April 26, 2015
John 10:11-18
1 John 3:16-24
Acts 4:5-12
Psalm 23

Late For Easter

Second Sunday of Easter

from the book
The Glory Of Our Weakness
Sermons With Children's Lessons For Lent And Easter

Erskine White

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There have been a number of occasions in my life where I have had the opportunity to make a complete fool of myself, and sad to say, I have generally taken full advantage of each one of those opportunities as they came along. I suppose I could prove the point by regaling you with dozens of pertinent stories, but for the sake of preserving your time and my dignity, I will tell you just one.

The incident took place in my early twenties when I was spending part of a winter in Paris. It was a case of my having enough money to get to Paris but not enough to live on once I got there; I was living in the artists' quarter on the Left Bank in a one-room flat with no heat or hot water. The bathroom was three floors below me and the shower consisted of a plain garden hose and a wash bucket to stand in. I thought I would get a good dose of the romantic, bohemian lifestyle in Paris that winter. In fact, all I got was the worst cold I have ever suffered in my life.

One night, I decided to go the Opera House. It wasn't that I liked opera or had even heard one before, but it was something I thought I should do while I was in Paris.

I arrived just as the large crowd was filing inside to find their seats, and right away I had a problem -- another man was sitting in the seat I had paid for. The performance was starting, and even though I showed the intruder my ticket for that seat, he kept asking me where I had been and refused to move. The people behind us were protesting, but I persisted, and when the man finally got up to leave, he muttered something about 'stupid Americans' as he headed angrily up the aisle.

'How rude,' I thought as I settled down to watch the opera. However, the upset I felt was quickly forgotten as the soaring music of Puccini's La Boheme filled the hall. Like I said, my own musical tastes had never tilted towards opera, but I have always appreciated good melodies and harmonies, and Puccini was a master at both. I fell in love with the music I heard that night, and to this day, even though it is the only opera I have ever listened to, I have four different renditions of La Boheme at home.

Although I couldn't really understand the lyrics that night, I began to get a rough idea of what was going on. But then, quite suddenly it seemed, the heroine died, the audience applauded, the house lights came back on and people began to leave. I thought it was rather strange that poor Mimi had died so early in the opera, but as I followed the crowd out to the lobby, I figured I would come back for the second half and see how the story ended.

That's when I realized what had happened. The audience was going home because the opera was over! I had misread the starting time on my ticket and arrived during the intermission, thinking the opera was just beginning. No wonder the man in my seat asked me where I had been and thought I was dense! I had come in late, but because I didn't know the first thing about La Boheme or any other opera, it never dawned on me that I had missed the whole first half of the performance! I was glad no one in the Paris audience knew me that night, because I felt rather ignorant and foolish.

Of course, I am not the only person ever to feel foolish like that, and I know I am not the only person ever to be late for something, either. On any given day, children are late for school and parents are late for work. People are late for everything from doctors' appointments to graduation ceremonies, and occasionally they are even late for church! I once officiated at a wedding where the bride was three hours late for no apparent reason, and I was also involved in a funeral where we had to sit around waiting for the casket to arrive! The next time you scold some 'slowpoke' by saying, 'Why, you'll even be late for your own funeral,' don't think it couldn't happen!

But the all-time, most significant example of being late and looking foolish is found in our text and belongs to a much-maligned disciple named Thomas. That's right, the man we have always called 'Doubting Thomas' can also be called 'Tardy Thomas,' because our text says Thomas was not with the other disciples when the Resurrected Jesus appeared. Thomas was late for Easter.

We can only speculate as to where Thomas was when the other disciples were gathered behind locked doors. Maybe, after hearing about Jesus' trial and execution, Thomas had gone off somewhere seeking solitude in his grief. A long ride in the country, a few easy-to-read drugstore novels to get his mind off things, and most of all, some time alone would be good for his soul.

Maybe Thomas had gone home to catch up on some chores he had let slide over the last three years. The wife had asked that he fix the back screen door, and the roof had needed new shingles for a long time, but Thomas had been off roaming the countryside with Jesus. Maybe Thomas felt it was time to go home and take care of some domestic responsibilities which had been too long neglected.

Or maybe Thomas had simply decided to reevaluate the direction of his life. A few years earlier, he had thought about joining the Peace Corps, but then Jesus came along and Thomas had become a disciple instead. But now, perhaps it was time to end this youthful 'social action fling' and go back to medical school, settle down and get on with a more conventional life.

Whatever reason Thomas may have had for not being present when Christ appeared to the other disciples, the bottom line is that Thomas was late for Easter. He did not miss the beginning of the story as I had done in Paris, but Thomas did miss a critical part of a continuing story, and he was all the poorer for it.

Because he was late for Easter, Thomas had his doubts about the Resurrection. The other disciples had searched him out and found him, telling him in excited tones that they had seen the Risen Savior, but Thomas had responded with disbelief. 'I can't buy that,' he replied. 'Unless I see Him myself, see His wounded hands and touch His wounded side, I will not change my mind.'

Because Thomas was late for Easter, he had his doubts about the Resurrection, and because he had his doubts about the Resurrection, Thomas was not empowered. He was still the same disillusioned, terrified, and confused man he had been on Good Friday, while the other disciples were now transformed. Once forlorn and even cowardly themselves, now they were filled with power and grace (Acts 4:33) because they had experienced Easter Sunday. The same Lord who just last week seemed dead and defeated was now alive again, and they had seen this with their own eyes!

