The question for today is, "Now what?"
This is often the question on the day after the most pivotal events in our lives: "Now what?"
We arrive home with our first newborn child. We take the baby out of the car seat. We walk into the house and unpack the overnight bag we took to the hospital. We're not sure what we are supposed to do with this child. I suppose we should feed it? It probably needs to be changed at some point? I am the one responsible for this new life? Now what?
When we drop our children off at college for their first year not living at home, we drive away from the dormitory, arrive back at home ... "now what?"
When our spouse passes away, when the busyness of the funeral arrangements comes to an end, when the out of town guests have all left, and the house becomes too quiet ... "now what?"
It was the question on the minds of the disciples following the death of their friend.
It was the first day of the week after his execution by the Roman authorities. The two walking on the road to Emmaus had watched in dismay as the crowds that had welcomed Jesus into the city just days earlier had quickly turned against him. Over the course of just a few days, the disciples had come to fear that their hopes and dreams would fail. They had hope that in Jesus a better day had come, that God’s promised reign of peace and justice, had arrived. But they quickly began to fear that these hopes and dreams had vanished.
It is the question that we Christians face in these weeks that follow Easter: Easter has come and gone, now what?
Now, admittedly, it is usually not the first question that comes to mind on the day after Easter or in the weeks that follow. Most of us seem to quickly move back into the routine of normal life. We return to work, get the kids back to school, do the things we used to do and resume our normal routines.
But if we want to take our faith seriously, we should allow Easter to make us think, allow it to make us re-examine our lives. That is, after all, why we celebrate Easter every single year-because it is easy to just get into a routine, to just march ahead in life, and to rarely take an occasion to step back in life and to assess where we are going or what the purpose of life is.
So the question for us in these weeks following Easter is, "now what?"
Beyond the seersucker suits and the pastel Easter dresses. Beyond the candy and the beautiful flowers and the moving music and half decent Easter sermon. Beyond the empty tomb and the astonished disciples, what is the Easter message and what are we to do with it?
How does Easter touch our lives and make a difference? Is the resurrection only an event in Jesus' career and nothing more? Is as life-changing as other holidays like Presidents’ Day or Columbus Day? Or is it more? How does this story - a story that can understandably seem like an idle tale - how does this story make a difference in our lives?
If Easter is to become more than a run of the mill celebration, we must allow it to intrude into our lives and change us.
The texts for this Sunday and the other Sundays that follow Easter, they address these very questions. In the stories they tell and the concepts they relate, they focus on the various human responses to the news of God's deliverance.
The book of acts describes these changed lives in rather dramatic fashion. The book tells about thousands would come to Christ on a single day.
The other books in the New Testament, however, like first Peter as we read today, don't present such a romantic picture as found in Acts. To the contrary, first peter is addressed to communities of faith that seem to struggle to understand who they are, struggle to understand how the good news of Easter impacts their lives, struggle to discern what makes them different from the world around them.
The author of first Peter describes the Christians to whom he writes as exiles--not exiles in the literal sense of the word (they were not people who were deported from their homeland) but as exiles in the sense that they were living at a time when, because of the life death and resurrection of Christ, everything had changed, everything seemed strange, and they now needed to figure out what impact that had on their lives.
As we read, the answer that is given in first Peter, the answer to the question of what impact Easter is to have on us is that we are to love others.
This should not surprise us, and Jesus said the same when he said that the second greatest commandment, second to loving God, is to love your neighbor as yourself.
It sounds cliché. It sounds so simple. But in truth, to love others as much as we love ourselves is perhaps the most difficult thing in life. We need only look at the rhetoric in the public sphere, listen to the conversations we have, examine the actions we take in our own lives. All too often they place us above others. To love others as we love our selves is a most difficult thing, and yet it is a commandment at the core of our faith.
If we want to be faithful to this commandment and this calling, perhaps the place to begin is to have our eyes open. To be awake and alive to the world. To embrace and live thoroughly in the world God made and has given to us, the world God loves so much, the world God’s own Son loved and for which he died. To love being part of this world: to rejoice in its colors and sounds and tastes and sensations. To be awake and alive to others: our families and friends but also those beyond these small circles, to feel and experience the suffering of others as Jesus did: never to isolate and avoid and retreat but to live in and with and among the precious others with whom we share this earth, this city, this community.
Over the next few months, as our focus groups begin gathering and we begin talking more earnestly about where we believe God is calling this church in the next few years, I strongly believe that part of God's call to us will be to be more open to those around us, to reach out to those who are beyond these walls and to welcome into this place those who are not yet here. Anytime that we do something new it will require us to change. Of course we will hold on to those valuable traditions that have made us who we are, but the Spirit of God is alive and moving, and if we are to follow, we will have to do something differently than we have been doing them. "The way we've always done it" cannot be the answer to the question "what is God calling us to in the future."
William Sloane Coffin said this about the church:
"Most Church boats don’t like to be rocked: they prefer to lie at anchor rather than go places on stormy seas. But that’s because we Christians view the Church as the object of our love instead of the subject and instrument of God’s. Faith cannot be passive: it has to go forth—to assault the conscience, excite the imagination. (Credo, pp. 140–141)"
Such is how we go forth in the days ahead: as a congregation of God’s people seeking to live as thoroughly and as faithfully as we can in this world, assured by the promise that God loves us, God loves this world, and God wants us to be the ones who share that love with others around us.
A profound statement by Frederick Buechner is this: "Sacred moments, the moments of miracle, are often everyday moments, the moments which, if we do not look with more than our eyes or listen with more than our ears, reveal only . . . a stranger coming down the road behind us, a meal like any other meal. But if we look with our hearts, if we listen with our being and imagination . . . what we may see is Jesus himself."
Too often we think that God is not present in our lives because we do not see a flash of light or hear a crash of thunder. In doing so, we miss the fact that God appears in those small things we do every day: the words we say to others, the decisions we make, the actions we do.
In this season of Easter, we continue to be reminded that ordinary moments become sacred moments, and that God is alive among us. God is alive in the ordinary experiences of our lives: in the classroom, the board room, the office. God is alive in the hospital room, emergency room, your kitchen, your house.
Let us be like those first disciples who chose open their hearts to the world around them, and to share the good news with others.
May god grant us the eyes to see and the courage to follow.