Easter is famous for filling churches with happy worshipers.
An extravaganza of music, flowers, family members and neighbors mark the moment in the Christian year when Christ’s resurrection brings new hope and encouragement to the world.
Many churches add extra services for all those who wish to honor the day. The effort is thrilling and exhausting for leaders, musicians, greeters, ushers, facility managers, and all those who help with the decorating and the cleaning up.
The Sunday after Easter is notorious for feeling rather empty, compared to the grand celebration of the week before.
The world’s attention seems to have moved on, the church parking lot has recovered a bit of tranquility, and there is space in the pews again. Some faithful worshipers find it a little forlorn (though others are perhaps relieved), and some churches try various creative strategies to attract people to worship on the Sunday after Easter Sunday.
The truth for me is this:
I love the Sundays after Easter because the stories are so good.
This year, for the churches that follow the Common Lectionary, the gospel readings for the Sundays after Easter will be about true-to-his-word Thomas who urgently wants to believe in God’s power for life, and then the group of disciples who go fishing because they do not know what else to do in the aftermath of the crucifixion.
In these stories we get to see Jesus as the bringer of peace, the adviser on how to haul in a great catch, the preparer of breakfast, and the giver of mission and ministry in the world.
We have the opportunity to ponder the resurrection as the days go by, just as the original followers did, trying to understand what it means for our daily lives and how it applies to the future of all creation.
The four gospels of the Bible reveal the purpose, power and meaning of the resurrection were not at all clear to the disciples on the day they first discovered that Jesus’ body was missing from the tomb.
Yes, some women reported that they had seen him and spoken with him. But those who had found in Jesus someone worthy of their dedication were still frightened, uncertain and confused.
They were hiding from authorities, worried that they might be next on the list to be arrested and killed. They were gathering for prayer and locking the doors tight while they whispered their questions to one another.
It is only through repeated experiences of encountering Jesus in that locked room, and on the sea shore, and in the blessing of a meal, that the disciples began to integrate and be changed by what had happened on that day we now call Easter.
Perhaps we, too, can benefit from repeated opportunities to strive for comprehension of the resurrection.
Another reason to love the Sundays after Easter is the church has more songs and hymns about Christ’s resurrection than can be sung on one Sunday.
“Christ the Lord is Risen Today” and “The Hallelujah Chorus” can cause our eyes to fill with tears, our hearts to swell, and our spirits to lift.
The tunes, the instruments and the words convey to us the joy of Easter.
So, too, however, do “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee” and “Easter People, Raise Your Voices” and “The Hymn of Promise.”
Some of those stirring melodies and inspiring words will be sung on the Sunday after Easter, and even the Sunday after that. Indeed, the church designates an entire seven-week season to the wonder of exploring how things are changed now that Christ has risen.
After the stories and the songs, a third but equally compelling reason to be drawn to worship on the Sundays following Easter is for the delight of deepening of our relationships with those around us and with God.
On the day of egg hunts and family dinners, we barely have time to say a cheerful “hello” to even a portion of all the people who are coming and going from the sanctuary.
On the subsequent Sundays, longer conversations can begin to unfold. Names can be learned. Friendships can be formed. Opportunities for learning and sharing in the work of the church can be discovered. Through the gift of being part of a community of faith over time, our awareness of God’s grace can take root and blossom.
To borrow and adjust an image from the song, “Morning Has Broken,” Easter grows in completeness as the days pass.