Well, it’s Easter Sunday. And, if you’ve ever been to church on an Easter Sunday before, you have a pretty good idea what that means. On Easter Sunday the parking lot is supposed to be a little fuller, and it’s supposed to take you a little longer to find a seat in the sanctuary. On Easter Sunday everyone is supposed to be decked out in their Sunday best, and they’re supposed to be wearing their best smile, too. On Easter Sunday the church you’re in is supposed to pull out all the stops to put together a worship service that’ll you’ll remember, and the preacher is supposed to preach a sermon you won’t soon forget.
And for most of our lives, that’s exactly what Easter looked like. But all of that changed last year. Last year, instead of seeing our parking lot filled with cars, it was completely empty because we had to cancel our services. Instead of struggling to find a seat in a crowded sanctuary, we were struggling to figure out how to do church online. Instead of being decked out in our Sunday best, a lot of us were sitting on our couches in our pj’s. And even though I think we can all agree that last Easter was an Easter we’ll never forget, it wasn’t because of the good news of the resurrection. Last Easter was memorable because it was the only Easter any of us have ever celebrated during a pandemic.
And because COVID-19 caused us to cancel all of our regular plans, many of us would agree that it felt like we missed Easter last year.
It felt like we missed Easter last year.
Because we weren’t able to pull our cars into a crowded parking lot last year, it felt like we missed Easter. Because we couldn’t pack ourselves into an overflowing sanctuary, it felt like we missed Easter. Because we didn’t dress up in our fancy new outfits, it felt like we missed Easter. Because we had to cancel Easter Egg Hunts and family get-togethers, it felt like we missed Easter.
And because it felt like we missed Easter last year, a lot of us have been looking forward to this Easter. And let’s just be honest here, there’s been a lot to look forward to today. Today is the first time that our church has met together to worship in-person in more than a year. So today is the first time you’ve pulled into a parking lot to go to church in more than a year. Today is the first time you’ve walked into a sanctuary space in more than a year. Today is the first time you’ve worshiped together in a room with other people in more than a year. Today is the first time that many of us have seen each other face-to-face (even if half of our faces are covered by masks) in more than a year.
So there has been a lot for us to look forward to today. There has been a lot for us to celebrate today. There has been a lot for us to be thankful for today. But because there has been so much to look forward to, and so much to celebrate, and so much to be thankful for; we need to be careful or we’ll end up missing Easter this year.
We need to be careful or we’ll end up missing Easter this year.
And I know that the last sentence doesn’t seem to make any sense. And it doesn’t seem to make any sense because last year we had to cancel all of the in-person services and activities we had planned for Easter. So it felt like we missed out on Easter because we literally could not be together in-person to celebrate the good news of Jesus’ resurrection. But today, many of us are sitting together in-person inside of a worship service on Easter Sunday. So how could we possibly miss Easter this year?
Well, here’s the thing, last year what we missed out on were Easter events. We missed out on attending an in-person worship service. We missed out on decorating our blossoming cross. We missed out on taking family pictures while everyone was dressed up. We missed out on hiding Easter Eggs and watching our kids and grandkids try to find them. And, you’re right, we’re not going to miss out on these events again this Easter.
But Easter isn’t really about events. Easter isn’t about just attending a worship service. Easter isn’t just about getting dressed up and having a family photo taken. Easter isn’t just about having a special dinner with your family or hiding eggs for your kids. Easter is about so much more than that. So let me take a minute here and remind you what Easter is really about.
And to do that, I want to encourage you to grab your Bible and turn with me to the Gospel of Luke - or Luke’s biography of Jesus. And we’ll be reminded of what Easter is really about in Luke 24, where we’ll start reading in verse 1. Here’s what Luke writes:
24:1 Very early in the morning on the first day of the week, the women went to the tomb, bringing the fragrant spices they had prepared. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in, they didn’t find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 They didn’t know what to make of this. Suddenly, two men were standing beside them in gleaming bright clothing. 5 The women were frightened and bowed their faces toward the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead!”
Luke 24:1-6 (Common English Bible)
So this is what Easter is all about. Easter is about the resurrection. And the resurrection tells us that Jesus is not dead and buried in a tomb. Jesus is alive. And because Jesus is alive, you have the chance to encounter Jesus today.
Easter gives you the chance to encounter Jesus today.
And that’s what I want to make sure that we don’t miss today. I want to make sure that we don’t get so caught up in celebrating our first time worshiping together in a year that you miss the chance to encounter Jesus today. I want to make sure that we don’t get so caught up in seeing each other face-to-face again that you miss the chance to encounter Jesus today. I want to make sure that we don’t get so caught up in having your kids hunt Easter Eggs after this service that you miss the chance to encounter Jesus.
Because, when you encounter Jesus, it will change your life forever. And you can see just how much encountering Jesus can change your life if you keep reading about what else happened on the first Easter Sunday. Because just a few hours after the women we just read about found that Jesus’ tomb was empty and heard that he is alive, Jesus’ closest followers - his disciples - encounter the resurrected Jesus for the very first time. So let’s take a look at this story together. It comes from John 20, we’ll start reading in verse 19. John writes:
20:19 It was still the first day of the week. That evening, while the disciples were behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. When the disciples saw the Lord, they were filled with joy. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” 22 Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you don’t forgive them, they aren’t forgiven.”
