Many years ago, I was sitting in a church the Sunday after Easter, and as the service began, the minister welcomed everyone who had come out, looked around, and said, “well, it’s just us again.” Of course, this was about the fact that just last Sunday the church was relatively full and that this Sunday, this “low Sunday” it was just the regulars. Now, it is important to note that it is always nice to see people in church whether it is once or twice a year or each and every Sunday, but it is a little thin in here today.
The Sunday after Easter has often been called by many different names. The most common is the unofficial designation of Low Sunday. You’ll never see it listed that way in the newsletter or bulletin, but behind the scenes, that is how it is called.
On Easter Sunday, most every pew and chair is full, the choir is in full voice, there are “bells and smells” the church is abloom and garlanded with decorative flowers and greens, and everyone is dressed up to celebrate the occasion.
But by this Sunday, though, things have changed. Most of the decoration is gone, the choir may have taken the day off, the bulletins are a bit shorter and less ornate, and there are a lot of empty pews. Families who spent Easter together have returned to their homes and hostesses who have had a full house take the chance to sit down, find the last bit of fake grass from Easter baskets, and plan another meal of leftover ham or roast.
In the early church, new prospective members had to undergo a lengthy period of instruction before being admitted for Baptism and inclusion in Communion. When their time of study ended, they put on white garments and were baptized at the Easter Service. They could then join the community. At the end of the octave (Easter and the seven days that succeeded it), they exchanged their white robes for regular clothing at church, marking the end of their being set apart and the beginning of their life as full Christians.
However it is called, this Sunday After Easter is a continuation of the Easter season, 50 days that lead to the feast of Pentecost. During the Easter season, we celebrate Jesus’s appearance to the disciples, Doubting Thomas being shown the wounds in Jesus’s hands and side, the road to Emmaus, and the Ascension. In short, the Easter season has a lot going on.
But we have to stop a minute. We are taught that every Sunday is a little Easter, no matter at what time in the church year it occurs. People forget that quite often during Lent but a quick count the number of days in Lent comes out to 46–if the Sundays are counted in. Subtract those six Sundays, and there are 40 days left. When it comes to Easter season, every Sunday after Easter itself is a little Easter and should be celebrated as such, if not with the full panoply we reserve for the actual Easter Day.
Several times during Lent someone would approach me to tell me what they were “giving up” for Lent. We would have a discussion about how difficult it was, or not, and how they were looking forward to the days when Lent was over so they could go back to whatever it was. I reminded them that Lent did not include the Sundays that came along during that period of fasting and penance and that each Sunday, no matter the time of year, was considered the resurrection and therefore not a Sunday that we should all go around wearing sackcloth and ash. Each and every Sunday of the year is a little Easter, the day of resurrection.
The reading from the Letter of Peter that we heard proclaimed this morning is a continuation of that proclamation of Easter, “Blessed be God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.”
This is the Gospel of Easter and the Gospel in miniature: we begin with praise, we see acts of God, and those actions enable us to do something, in this case, sing with joy. But this passage also reminds us of the faith that we must have and what the object of that faith must be.
We believe that our salvation comes from God and the mercy and grace of God acting in our lives and moving us towards to place of repentance. Acceptance, if you will, of the fact that we cannot do this thing we call life alone and that we need God in it. We do not earn this salvation it is a gift freely given to us, but it comes from knowledge and a deep trust in God, a wholehearted trust, coming from the Holy Spirit acting in and through our lives, that we know that we are forgiven of our sins and welcomed into everlasting life.
But what must our faith be, what is the object of our faith? Scripture reminds us not to put our faith in princes or in mortals who are also lost and are of no help. Sure, we can lead someone to the place where they are ready to acknowledge they need God, but we cannot save anyone. The object of our faith, as clearly stated in verse 8, is Jesus Christ himself.
“Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your living souls.”
The Salvation of our souls is a multi-dimensional experience that is not just a single event but a series of life-long events that we have to keep working. The resurrection of Jesus Christ took place in an instant, but the message of that resurrection continued and continues in each of us. Acknowledgment that God is the ruler of your life is the first step that will bring us joy, but the most important message of the resurrection is that God loves you for who you and where you are on your journey and you are forgiven and redeemed.