A sermon, based on Luke 24.36b-48, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 3rd Sunday of Easter, April 15, 2018
Easter Day has come and gone. Again. Great moments, being moments, don’t last. They come and go.
Sometimes life is that simple. We anticipate a great moment, joyfully greet its arrival, gently or not so gently feel letdown at its passing and, inevitably, return to life as it was…life as it is.
What is not simple is that great moments bring together, sometimes in cautious embrace, sometimes in painful collision, our highest hopes that something, that we will be different, changed for the better and our deepest fears that nothing changes, that all will be as it always has been, that we will be as we always have been.
Years of Easter Days teach us not to be too optimistic. Perhaps the best we can expect is a momentary rush, a transient thrill, then a return to the norm.
Or is it? Is that all there is?
The disciples’ reactions to Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances are a pathway for us to move on from yesterday and today toward tomorrow. As Jesus called them, saying, “Follow me,” they call, saying, “Follow us.”
Last Sunday, we looked at Thomas and his journey from doubt to deeper faith.(1) This Sunday, another vignette from that evening of the first Easter Day.
The disciples are gathered together, reminiscing about their life with Jesus, grieving his death, wondering about what to do next. Earlier, Mary Magdalene had told them that the tomb where Jesus was buried was empty and that angels proclaimed Jesus had been raised from the dead. They dismissed her report as nonsense.(2) A moment ago, two other disciples burst into the room, having come to Jerusalem from Emmaus seven miles away in the middle of the night, exclaiming, “The Lord has risen, indeed!”(3) Suddenly Jesus appears.
The disciples hardly relieved, much less thrilled, are “startled and terrified,” thinking they see a ghost; a bodiless, bloodless specter, the product of their overworked imaginations and overwrought emotions. Jesus offers visual, physical proof: “See me. Touch me.” The disciples, though joyful, still doubt. Jesus renders final proof: “Got food?” They give him a piece of fish, which he eats, which convinces them of his identity and reality. He is not an apparition, but flesh and blood! He who had died is risen!
Then Jesus teaches them,(4) interpreting the words he preached and prophesied during his ministry in the light of the scriptures. Then he calls them to witness to others about his death and resurrection and the power of repentance and forgiveness.
In all this, I behold a faithful path for moving on from yesterday and today toward tomorrow.
Foremost, being honest about who and where we are. The disciples didn’t deny their fear and confusion. Terror and disbelief are difficult, nay, impossible to conceal. Nevertheless, we humans often practice the art of deception, donning and hiding behind masks, concealing our distress, our dis-ease. Not these disciples.
And they remained in that room, refusing to surrender to that native human impulse, in the face of fear and skepticism, to take flight.(5)
Jesus then offered proof, which they, at first, though joyful, still doubtful, couldn’t accept fully.
In all of this, I seek to share with you what I have come to believe…to know for myself. To wit, when I look at my life, truly, at me, I think of my hunger to be loved that embraces my greatest hope that I will be loved and my deepest fear that I won’t be, can’t be loved given who I believe and know myself to be behind the mask. And I recall moments when I have been shown love. Moments when it was proven to me that I am loved. Moments when the worst of me was acknowledged, challenged, accepted, and forgiven. Nevertheless, how often I questioned those “proofs” only to be offered yet another demonstration of love until, finally, I was convinced (at least, for that moment!). And every time I am convinced, I hear an inherent call to witness to the world…to you what I have come to believe.
And this, that I believe…that I know that I am loved by God – and, by God, through the love of others – is the reason why and how I can and do witness to you, in word and deed, that I love you! For I freely, fully, faithfully give to you what I have been given!
Strikingly, the Greek word martus, which we translate “witness”, also produces the word “martyr”. As Jesus, so for us. Dying-to-self is required for resurrection. Therefore, this cycle of dying-and-rising in cross-bearing, self-denying, life-losing living for the sake of others, which is at the heart, no, is the heart of Easter, is the chiefest path for moving on.
(1) John 20.19-31
(2) Luke 24.8-11
(3) Luke 24.33-34
(4) This, that Jesus teaches, can teach his disciples following their restoration of belief in him, I think, illumines a truth about belief as a pathway toward deeper, greater revelation. This is true, I also think, whether the subject is God or anyone and anything else. Belief and, thus, trust in someone or something can heighten our relationship with that other person or thing, opening us to a new level of awareness.
(5) Here, I am reminded of Pontius Pilate, who, at the end of his poignant conversation with Jesus prior to condemning him to death, after asking that question pregnant with possibility, “What is truth?”, immediately walked out of (fled!) the room neither wanting nor waiting for a reply (John 18.38).
Illustration: Jesus appears to his disciples, James Tissot (1836-1902). Note: Tissot – in depicting the postures of the disciples, cowering, their bodies bent low, their heads turned, peering up at Jesus, others, behind, gazing on through parted curtains, their faces frozen in shock – captures the their “startled and terrified” reaction to Jesus’ appearance.