Sermon; Easter 3B; Luke 24:36b-48
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Today's gospel story may sound familiar to you. In Luke's context this takes place on the evening of Easter Day. At early dawn the women went to the tomb. Later that day two disciples were on the road to Emmaus. That evening those same two disciples saw Jesus take, bless, break, and give them bread, and they ran back to Jerusalem and told the eleven what had happened. And now while they were talking about these things, Jesus appears among them.
The familiarity of this passage comes from Jesus standing among the disciples and saying, “Peace be with you.” It comes from him showing them his hands and feet. It comes from the doubting. And it comes from him sharing food with them. It may seem as if Luke freely borrowed from other sources to give us this resurrection story. Or maybe they borrowed from him. It doesn't matter.
It doesn't matter because the source material isn't important. What's important and what matters is the story. And the story is that Christ has dies, Christ is risen.
This is a story about an encounter with the risen Christ. This is, in Luke's context, one of three encounters with Christ on Easter Day. It is this final story that sums up all the other stories. Jesus appears, people are scared, people doubt, he shows his wounds, he shares a meal. Not only does this story sum up all other resurrection stories, but I think it sums up people today in general.
Last week I said that we were the disciples in that gospel story. As the Father sent the Son, the Son sends the disciples. As the disciples are sent, so are we sent. As the disciples were Christ's representatives, so we are now Christ's representatives.
This is where the gospel story intersects with today.
Jesus came and stood among them and they were startled and terrified. This isn't too different from today. If we are with a group of people – on the golf course, at a restaurant, in a bar, wherever – and we stand up and announce, “Peace be with you. I want to tell you all about Christ,” I'm guessing the people in that group might be startled and terrified. This is probably not the way to evangelize. This is probably not the way to emulate Jesus.
But then Jesus does something that we might want to emulate. He points to himself. He shows them his hands and his feet. He lets them know that he is just like them. He lets them know he has been wounded and scarred just like them. In our encounter with people around the issue of religion, church, and faith, one of the things we can do is let them know that we are not perfect. We also have our own troubles, our own wounds, our own holes, our own scars. We are just like them – the issues may be different, but we are all broken and we are all healing.
Following this bit of show and tell Jesus then asks for a piece of fish. In the gospel story this is to show that this person is substantially Jesus and not a ghost. It's to show he is not a figment of their imagination. It's to show he's real.
I think what we can take from this is that meaningful encounters are not always some mystical, spiritual event, but that meaningful encounters with Christ can take place in the every day occurrences of physical contact, a meal, and a conversation. And although we'd like to have our meaningful, spiritual encounters be mystical mountain top experiences (I remember having one of those while sitting in the seminary chapel), maybe the more common place is through personal encounters while comparing our scars and sharing a meal.
This past Thursday I was in Baltimore for my final Fresh Start gathering, and both Bp. Sutton and Bp. Chilton were with us. The topic of spiritual direction came up and where clergy could find resources for that. Bp. Sutton said something to the effect that spiritual direction may no longer be the traditional one-on-one model, but that it may take place over the course of years from time spent at a retreat center, talking and eating with the monks or nuns.
This past Wednesday I had an encounter with a man at the bar. As I was finishing my beer, he approached me and started talking about his cousin who recently had a massive heart attack that will leave him in long-term assisted living. He's 51. The man also talked about other family members with critical health issues. But the real problem was that he was feeling guilty about not visiting his cousin before the incident. Never mind that the cousin never took his heart medication. Never mind that he drank too much. The guilt of not visiting left a hole in his chest he was trying to heal. So we talked.
All I can do is hope it helped. All I can do is hope I gave him a glimpse of the wounded and resurrected Christ. All I can do is hope this personal encounter gave him hope and a beginning of healing.
When we search for an encounter with Christ it doesn't have to be a magnificent mountain top experience; it can be as mundane and meaningful as a one-on-one encounter. When we say, “Alleluia. Christ is risen,” it doesn't have to be in a manner that startles and terrifies people.
As the Father sent the Son, the Son sent the disciples. As the disciples were sent, so you are sent. But remember this, you are not sent to terrify people. You are sent to meet people where they are and allow the risen Christ to touch them through the mundane and normal acts of everyday life.