Third Sunday of Easter, Luke 24:36b-48
Therefore we proclaim the mystery of faith: Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ is apparently hungry.
The disciples were huddled behind closed, locked doors, frightened, hiding. Crucifixion is a horrible, horrible way to die, and the Romans were not shy about crucifying friends of friends of enemies of the state, by the thousands if it made their point. So Jesus’s followers hid, terrified, mourning the death of their leader, grieving the loss of their dreams.
They had heard rumors, though; rumors that he was back. Friends had just come back from the road to Emmaus telling them a fantastic tale of actually meeting and eating with Jesus. So they discussed that, and the stories of Mary Magdelene and the other women, who discovered his body missing. As they discussed these things, a hard little seed of well-guarded hope began to quicken deep in their hearts.
And then he was standing there. Right there. A terrifying apparition. Except this particular terrifying apparition looked and spoke exactly like their beloved, lamented master. An ethereal ghost. Except that ghosts don’t say comforting things like “Peace be with you”. A phantom. Except that phantoms don’t know the doubts deep in your heart, and phantoms most certainly don’t ask what’s for dinner.
Jesus stood among them. Murdered but not dead. Beyond the grave, yet flesh and bone. Accepting them exactly as they were, frightened and a touch obtuse, yet gently encouraging them to open their hearts and minds and understand.
There are hundreds, probably thousands of pages of analyses of the events of that day. The age of science makes Jesus’ appearance even further beyond belief today than it must have seemed to the disciples. If we could travel back and examine the flesh that Jesus so calmly offered for inspection, would it really share the precise cellular structure of our own? We cannot travel back, of course, and the factual details are lost to history. I would suggest (may the early church fathers forgive me) that it just doesn’t matter. I do not mean to suggest that the resurrection didn’t happen or that it doesn’t matter – as surely as you and I gather together to worship this morning, it did happen and it does matter. I mean that the physics and biology of it is, well, irrelevant. Even Albert Einstein said, “It would be possible to describe everything scientifically, but it would make no sense; it would be without meaning, as if you described a Beethoven symphony as a variation of wave pressure.”
The disciples‘ experience was authentic, sacred and transformative. The Son of God stood before them, having defeated death, owning his humanity, his suffering, the world’s suffering. The disciples were transformed by his presence, his reality. He nourished them by his true presence just as surely as they shared their meal with him.
Jesus shares himself with us still as we journey on. As St. Theresa of Avilla said, “The feeling remains that God is on the journey, too.” Christ commissions us, just as he commissioned the disciples….
You are the witnesses of these things.
Witness? Really, witness? We’ve all experienced religious “witness” that conveys moral superiority and disdainful condescension more than joyful proclamation of selfless love, compassion and life transformation.
Witness! I’m Episcopalian, you may be thinking. I don’t exhort. I don’t proclaim. I don’t sit in the front pews, and I don’t so much as whisper a prayer in public without a prayer book in my hand. Not to worry. Although witness is by its nature courageous, it need not be dramatic. To paraphrase Henri Nouwen, “Ministry”, or in this case witness, “means the ongoing attempt to put one’s own search for God, with all the moments of pain and joy, despair and hope, at the disposal of those who want to join this search but do not know how.” Witness is sharing with the world our relationship with the risen Christ as our lives are transformed in His hunger – his hunger for love, for justice, for peace.
Today is Earth Day. A day to remember that we share this fragile earth, our island home, not only with our human brothers and sisters, but with all of God’s creation.
Hear what our House of Bishops had to say about our own repentance and witness in their pastoral teaching (A Pastoral Teaching from the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church; Quito, Ecuador, September 2011) “Our current environmental challenges call us to ongoing forms of repentance: we must turn ourselves around, and come to think, feel, and act in new ways…The practice of Christ-centered mindfulness, that is, the habitual recollection of Christ, calls believers to a deepened awareness of the presence of God in their own lives, in other people, and in every aspect of the world around us. Such spiritual perception should make faithful people alert to the harmful effects of our lifestyles, attentive to our carbon footprint (ii) and to the dangers of overconsumption. It should make us profoundly aware of the gift of life and less prone to be ecologically irresponsible in our consumption and acquisition….This is the appointed time for all God’s children to work for the common goal of renewing the earth as a hospitable abode for the flourishing of all life. We are called to speak and act on behalf of God’s good creation.”
You are the witnesses of these things.
Bishop Spong posits that we cannot know God, we can only experience God. The disciples experienced God in that upper room. We experience God in Jesus, in the Eucharist, in prayer, in community…and in creation. We are joined, physically and spiritually with all of God’s creation. It is the source of our water, our food, our shelter, the very air we breathe. Care for the earth in all its vulnerability is a witness for justice, for peace, for love and for life. Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote passionately, “Love all God’s creation, the whole of it and every grain of sand. Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light! Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will comprehend it ceaselessly, more and more every day. And you will at last come to love the whole world with an abiding, universal love.” Abiding, universal love – this is the gift Christ revealed behind closed doors so many centuries ago.
Cherish the joy as you love and serve Christ in all creation. Embrace your doubts and your wonderment. God knows them and they will inform your journey. Live your witness as a child of the resurrection.
Alleluia, Christ is risen. (The Lord is risen indeed, alleluia.) Thanks be to God.