by the Rev. Laura Thornton
Our gospel today begins with a startling appearance by Jesus. During the fifty days of Easter, we hear accounts of Jesus appearing to followers, and their realizations that he was with them again. First it was the women at the tomb, last week it was the disciples and Thomas who missed the first visit, and this week we hear Luke’s account of Jesus standing among the disciples, saying Peace be with you.
Luke is also the one who tells the story of the friends on the road to Emmaus. They are walking along when a stranger joins them. They spend the journey talking about all the things they had seen and heard of Jesus of Nazareth. And when they arrive at evening, they asked this stranger to stay and eat with them. When he broke the bread and blessed it, their eyes were open and they recognized him.
The friends hurried back to Jerusalem to find the disciples and their companions gathered together, no doubt hiding from the authorities who might know them as followers of Jesus. These two who had just spent the day with Jesus, must have been excited and confused. They were telling the others all that had happened and how they knew him in the breaking of the bread. And while they were talking, Jesus himself stood among them.
Our understanding of resurrection comes from these accounts of Jesus appearing to his friends and followers. When we share the gospel we rely on these eyewitness accounts from people who say, “we saw him”, “he spoke to me”, we knew him when he broke the bread”
Jesus had died on the cross, was buried, and then the tomb was empty. Somehow, Jesus was with them again. With them in ways they could see and touch and also ways they could not explain-
Now, I am hesitate to admit, but I do not have a clear grasp of resurrection. In fact, I’m sure I have more disbelief than anything else. And that is why I love this account of Jesus coming to the disciples.
He sees immediately that they are terrified, like they had seen a ghost. And Jesus, their friend, assures them that he is no ghost. ‘look at my hands and feet, touch me, I have flesh and bone’
Listen to the next line- ‘And while in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering’
They were glad to see Jesus, joyful to have their friend standing with them again. AND, they were disbelieving and still wondering.
That’s the part I love, the part I understand and connect with, the disbelieving and wondering. What is going on??? How can this be possible???
We enter these stories in the Easter season to imagine what it must have been like for the followers of Jesus. We try to experience that mix of joy, disbelief and wonder.
In our Godly Play curriculum there are Faces of Easter, stories of Jesus from birth to death to resurrection, that we tell leading up to Easter. Each story has a beautiful plague with a picture of Jesus at various points in his life, birth, childhood, baptism. The last story in this series has a picture of the crucified Jesus on one side and on the other side, a picture of Jesus holding the bread and wine.
We say that ‘Jesus died on the cross, but somehow he was still with them as he is with us, especially in the bread and wine. When you look at one picture, the crucifixion, you know that the other side is there. When you look at this side, the bread and wine, you know the other side is still there. You cannot pull them apart. It is sad and it is also joyful. That is the mystery of Easter and that makes all the difference.
The disciples were living this story, they were holding their sadness, their fear, their joy, their disbelief, their wonder all at once. All together in the midst of Jesus standing there with them. Somehow he was with them as he is with us especially in the bread and wine. That is why in the Episcopal church we celebrate the Eucharist every Sunday. And even while we have been apart, we enter the story every week. Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. Take and eat, this is for you. We are living in this story of joy, disbelief and wonder.
Gretchen Wolff Pritchard, author and Christian educator has a beautiful book called, Offering the Gospel to Children, where she describes some of the complexity of the Easter story.
Jesus’ friends see him again, but they do not recognize him as he was. His presence is mysterious, ghostly. They are not sure if he is really alive, not sure if things will go back to the way they were before. Pritchard says, ”The clock has not turned back. Rather they (and we) are pushed forward, with dizzying suddenness onto a whole new road: we are to follow our Master who has passed through the grave and death into the new life of the kingdom, and who asks us to join him in offering that life to everyone -whether or not they ever knew and loved him as he was before.”
In Luke’s gospel today, Jesus moves quickly. There is no going back, no turning back time. Jesus moves from understanding their fear, and reassuring them, right into “Do you have anything to eat?” They give him some fish. And then he moves to teaching once more. ‘He opened their minds to understand the scriptures.’
Now we know that Jesus has been trying to help them understand things that were going to happen, but it was not always easy to understand what he was talking about. So here he is once again, saying to the disciples:
‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.‘
That is the whole new road we are on. That road of new life where we follow not just Jesus who was a friend and a teacher, but a new Jesus who is Christ and Divine Love. Just like the disciples, we are sent out to help others see resurrection in their own lives through changed hearts and minds (repentance) and through God’s mercy (forgiveness of sins).
The road where our belief feels more like astonishment. That is the road we are on. Where God calls us to be witnesses of God’s love even in the midst of our joy, our disbelief and our wonder.