“Easter Joy Continues!” (John 20:19-31; Acts 5:29-42; 1 Peter 1:3-9)
Alleluia! Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed! Alleluia!)
Yes, he is risen indeed! And guess what? He is still risen! Christ didn’t stop being risen once Easter Day was over. And so the Easter season continues–and with it, our Easter joy. It’s the Second Sunday “of” Easter! Thus our theme for this morning: “Easter Joy Continues!”
The Easter joy was certainly evident last Sunday. Easter Day at St. Matthew’s was a day of great joy. As soon as the resurrection was announced at the start of the service, we heard these words shouted out: “Rejoice now, all you heavenly choirs of angels; rejoice now, all creation. . . . Rejoice too, all the earth. . . . Rejoice, O Church of Christ. . . . Let all this house of God ring out with rejoicing.” And this house did ring out with rejoicing. In our hymns we sang: “Therefore let us joyful be and sing to God right thankfully.” “Oh, the sweet joy this sentence gives: I know that my Redeemer lives!” And at the Lamb’s high feast we sang, “Easter triumph, Easter joy!”
But that was then, and this is now. Can that Easter joy continue? After all, this ain’t Easter anymore. Or is it? Did Jesus stop being risen? I don’t think so! I think our cause for joy and gladness continues. And that is reflected in our hymns today with lines like these: “Let us sing praise to Him with endless joy.” “For Christ the Lord has risen, our joy that has no end!” “Awake, my heart, with gladness.” “This joyful Eastertide.” “Soul, adorn yourself with gladness.” Yes, lots of Easter joy still today.
But this is not a joy that has no basis in fact. The Easter season is not some forced, smiley-face celebration that ignores all the sorrow and sadness that life in this fallen world can bring. By no means. Our Easter joy can look square in the face of adversity and still rejoice. The pain is real, but the joy is greater. Christ makes it so–Christ, our risen Lord, who is still risen.
Our lessons today do a wonderful job of conveying the great Easter joy that continues well beyond the first Easter day. In the Gospel of John, in the Book of Acts, and in Peter’s First Epistle, we see that joy radiating out to us today. The Easter joy keeps ringing long after the day Christ rose. Let’s see how that works.
In John chapter 20, the reading starts with the disciples huddled together in fear behind locked doors. They were afraid that what had just happened to their master on Friday might now happen to them. They were scared. But the risen Lord Jesus comes right in and stands among them and reassures them: “Peace be with you.” They hear his voice, they see his face, and, more than that, Jesus shows him his hands and side. These are the same hands that had been nailed to a cross. This is the same side that had been pierced to make sure that he was dead. And Jesus had died, there was no question about that. But now this same Jesus comes and stands among them. This is no hallucination. This is no wishful dream. No, this is the Lord Jesus himself, raised bodily from the dead.
And he greets them with peace. Disciples who had denied and deserted him, he greets with peace. For he had earned that peace. His nail-scarred hands and his pierced side are the holy wounds by which he bought their peace. Jesus’ death on the cross was not a defeat or a detour or a disappointment. No, it was God’s own plan to redeem a world of sinners–people like you and me. Jesus’ death on the cross paid for our sins–for your sins, all of them. It took the death of God’s own Son to cover the sins of all people everywhere. That’s what Jesus has done.
So now when Jesus rises from the dead on Easter day and speaks peace to his frightened disciples, he really means it–and he really gives it! “Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.” No wonder! It’s beginning to dawn on them, the joy of it all! And then a week later–literally the second Sunday of Easter–Jesus comes and does it again. He comes and stands among them and greet them with peace. He brings up to speed the delinquent disciple, Thomas, who had missed church the previous Sunday. More Easter joy to go around.
OK, well that was fine and dandy for a while. Jesus was still appearing among them. Their Lord could take care of them if there was any trouble. It makes sense that they had the joy. But what about later? What about after Jesus is gone? What if the threat of danger comes back? Will they go back to hiding behind locked doors? Will their joy disappear?
We find out in the Book of Acts. The apostles were out in public, at the temple, teaching in the name of Jesus. The Jewish Sanhedrin, the same ones who had sent Jesus off to be crucified by Pilate–now they bring in the apostles and have them stand before the council. The danger is imminent, and the danger is real. But instead of denying Jesus like he had before, now Peter speaks up and confesses Christ: “The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things.” A bold witness indeed!
The council members are enraged! They want to kill these boys! A cooler voice prevails, and they are not put to death. But they are beaten up pretty good, and they’re charged to stop what they’re doing, which is to tell people about Jesus. But instead of cowering away in fear, with their tails between their legs–instead, the apostles leave, and note this–they leave “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.” Imagine that! Instead of fear, they are filled with joy! The Easter joy stayed with them, even in spite of persecution. They even took the persecution as a reason for joy, since it meant that they were suffering for the name of Jesus. And they don’t stop with the witnessing. “Every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.”
The world’s threats and persecution cannot quench our joy. We know we have a master who has overcome death and the grave. And we bear his name, placed on us in our baptism. We are joined to Jesus Christ, our risen Lord. What can the world do to us? Satan, Sanhedrin, ISIS, or secular activists who want to shut us down–bring it on! You can’t shut us up, and you can’t steal our joy! Our rejoicing and our witnessing will continue. Easter makes that big of a difference.
OK, but Peter and those apostles–they actually got to see Jesus. They had spent time with him. They heard him speak. They touched his hands. They felt his side. Maybe those guys could have that kind of courage and that kind of joy, but hey, we are not that fortunate.
Or . . . maybe we are. Didn’t Jesus say, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”? We are not any less blessed than those first disciples. Jesus is here with us today. “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them. Hey, that’s us! Jesus is here right now, giving out his gifts, speaking his word of peace. We have not seen, and yet we believe. So Jesus calls us blessed, for that is what we are. And because we are blessed, therefore we rejoice.
Peter says this very thing to Christians who had never seen Jesus in the flesh. In 1 Peter 1, he writes: “According to his great mercy, [God] has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” This is quite an amazing thing! You and I have been born again through Holy Baptism. We are new creations in Christ. And now we have a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We look forward to an imperishable inheritance, the eternal life that will be revealed when Christ returns.
Are you looking forward to this? I know I am! Come, Lord Jesus! Come and deliver us from this vale of tears. We eagerly expect the return of Christ, when our Lord will raise up our mortal bodies to be like his glorious body. We look forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness will be at home. We await and anticipate joining the great heavenly choir, singing praises to the Lamb who was slain and now lives forever. This is our hope. And it gives us joy! Easter joy!
And the sorrows and afflictions of this life cannot put it out. Peter writes: “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials.” All the trials of this life cannot rob you of your joy. Grief at the loss of loved ones. Persecution at the hands of the world. Disappointments and let-downs of various sorts. All of these things may grieve us. We wouldn’t be human if they didn’t. But we do not grieve as those who have no hope. We do have hope. It is the sure hope of life everlasting with our Lord Jesus Christ. And Peter gets the effect of this hope right when he says: “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory.”
Joy inexpressible and full of glory! That’s Easter joy! It’s your joy! God gives it to you as a gift. Whatever your trials, whatever your afflictions, you have a joy that is greater. And this Easter joy will continue, not only through this joyful Eastertide, but will last your whole life long and then on into eternity. Easter joy forever!