Homily for the Third Sunday of Easter
It is Easter though the Eleven disciples and the other followers close to them didn’t know what to make of it. The remained huddled together, confused by what TV newscasters label “fragmentary reports.” They listened to report of Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James along with some other women about their discovery at the tomb and their encounter with those “two men in dazzling clothes.” But it was easy for the Eleven to dismiss their reports as “idle tales,” unbelievable. One other report from outside their hiding place was more believable though. After all, it was from Peter and was to be believed. But what it meant, what it consequences were, all these issues were still beyond them. So they remained entombed, still hiding from the world and its very real threats. Finally, from another source comes an even more astounding report—that of Cleopas and his companion. This was no further news of that empty tomb. No, the Easter proclamation was announced to them, things about what had happened along the road to Emmaus and how the risen Lord had been made know to them in the breaking of the bread. Still, all of these together constituted a collection of fragmentary reports from the margins,…out there.” But that was all about to change “in here.”
Their chattering conversation suddenly was brought to silence as Jesus stands in their midst. It is he who will be speaking now. In fact, this may be the longest period of time when the disciples don’t have a word to say, when they are now put in the unusual role of “listeners.” Of course, those who are disciples are supposed to listen, but we tend to imitate the disciples more typical activity of talking rather than listening. So the disciples are put in their proper role of being listeners and the first words of their risen Lord are these: “Peace be with you.” After hearing those fragmentary reports about Jesus, they now hear from him, they hear him announce “peace.” Here we are on familiar ground. Each Lord’s Day, and whenever we break bread, we hear these first words of our risen Lord; they are embedded in our liturgy. “The Peace of the Lord be with you always,” we hear, responding, “And with your spirit.” For some congregations, the Peace is a fellowshippy time of sharing happy news how we’re doing and warmly welcoming strangers. All well and good for the social time after the Eucharist, maybe as we munch on cookies and sip coffee. But this greeting locates us as a people. We are Christ’s own, won for him in his suffering, death, and resurrection. To hear and share this peace is to come to know that we are in the presence, the Real Presence of the risen Christ. Of course, the intent is that having discovered ourselves in the presence of our Lord, we will remember this greeting and blessing in every time of trouble. When we are lonely and anxious, these words of the risen One are a “balm in Gilead.” When we confront illness and even death, we draw these words from the depth of our souls, “Peace be with you,” Jesus declares. And when the world’s disinterest and even hostility afflict the community of faith once more—just as was the case even on Easter Day, our Lord’s words speak peace to us. This declaration is sacramental; it does what it proclaims. So Christ suddenly appears to the Eleven and the others and they fall silent. The silence is broken by Jesus’ announcement, “Peace by with you.”
Jesus continues to speak. He is the only one whose words are heard. He asks as to the underlying troubles that need the peace that he brings. “Why are you troubled?,” he asks. Well the answer to that question is obvious at a surface level—they have had everything to be troubled about, now including this disruption of “life as they know it.” So Jesus follows with another question. He asks, why do doubts arise in your hearts?” Now some translations have the word “”questions” rather than “doubts.” But St. Luke is very deliberate here. He relates to us that Jesus discerns that deep in their hearts, these followers of his have some doubts, not just questions. Interesting, when you think about it. Far away from the living Lord, self-distanced from the sacraments and life together within the community of faith, there are some who are quite ready to bring their questions about all this Christianity business. Just check out the discussion forum following a news article on Pope Francis on the web. Some comments will respond with warm words of appreciation and even joy. But our culture of disbelief answers with accusatory words hurled like stones. The have lots of questions, but little or no doubt. Their minds are made up, closed off from real doubts. On the other hand, the Scriptures are honest to God about our experience of faith. Entering more fully into the mystery of God-with-us, with the disciples, we discover doubt in the tumble of our thoughts and feelings. And we learn a deep truth about our faith—we have become so accustomed to the bad news outcomes that when we are surprised by grace, we doubt. Those Eleven disciples would not have doubted if the women returned are reported, “Well, we have completed the work we set out to do at the tomb.” No doubt at all. The world is just like that a lot of the time,…disappointment, hope smashed, losses pile up. But when this incredible good news is right before us, here present to us, the world has taught us to doubt such a thing. Surprised by grace? We doubt. And we join so many other biblical people whose response to the coming of the Lord includes that of doubt. Jesus discerns our deeply held doubt and asks us about it. “Why do doubts arise in your hearts?” We wonder too about these thoughts of our hearts.
Jesus now continues his address to the Eleven and the others. But this time, it is a “show and tell.” “Touch me and see,.” he says. Ghosts don’t have flesh and bones. And Jesus shows them his hands and his feet. This is not a “spiritual” apparition before them, but the risen Lord, his wounds still visible on his resurrected body. Of course, there is an allure to the “spiritual,” the un-body world. A group of card readers, purveyors of crystals, and higher consciousness advocates are touring various civic centers through the U.S. just now. But the risen Christ does not come to us as a ghost. “Touch me and see,” he says. We see the Lord, still carrying the wounds of our rebellion and sin. There is a recurring image of Jesus that is used by bloggers on the internet. Jesus is standing before the disciples and they look at him with wonderment. His hand is raised, showing the marks of his crucifixion. Some blogs use the icon to depict Jesus teaching during his ministry. For others, this narrative from Luke is the title of the icon. But it is both, really. He comes to us, announces “Peace,” and shows us his hands and his feet. He comes to us still, and proclaims, “This is my body, broken for you.”
With the disciples still overwhelmed by these mixed emotions—they remain disbelieving from joy”—Jesus moves on to a further demonstration of his risen life among them. “Have you anything to eat?”, Jesus asks. In response they continue to say not a word. But they give him a piece of roasted fish. (Makes you think it possible that Jesus has interrupted the disciples while they were having a meal.) He takes the fish and eats it before them. Yes, certainly this is a sign of the physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus. St. Luke is clear about this glorious reality. But note the deeper resonances of this scene. Hasn’t Jesus taught us that if we follow him, we are to care for the poor and those who hunger? Aren’t such hungering ones “blessed”? So maybe that means that if we are ready to offer our risen Lord something to eat, and would do so cheerfully and immediately, are we not also to turn to the poor and the hungry around us and share our meal with them? I don’t know, but St. Luke keeps the blessed poor before us and will not let us get too “spiritual” that we forget them. But there is another resonance here too. Jesus asks us for something to eat and we respond with what we have. But this is Easter Day, this scene, and already Cleopas and his companion have become the guests at table with their Lord who takes bread, blesses and breaks it and feeds them there in Emmaus. And all of this now illuminating our Holy Meal this Lord’s Day ((or “Lord’s Day Eve”). Who is hungry and who is fed at this banquet? What do we offer to be blessed at the altar? What do we give to the hungry and the poor? And what about our doubt that such grace abounds, for us and for the world? Lots of “questions.” But we do know this. We are fed with the body and blood of our risen Lord. His presence blesses us with forgiveness and healing and peace. So rejoice, people of God. Christ is risen, he has appeared to Simon, to the Eleven and the others. And this day (evening) the Lord appears to us. Hallelujah.