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What is the most memorable party you’ve attended? Maybe you had a party with family for Easter? Maybe you can remember a fun birthday or wedding celebration? One of the first birthday parties I can remember was a birthday party my parents threw for me when I was turning 4. Theme was Disney’s 101 Dalmatians so my dad dressed up as a Dalmatian puppy and created a “dog house” entrance into the party.
We have parties for all sorts of occasions don’t we? Birthdays, holidays, weddings, baptisms, graduations, retirement, anniversaries, national holidays. We celebrate the end of the school year, the beginning of a new year or when someone moves into a new home. The act of celebrating and rejoicing is in the very fiber of our beings as humans. While we might all have different traditions or customs for how we throw a party, we can find humans celebrating no matter where they are.
Whether we are just another year older, moving away or celebrating a holiday, we know these days and events mark the end of one season and the beginning of another. They mark changes in ourselves, our families, our communities. They make us nostalgic for times past and make us hopeful for the times ahead. Whether we feel excited or threatened by this change, once the party is over we are left with the clean up task of figuring out how to now live in light of this new change or how we will live until this day comes around again next year.
When we find the disciples in the Gospel of John, they are doing quite the opposite of celebrating. If Jesus, their Lord and master was no longer dead, than you’d think the disciples would be throwing a party! They have run to the tomb, seen it empty and believed. Mary has told them that she has seen the Lord! Yet we find the disciples locked away at home out of fear. Perhaps they were afraid of backlash from the Jewish authorities. Maybe they were afraid of what this event meant for them. Perhaps they were nostalgic for the good ol’ times they had with Jesus and unsure about how to move forward given this huge change in their lives.
But we have to give them a little grace don’t we? Could they have fully processed or understood what had happened on that first easter morning by the time the day was over? Or maybe they did and they were in shock that Jesus would actually do what he said he would, that he would DIE for them. Sometimes we like to give the disciples a hard time for not believing, for doubting and failing to understand what Jesus taught. But aren’t we glad Thomas and the disciples got some visual proof that the Lord had been raised, now that millions have committed their lives to Christianity for over 2,000+ years? Thanks to our young adult group who wrestled with these questions earlier this week during a Bible Study, I am still wondering if it was harder for the disciples to believe and keep the celebration of good news going when they had to process Jesus’ death, resurrection and appearances all in a matter of days OR for us living as Christians today who have these stories written down but no risen Jesus showing up to let us see and touch his wounds. There’s a lot that could hold either of us back from entering into the celebration and having life in Christ’s name.
No matter what was going through the disciples’ heads that day, Jesus busts right in through the locked door. He brings peace to the disciples, breathes the Holy Spirit on them and reminds them of their call to be sent out into the world just as God had sent him. Now they have reason to celebrate, Christ is alive and among them! Now they have the fuel to continue the celebration: the Spirit and peace of God. ALLELUIA!
Most parties and celebrations have several things in common. There is always a person or reason to celebrate. There is a host or guest of honor who sends out invitations. You always need a place to gather, people to gather with and things to sustain the party: food, beverages, music, laughter, conversation, maybe even a little dancing. If you think back to your most memorable parties, I’m sure many of these elements were there.
While most parties share the same elements, this Easter party and celebration with Jesus is a bit different. At this party God and God’s work in Christ are the reasons for celebrating and ALL are invited to this party. It’s not about who makes the cut for the wedding invitation or who has a date to prom and who doesn’t or who is old enough, rich enough, smart enough or a close enough friend. Christ invites everyone to this party and even goes out to find us where we are- behind locked doors, consumed by the turmoil of the world around us, distracted by our to-do lists and buried beneath a list of doubts and unanswered questions. At this party there is always an abundance, but instead of an abundance of pizza or fancy appetizers, there is an abundance of Christ who brings living water to quench our deepest thirsts, the promise of his presence and peace through the community around us…and yes of course, an abundance of ALLELUIAS.
But the main thing that is different about this celebration is that this party is never ends. It keeps going long after Easter Sunday, long after the 7 weeks of the Easter season have passed. It continues everyday and is fueled by the good news that God cannot be overcome by even death. Without that, we wouldn’t even celebrate Christmas or worship on Sundays. Without that, this whole, “new life with Christ” wouldn’t even be a possibility for us.
