says, “Peace be with you.”
Eastertide is an exciting worship season in the life of the Church. It has helped me to celebrate and enjoy the power and meaning of the resurrection for a sustained period of time rather than for one day only.
I hope that the sermon seeds I have planted will take root and bear fruit for you as you lead people in worship during the “new year” season of the Christian year. May your celebration of Eastertide cause you to experience resurrection and to live a resurrected life.

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