John 20:19-23 (Common English Bible)
So like I said a minute ago, this is the first time that the disciples encounter Jesus after his resurrection. And in this encounter that only lasts for a few verses, Jesus changes the disciples’ lives forever. And there are three specific things that Jesus says in this passage that show us how he changed their lives forever. So let’s go back and take another look at what Jesus says in this passage.
The first thing that Jesus says to his disciples when they see him is, “Peace be with you.” And this is the first way that an encounter with Jesus will change you forever. When you encounter Jesus, he will give you peace.
When you encounter Jesus, he will give you peace.
But the peace that Jesus gives you is a different kind of peace than we usually talk about. Usually, when we talk about peace, we talk about the absence of violence or war. But there’s more to the peace that Jesus gives you than that. The peace that Jesus gives you is what the Hebrews would call shalom. And the word shalom literally refers to completeness.
So what it means when Jesus says to his disciples, “Peace be with you” is that God understands that life is complex and filled with a lot of different moving parts, and relationships, and situations. And when any of these moving parts break down, your life is no longer whole. Your life needs to be restored so you don’t have peace. And that’s what Jesus promises his disciples. He promises that he will restore what’s been missing in our lives. That he will make us whole again. That we will have peace.
And that’s exactly what happens for his first disciples. I mean, just remember where Jesus found them when the story I just read you began. The disciples were hiding behind locked doors because they thought Jesus was dead and they were afraid that the same people that crucified Jesus would come for them. But after they encounter Jesus, everything changes. And these same people that were hiding behind locked doors because they were afraid go out and tell everyone they can about Jesus. They travel the world sharing the good news of Jesus’ resurrection. And they aren’t afraid of being arrested because of it, or being persecuted because of it, or even dying because of it.
And giving the disciples peace is just the first way that their encounter with Jesus will change their lives forever. After Jesus tells his disciples, “Peace be with you,” the next thing he says to them is, “As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” And when Jesus says this to his disciples, he gives them purpose. So when you encounter Jesus, he will give you purpose.
When you encounter Jesus, he will give you purpose.
And again, we see this play out in the lives of Jesus’ first disciples. Remember, when Jesus first appears to them after the resurrection, they’re hiding behind locked doors and doing nothing. So they don’t have a purpose. There are other stories that take place after the resurrection that show us that the disciples were all sitting around and thinking about returning to their old lives - before they started following Jesus.
But when Jesus tells them that he is sending them into the world just like God sent him, it changed the disciples forever. When Jesus sent his disciples, they went. They went from Jerusalem, to Judea, to Samaria. They went as far west as Rome, and as far east as India. They went as far north as modern-day Georgia (the country not the state) and as far south as Ethiopia. And they went to all of those places because they had a purpose. They were meant to share the good news of Jesus with everyone they could.
So when you encounter Jesus, Jesus will give you peace and Jesus will give you purpose. And there’s one more thing that Jesus gives his first disciples in this passage. After Jesus told them he was sending them like God sent him, the next thing Jesus does is breath on the disciples and tell them to, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” And although it sounds a little strange in the age of COVID-19 for someone to breathe on you, when Jesus tells the disciples to receive the Holy Spirit, he is giving them the power they need to go and share the good news of his resurrection throughout the world. So when you encounter Jesus, he will give you power.
When you encounter Jesus, he will give you power.
So this is what happens when you encounter Jesus. Jesus will give you peace and make your life whole. Jesus will give you a purpose that will keep you going every day of your life. And Jesus will give you the power to be who God created you to be. That’s what happens when you encounter Jesus.
And today, because of Easter, you have the chance to encounter the resurrected Jesus for yourself. You have the chance to meet Jesus and have him change your life. You have the chance to receive the peace, the purpose, and the power that can only come from meeting Jesus for yourself. And I don’t want you to miss out on the chance.
Because, as powerful as the passage that we just read is, as powerful as the story of Jesus’ first encounter with his disciples after the resurrection is, it also comes with a warning. Right after Jesus breathes on his disciples and tells them to receive the Holy Spirit, we’re told:
24 Thomas, the one called Didymus [or the twin], one of the twelve, wasn’t with the disciples when Jesus came.
One of the disciples wasn’t there. One of the disciples missed out on encountering the resurrected Jesus. One of the disciples missed Easter. And why did he miss Easter? Well, the honest answer is that we just don’t know.
Maybe Thomas had snuck out to pick up some groceries for the group. Maybe Thomas had gone out to check up on Jesus’ mother to see how she was doing after she had just seen her son crucified. Maybe Thomas just needed to get away and have a little time to himself to try to make sense out of everything that just happened. But no matter what Thomas may have been doing, he missed Easter. He missed his chance to encounter Jesus.
I don’t want you to be like Thomas today. I don’t want you to miss out on the peace, the purpose, and the power that Jesus wants to give you. I don’t want you to miss out on encountering the resurrected Jesus for yourself. I don’t want you to miss Easter.
But I know that there are a lot of things happening right now that might be pulling your mind out of this room, just like Thomas was pulled away from the room where he could’ve met Jesus. Right now, you have a mixture of emotions pulling you away from this room. You may be reflecting on all the things that have happened since last Easter and the toll that COVID-19 has taken on this world and on your life. Or you may be overcome with joy because today is the day that you could finally be together with us in-person. Or you could be looking ahead to some of the other events that you have planned this Easter - like a family dinner or an Easter Egg Hunt.
But don’t let those things make you miss Easter. Because Easter tells us that Jesus is alive. So Jesus is right here with us right now. And he wants to meet you. He wants to change your life forever. He wants to give you peace, purpose, and power. The question you have to answer is if you are ready to encounter him.