What else could possibly matter more to them than this staggering new reality? How else could they feel but strengthened and emboldened and eager to tell the world this astounding good news, even at the cost of their lives? The other disciples were new people imbued with a revolutionary new power and Spirit -- only Thomas remained as he had been before.

'As the Father has sent Me, so I send you.' The rest of the disciples were ready to be sent as Christ was sent sent to suffer and serve, sent as people transformed to transform the world and turn it 'upside down' (Acts 17:6). Peter would end up in Rome and Andrew in what is now Russia. James would go to Syria while Matthew would go to Persia and Ethiopia. Others would be sent to the veritable four corners of the earth to continue the story of Easter. Only Thomas remained unenlightened, unchanged, uninspired, with nowhere to go and no story to tell.

The disciples met a week after Easter, just as we are meeting here today, and this time, Thomas was persuaded to join them. Suddenly Jesus appeared in their midst, and Thomas' eyes told his heart what to believe. 'My Lord and my God!' he cried. It may have come a week late, but now Easter was as real to Thomas as it had been to the others. Truly, it is better to come to Easter late than never to arrive there at all.

'As the Father has sent Me, so I send you.' Regardless of when you or I 'see' the Risen Christ through the eyes of faith -- whether the reality of Easter takes hold of us early in the morning or late in the day -- Jesus' words change our lives the moment we come to that faith. Indeed, once we believe with all our heart, soul and mind that Christ the Lord is risen from the grave, how can it be any other way? Like Mary and Thomas and countless other saints before us, we are sent into the world by Christ as Christ Himself was sent to the world by God.

'As the Father sent Me, so do I send you' to live out your resurrection faith in your homes and families. Be the moral and spiritual guide your children will need, that they may receive a foundation to uphold them the rest of their lives. Be the sensitive spirit and listening ear your parents will need as they abide the shifting fortunes of age. By the power of the resurrection you now have witnessed and hold within you, make your families academies of deeper humanity, where young and old alike may learn to give love unconditionally and receive it in the way it is given.

'As the Father sent Me, so do I send you' to live out your resurrection faith in your places of work. Be the exemplar of integrity in your office, store, or factory, going the extra mile to understand and serve the needs of others. Be a conscience in your company, that fairness may be the product and compassion the process as you labor with others under the sun. By the power of the resurrection you now have witnessed and hold within you, make your workplaces engines of equity and social responsibility, where doing good is at least as important as doing well.

'As the Father sent Me, so do I send you' to live out your resurrection faith in your church. Be the embodiment of Christian charity in all your church dealings, seeking to build up and bind together rather than tear down and rip apart. Be a model of kindness in thought, word, and deed, that kindness might flourish in all God's people. By the power of the resurrection you now have witnessed and hold within you, make your church a community of repentance and forgiveness, that it may be leaven for the world and nourishment for the soul as God intends it to be.

Finally, 'as the Father sent Me, so do I send you' to live out your resurrection faith in the troubled world around you. Be an ambassador of God's love to all people near and far, friend and foe, that others may seek for themselves the divine light they see shining in you. Be architects of justice and builders of righteousness, hoping against hope that the will of God shall someday bless the earth. By the power of the resurrection you now have witnessed and hold within you, help make the world a gentler place for those who suffer its various cruelties, that God might someday be more pleased with our use of His creation.

All of this and more is the call Christ gave last Easter Sunday to modern-day disciples like us who gather in His name. But sometimes we don't hear that call when it is first given because something is blocking our ears and blinding our hearts. Something inside is making us late for Easter. Circumstances arise and events intervene to oppress our spirits, leaving us inwardly unprepared to see and believe the Risen Lord who stands before us. Sometimes, like Thomas, we don't get the good news of Easter on the day God chooses to give it.

Perhaps that is true for some of us this year. If, a week after the Resurrection, some of us feel uninspired and unempowered as Thomas felt so long ago, know that Christ is visiting us still to show us His wounds and share His victory. Know that He comes again and again to tell us the good news, and when we finally hear it -- when our eyes behold at last the Risen Christ and our hearts believe what our eyes have seen -- then we are transformed from within by power and grace abounding, ready to conquer all that troubles us and ready to be sent forth in service to others as Christ was sent forth in service to us.

Trumpets are playing and triumph's song is sounding in these days which follow Easter. My Lord and my God, we hear them at last! My Lord and my God, we see You risen and believe at last! The time is upon us and we dare not be late, for Christ calls us even as I speak to live with new faith, hope, and love in the wondrous new world His death and resurrection have made. Amen.

Pastoral Prayer

O Good and Gracious God, whose plan for our salvation was written before the world was made and who asks us to continue that plan in the way we live our lives, we come to You today acknowledging that some of us were late for Easter this year. We didn't get the good news as it was read and preached and sung last week, or we felt it for a moment but lost it once we left Your house. We were too absorbed with other things, or crises arose to distract us, and now we lack the inspiration we think we should have at this time of year because we missed seeing the Risen Christ appear in our midst.

But You, O God, have sent a Savior who is patient and merciful with us. He comes now to visit those of us who missed seeing Him before, that our joy may be no less complete than those who saw Him first. He shows us His wounds that we may not fear to endure our own, and He sends us out to serve as He Himself was sent to serve.

O God, do not let us be late in answering that call. Do not let the problems which grip us make us blind to the promise You have placed within our grasp. Even today, on this Sunday after Easter, help us receive the good news of our Risen Lord, for we need it in the very depths of our souls, and we would rather receive it late than never receive it at all. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.