The Morning After

Do you know that feeling you get when something big, something wonderful, something long anticipated is now just… over? It’s a feeling we’ve all had at some point in our lives. When we’re children, it’s the feeling of waking up on the morning of December 26, or of shuffling to the car to head home after the trip to the shore or to Disney World. When we’re older, it’s the feeling of waking up to a kitchen full of dishes after a long-prepared-for 60th birthday party, or walking into an empty house after your daughter and her new wife have gone off for their honeymoon, or, oh, I don’t know, coming back to work after a fabulous post-Easter vacation to Amsterdam, Bruges, and London. You know that feeling – that slightly disembodied, sag in the stomach, oh-so-tired feeling that wraps around you like a heavy blanket. Well, that fun is over, we sigh to ourselves. So what do we do now?

It seems that perhaps the disciples know this feeling, too. For them, Easter morning has come and gone, and the unthinkable, the impossible, the mysteriously, miraculously wonderful had actually happened. They had seen an empty tomb, heard Mary tell of a garden encounter with a man who knew her and called her by her name, and then, then, they had actually seen Jesus standing in the middle of a locked room. They had seen him and he had spoken to them, breathed the breath of the Holy Spirit on them…and then he had come back, spoken words of peace to them once again, showed his hands and his side to poor Thomas. He had come back and done “many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book,” as John the evangelist tells us. Jesus was alive, and he was around; he just kept showing up, performing miracles, speaking words of peace and promise. And his disciples must have been giddy, breathless, as excited as Christmas morning and Disney World and a London vacation all rolled into one.

But now, suddenly, it feels a lot like the morning after. Jesus seems to be gone again. The disciples are alone, gathered around the Sea of Tiberius, just looking at each other. Well, I guess that fun is over, one of them says, sighing. What do we do now? Peter looks out to sea and takes a long, heavy breath. He shrugs. I am going fishing. The others scratch their beards and nod slowly. Okay, they say finally. We will go with you. And they all shuffle over to their long-abandoned boat, feeling that slightly disembodied, sag in the stomach, what-are-we-doing-here feeling, a feeling that doesn’t really go away once they’ve pushed out to sea and lowered their nets. They sit, all night, in the silence, in the dark. Their nets hang down into the inky water, limp and empty. There are no fish and no words, really, nothing to do but just sit there, wrapped in that heavy blanket of morning-after, let-down, all-the-fun-is-surely-over feeling. Huh. What do we do now? And in the darkness and the fog, it’s hard for them to even begin to imagine an answer to that question.  

Thankfully, they don’t have to try to imagine for very long. Because once the sun comes up, there is their answer standing on the shore. There is Jesus, again, calling to them from the beach, telling them, his beloved children, exactly what to do now – cast your net on the other side of the boat, bring me some fish, come and have breakfast, feed my lambs, follow me. Just when they thought that he was gone again, and maybe gone this time for good, Jesus shows up one more time, and in his presence that heavy morning-after feeling is gone just as quickly as it came. And as the disciples stand there with sand between their toes munching on smoky bread and crispy fish, they begin to realize what Jesus is telling them: that morning-after feeling never has to come back. Jesus is inviting them into a way of life where there are no morning-afters, where there is always preaching to do, sheep to feed, a church to build, because there is always a risen Lord to follow. He is inviting them to imagine awaking each morning in happy expectation of something big, something wonderful, something long anticipated to do now, in Jesus’ holy name. No more morning afters. Only mornings before.

Because, you see, there are actually no morning-afters when it comes to faith. The truth and the beauty and the joy of the Gospel that we proclaim is never just…over. It can certainly feel like it sometimes. It feels a little bit like it this morning, in fact. After all, Easter was two weeks ago, the timpani and the trumpets are long gone, the scent of lilies has long ago faded from the air. Easter Day is well and truly over, and it’s easy to feel that kind of morning-after fog, to stare blankly at our dark, empty nets and wonder what we are supposed to do now – here, in the church, here in our hearts. But this morning, Christ is inviting you into a way of life where there are no morning-afters, where the resurrection is not something that happened once upon a time in a land far, far away, where we do not proclaim that Christ was risen but that Christ is risen, that Christ does show up to tell us what to do now.  

Sometimes Christ shows up in our lives to tell us to change something we are doing that isn’t very helpful to us or to our neighbors or to the world. Cast your nets on the other side, Christ says; trust me, do this, make this change and see the abundance of wonders I have in store for you. Sometimes Christ shows up to feed us, in the daily offering of his body and blood, in the spiritual nourishment we find in our prayer or in our service in his name. Sometimes Christ shows up to call us to task, to help us to confess the ways that we have betrayed or ignored him, the ways that we have denied his presence in our lives with or without the telling cock’s crow. Do you love me? he asks, so that we can know – really know – how deeply and how infinitely we are forgiven. And sometimes Christ shows up to call us to act – to feed his sheep, to care for his lambs, to perform our own signs and wonders in the world.

Christ shows up in a thousand little ways – when we’re looking for him and when we’re not, when we’re bright with enthusiasm and hen we’re wrapped in a thick morning-after blanket, when we’re confident about our futures and when we’re stumbling about looking for a boat to go fishing. Christ shows up in unexpected places and in unexpected ways to help us see what to do now, to help us see this as the morning before, the dawn of something new and challenging and wonderful in our lives.

And this assurance of Christ’s presence can sustain us through all of the other morning-afters of life – and not just the little ones, like after the vacation, or after the birthday or the family visit, but also the monumental, world-rocking ones, like after your mother dies, or after you lose your job, or after you discover the depth of your sister’s illness or her addiction. Because in all of these morning-afters, Christ shows up, again and again. Christ’s constant presence assures you that there is always more to come, even on those mornings when you find yourself heaving that deep sigh and experiencing that slightly disembodied, sag in the stomach, heavy blanket feeling, when you find yourself raising your eyes to the heavens and asking, “What do I do now?”

What do you do now? Look to the shoreline. Not so far away, really, only just there on the horizon. Find that familiar figure who stands before you, who encourages you to try casting your eyes and your hopes on the other side, on his side. Listen to him as he calls you to his table to eat, as he calls you to repentance so that he can offer the forgiveness you seek, as he charges you with the charge of divine love – feed my sheep. Follow me. Follow me and see that something big, something wonderful, something long anticipated – something holy, something eternal, something intimate, something transformative and wondrous and full of joy comes in the morning. For Christ is risen, and there is something, someone, to look forward to, and something for us to do now, here, on this great Easter morning before.

Posted on April 18, 2013 .