It is the Monday after Easter Sunday, the most important day in the church calendar. For many, it is a time of great busyness as the typical practice is set aside in favor of flowers, choirs, and more. Big family brunches, lunches, and gatherings add to the demands of the day. In some congregations, Easter marks the end of a forty-day observance of Lent. Even in congregations that do not observe Lent, there has perhaps been an observance of Maundy (Commandment) Thursday or at least Good Friday. Holy Saturday before Easter Sunday has been spent making preparations for the big day.
In other congregations, especially those affected by the so-called church growth movement, Sunday is a high holy day, not only on account of Jesus’ bodily resurrection but because it is the culmination of much planning and marketing. Easter is the day when churches (especially those affected by this movement) expect to see an influx of new faces in church and thus everything is arranged to make them feel at home and to make the church as attractive as possible.
After The Big Day
In a way, however, as disruptive of the Sabbath as the busyness is, the first Christian Sabbath was also surprisingly busy. Not only was Jesus raised from the dead but he also appeared to Mary Magdalene (John 20:11–18), and then to the disciples (John 20:19–23).
What about the day after the big day? Many Christians will be resting and recovering after the big day and thus perhaps it is appropriate to reflect on the testimony of the gospel about the days after their really big day—after the women, and later the disciples, had discovered the empty tomb (John 20:1–10)?
Unexpectedly, the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) do not dwell at length on the life and ministry of Christ after his resurrection. The first thing that John mentions is Jesus meeting with Thomas Didymus (John 20:24–29), in which our Lord graciously provided Thomas with the empirical evidence he needed. Indeed, the most complete account of Jesus’ post-resurrection (and pre-ascension) life is in John’s gospel, which is ironic because John is usually considered more interested in theology and less interested in historical narrative. Of course, that sort of juxtaposition of John and the Synoptics is overdrawn. Ned Stonehouse showed in 1944–51 in his marvelous books The Witness of Matthew and Mark to Christ (1944) and then The Witness of Luke to Christ. In those volumes he demonstrated that the synoptic writers were theologians.
After a period of great, intense, excitement and activity it is normal to feel a sense of letdown or disappointment. It is the natural consequence of an adrenaline rush. American Christianity, arguably going back to the first Great Awakening of the early eighteenth century, and certainly since the second Great Awakening, has been described as a Quest for Illegitimate Religious Experience (QIRE, i.e., “mountain top” experiences). 1 For a great number of American churches, Easter is meant to be an emotional mountain top, but what happens after the mountain top?
For some, that natural letdown can even become a kind of depression. For others, the day after is a stimulation to recover that sense of euphoria they had on the big day. Long-distance runners refer to this as a “runner’s high.” I had my first (and probably only) runner’s high accidentally. I went for a run near the Nebraska State Penitentiary on a cool (fifty-five degrees Fahrenheit), rainy day in Lincoln. It was a little creepy near the Pen and I had gotten a little turned around so I headed back toward my end of town. I just kept running until, suddenly, I had this great sense of euphoria and so I just, as Forrest Gump said, “I just kept running.” I think I ran about five miles that day, but I do not know. Thereafter, I ran even longer distances (ten to fifteen miles) regularly, waiting for the next shot of euphoria. Eventually, I learned to be satisfied if I did not have to battle runner’s stitches halfway through a run.
The Return Of The Ordinary
Given that the disciples were communing with God the Son incarnate, who only days before had been raised from the dead, who had himself sat up in the tomb and folded the linen cloth, which had been placed over his face (John 20:7), life in the interim between resurrection and ascension was strikingly normal. We see this in our Lord’s communion with his disciples by the Sea of Tiberias. Peter had gone fishing and Thomas Didymus and Nathanael went with him (John 21:3). When they returned with empty nets, Jesus met them at the shore. He told them to cast their nets again and he miraculously provided them with an abundance of fish (John 21:6), whereupon John realized it was Jesus (John 21:7).
That, of course, is not exactly normal, but what happened next was:
When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish (John 21:9–13; ESV).
By definition, miracles are beyond nature (hence supernatural), but Peter stripping off his shirt in order to haul in a great lot of fish is what fishermen do. Making a fire and cooking fish is quite normal. Eating bread and fish is entirely normal. Our Lord Jesus had a true human body, even after the resurrection. Remember, resurrection is not glorification. There had been others who had been raised from the dead. Matthew says, “And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many” (Matt 27:52). Until those believers died and went to be with the Lord, awaiting the general resurrection (their second!) they ate, drank, slept, and wept just like anyone else, except they had been resurrected from the dead as a remarkable evidence of our Lord’s resurrection, as an evidence of the inauguration of the last days (Acts 2:17; 2 Tim 3:1; Heb 1:2; 2 Pet 3:3), and an anticipation of the last day when Jesus will return bodily in glory.
There were more extraordinary events to come, chiefly Pentecost, the last great event in redemptive history before the return of Christ. Through the Apostles, the Holy Spirit would do many signs and wonders, but that apostolic age closed rather quietly with the death of the Apostle John in the AD 90s. There are no more apostles and no more apostolic signs and wonders. In the interim, until Christ returns, we have the Holy Spirit, the ministry of Word and sacrament, and the communion of the saints. Our citizenship is in heaven (Phil 3:20) and those divine gifts (Ps 68:18; Eph 4:9, 11) are sufficient for our pilgrimage to the city whose builder and maker is God (Heb 11:10).
So, embrace the Monday after Easter because that is where we are in history. We are in between. Now is not a time for glory but, as it were, the cross. Jesus did not say “take up your glory and follow me,” but “take up your cross and follow me” (Matt 16:24). Eating fish by the Sea of Tiberias was good, and waiting for the judgment day and serving Jesus by fulfilling our vocations in both spheres of God’s kingdom, is good too.
1. For more on this, see the chapter in Recovering the Reformed Confession.
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