What is the New Normal?
The scriptures after Easter can be baffling. Post Easter stories seem to conflict. Some recognize Jesus and others do not; some are told to do something and others are not; some receive the breath of the Holy Spirit before Pentecost and others do not.
With the conflicting stories, I am baffled and began to wonder…what is the new normal?
In John 20, we learned Mary Magdalene arrived early on the third day and went to see Jesus, but he wasn’t there. She ran to Simon Peter and another disciple and said the Lord was taken away. They all returned to see that indeed Jesus was gone. The disciples departed, but Mary stayed and wept. Two angels then suddenly appear and ask her why she is weeping. She looks up again to see Jesus, who tells her not to touch him because he has not yet ascended to God. She is then told to "go tell my brethren that I am ascending unto my Father, and your Father, and to my God and your God."
Later in John 20, Jesus appears to the disciples, where he shows them his hands and side and says, "Peace be with you," and then He breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any; they have been retained."
This is also the chapter that talks about "Doubting Thomas." The story continues with Jesus appearing at the Sea of Galilee to Simon Peter, Thomas, and Nathanael (sons of Zebedee) and two other disciples. They decide to go fishing and are catching nothing. When day was about to break, Jesus stood on the beach and they didn’t know him. But as soon as they cast their lines on the other side of the boat (as Jesus suggested), they hauled in fish and Simon Peter said, "It is the Lord." They share a meal and talk and Jesus says to Peter, "Follow Me!"
In Luke there is the story about two disciples traveling on the road to Emmaus who didn’t recognize Jesus because God miraculously prevented them from recognizing them. Jesus then appeared, surprising the disciples, especially when he ate with them. He talks with them opening their minds to the meanings of the scriptures that the "Christ would suffer, and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations… they were witnesses of these things." They are then told to say in the city until they are clothed with power from on high.
And in Matthew 28:9, 17 we hear a different story:
After the Sabbath, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look after the grave when a severe earthquake occurred. An angel descended from Heaven and rolled away the stone. The angel’s appearance was like lightning and clothing as white as snow caused the guards to shake with fear. The angel says to them, "Do not be afraid; for I know you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified. He is not here for he has risen…Come see where he was lying."
The angel then tells the women to "Go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead; and behold, He is going ahead of you into Galilee where you will see him." But before they left, Jesus met them and greeted them, and they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him.
Again, at the beginning in Matthew 28, in verse 16, the disciples proceed to Galilee to the place Jesus designated. When they see him, they worshiped him, but some were doubtful.
We receive The Great Commission in verses 18-20:
"And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying “all authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo; I am with you always, even to the end of the age."
If you’re confused, I can certainly understand why. Even though Jesus brought Lazarus back to life, who could truly and honestly believe Jesus’ words? That he would rise again on the third day and come back in flesh and bone? With scars in his hands, feet, and side, and able to share a meal as he had before the crucifixion? Who could possibly rise again from that horrendous death which left a mangled, bruised, and swollen body hanging on a tree? How could that be possible? And if that’s not enough to be confusing, there are all the different accounts of Jesus’ appearance after his resurrection.
With all the varied accounts, and with all the confusion of what was happening at the time, I am sure early Christians were left wondering what the real story was.
I’m sure in all the confusion they were still fearing their own deaths. And I’m sure they didn’t have a clue of what the new normal was going to be. How could they go back to what they knew before… after they had met Jesus face-to-face?
Fortunately for us, in Acts (the Gospel of Luke is really two-parts, with Acts the second in this series), all of these seemingly conflicting occurrences are summarized into a tidy sentence…that "Jesus presented himself alive by many convincing proofs during the 40 days after his suffering."
Now, that’s certainly one way to sum up conflicting stories. Simplicity at its best!
So let’s take a look at what the varied stories might suggest. Everything that happened after Jesus died and rose again reinforced what he taught before he died. It all lead up to Jesus’ final ascension 40 days after his death and to Pentecost, 50 days after his death.
While the stories conflicted, with some early Christians recognizing Jesus and others not, with some doubting and others not, with some told to do something and others told to wait, it really gets down to the same basic messages Jesus talked about and demonstrated before his death.
So what’s the New Normal?
- Tell the good news! Jesus was raised from the dead. He ascended to His Father and our Father and to His God and Our God!
- It’s okay to doubt. It happened to those who knew Jesus personally, and it happens to us now. Sometimes he doesn’t seem to be around us, but he is. Just believe. And because you believe in Jesus, even though you have not seen him, you are blessed!
- Receive the Holy Spirit who works through us and with us.
- Have fellowship with one another, sharing meals and talking. (I guess if we were literal here…we could say go fishing!) Enjoy the company of each other, knowing that Jesus is with you. It’s not always about preaching and teaching; there’s much to gain in just sharing time together and enjoying each other’s company.
- We may not always recognize Jesus in our midst. He came to those walking to Emmaus and he comes still to us. Recognize him. You will know him by the words, by the deeds, by the love. He comes in many forms. He comes through us to minister to each other.
- Sometimes the answers do not come immediately. We have to wait, pray, ponder, and consider what Jesus says to us. Stay tuned for these moments. Sometimes they come as a “spark”…an insight. Remember Jesus is with us until the ends of the age.
- Do not be afraid when the unimaginable happens. Though we cannot see Jesus, his power, presence and light are here. Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth, and he empowers us to be the light in the world ‒ the tomb can never be dark again.
- Baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
- Teach each other!
I cannot imagine what it was like to see Jesus again, to hear him, touch him, and enjoy his company. But the time on earth was to be short with a promise to return again. In the meantime, Jesus left us with the Holy Spirit to fill us with the presence of God, with joy, with faith, with hope, and with love.
What’s your "new normal" during the post-Easter time? Are you still waiting?
May your days be filled with joy, love, and the peace of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!