Long before the cross or the empty tomb though, Jesus spent a lot of time demonstrating his way of new life. Following Jesus through the Gospel of John, we hear about his in-breaking into the world as the light that cannot be consumed by darkness, we hear about him turning water into wine, feeding 5,000 with a little bread and fish. We hear about him healing, teaching and inviting all kinds of people to share in the abundant living water and bread of life that he offers- from the curious Pharisee Nicodemus to the Samaritan woman at the well and everyone in between. Jesus gives the people hundreds of reasons to shout, ALLELUIA, praise be to God!
When he warned them he would be leaving them, Thomas, our late comer to the party in today’s scripture asks, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” To which Jesus replied, “I AM the way, and the truth, and the life.” (John 14:5-6a). Jesus had been showing them the way all along- in the way he listened, in the way he offered grace to those who by the law should have been stoned to death, in the way he crossed boundaries and dined with outcasts, sinners and average fishermen. Ultimately Jesus’ way of life led him to give up his life for others. Friends, THIS is Jesus’ way of throwing the party. THESE are the reason for our ALLELUIAS. But his party comes with an out-of-the-ordinary party favor. His party sends us, not with a bag of candy but an invitation to go into the world just as God had sent him, to continue the celebration of the resurrection, to invite others to have life in his name and to point to the possibility of life even in the face of death. Thankfully, we do not do this alone, we do this as the community of Christ’s followers and we do this not of our own strength but by the power of the Holy Spirit and the peace of Christ that abide with us.
So when you leave worship today, you will be receive a party invitation. This invitation is not from me or Decatur Pres, but from Christ, to continue to celebrate the good news of the gospel that Christ is risen! Sometimes it’s easier to hide behind a locked door than to find a way to praise God in the hallways at school, beside the bed of a dying friend, in a tense meeting at work or in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the week. But let this invitation serve as a reminder to you and others that we are called to celebrate and live into our new life with Christ every day.
So wherever you go and wherever you find yourself this week, may you live in ways that follow in Christ’s way of throwing a party- where there is always room at the table and always an abundance of grace and peace. May you find ways in all that you say and do to offer praises to God, the source and reason for our celebration. As Augustine put it, “A Christian should be an ALLELUIA from head to foot.” Friends we are Easter people and when we know the Good News of Christ’s death and resurrection, we can’t help but be an Alleluia from head to foot. So in all our days, may we follow the one who is the way, the truth and the life of this party and be disciples who continue the celebration. ALLELUIA! ALLELUIA indeed!
Rev. Allysen Schaaf
Decatur Presbyterian Church
April 3, 2016
Allysen Schaaf graduated from Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia with a Master of Divinity and a Master of Arts in Christian Education. Prior to that she received a Bachelor of Arts in Exercise and Sport Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The Rev. Dr. Todd Speed has served Decatur Presbyterian Church since August, 2007 and has been an integral part of the Decatur community ever since. As a part of his personal calling and service, Dr. Speed regularly serves on local non-profit or education-related boards, has led or co-led over 20 mission trips in various cultural contexts, and has participated in learning seminars on five continents.
Rev. Alexandra Rodgers was born and raised in Dallas, Texas. She grew up in a large Presbyterian church where she and her family were very involved. Alex has a degree in interdisciplinary studies from Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas, and a master of divinity from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Austin, Texas.
Join us for worship on Sunday mornings at 10:30 am and at 5 pm on the 1st Sunday.
Worship is the heartbeat of Decatur Presbyterian Church, the most important hour of the week. In worship, we offer praise, receive forgiveness, listen to God’s Word, pray for the needs of the world, and offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God.
The mission of DPC is to share Jesus Christ's love for the world.
Founded in 1825, Decatur Presbyterian Church has contributed in numerous ways to the cultural development of Decatur over nearly two centuries, transforming Decatur from a tiny frontier settlement to building the foundations of the city we live in today.
205 Sycamore Street, Decatur, GA 30030