“See What Love” – Sermon for April 19, 2015

Categories: Sermons

"Christ Appears to the Disciples at the Table after the Resurrection", Panel from the Maesta Altarpiece of Siena, by Duccio di Buoninsegna, 1308-1311

“Christ Appears to the Disciples at the Table after the Resurrection”, Panel from the Maesta Altarpiece of Siena, by Duccio di Buoninsegna, 1308-1311

“See What Love”

A Sermon on Luke 24:36b-48 for the 3rd Sunday of Easter, Year B; preached April 19, 2015, by the Rev. Matthew Emery, Senior Minister

 

My partner Adam—who, as many of you know, is himself a clergyperson—tells a wonderful story from while he was in seminary and interning at an Episcopal church close to his apartment. One of the things he did while interning at that parish was work with the kindergarten-to-2nd-grade faith formation class, usually taking the role of the “storyteller”. In the particular curriculum they were using, the storyteller would engagingly tell the story of the day, and then the kids would have a period of work time with a variety of different independent activities, in an almost Montessori-like environment.

One Sunday, after Adam had told the day’s story, the kids started their work time and he sat quietly to one side of the classroom observing. While he was sitting there, one of the students, Emma, came up to him and out of the blue asked, “Was Jesus a zombie?” He sat there and put together all of the experience and wisdom he’d collected up to that point in seminary, and formulated a well-thought response… which went something like this: “What an interesting question, Emma. What do you think?”

Emma stood there for a second, thinking to herself quietly, before replying, “No, I don’t think that he was, because zombies go like this, <zombie impression> ‘aggghhhhh,’ and Jesus didn’t do that.”

Adam says he nodded his head in agreement, because that seemed to him as good a reason as any. And with that question settled, Emma went back with the other kids to continue at her work.[1]

§

“Was Jesus a zombie?” You know, it’s not really that unreasonable of a question when you think about it. The fact of the matter is that we’ve always been a little bit unsure and tentative around just what to make of Jesus—who he was, what he was—ever since the earliest days of Christianity. Human or divine? Greatest of teachers or God’s-very-self in the flesh? Moral exemplar or sacrificial lamb? Political revolutionary or gentle shepherd-savior?  And as much as any of us Christians through the ages have asked those questions and had those uncertainties about Jesus in general, all the more so about Jesus after the resurrection. Just what was Jesus on Easter morning and after? A reanimated corpse? A ghost? A “zombie”? Simply a great idea in the disciples’ minds and a reimagined memory in their hearts?

David Lose, a contemporary teacher-of-preachers whose work I much admire, asserts this: “If you don’t have serious doubts about the Easter story, you’re not paying attention. Seriously.”[2] The fact that resurrection itself is something that simply doesn’t make sense in our humanly finite experience of the world—that only begins the conundrums. All you have to do is actually read the Easter story… or, really, all of them, as each of the four gospels tells it. The accounts differ in a lot of ways, but one of the things they all agree on is this: “no one [actually] believes the good news of Jesus’ resurrection when they first hear it.”[3]  In one telling, a group of women run away seized by terror and amazement, “sa[ying] nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”[4] In another, sobbing Mary Magdalene saw the risen Jesus, but somehow “suppos[ed] him to the gardener.”[5] And in yet another, the disciples dismiss the words of the women who went to the tomb because it “seemed to them an idle tale”[6]—which is a polite way of saying it was delirious or perhaps even a load of hooey.

With the scene in today’s scripture reading, we’ve moved ahead from when the disciples had dismissed the so-called “idle tale” of the women. At some point, Peter ran to the tomb and confirmed that it was, in fact, empty. And now, it is later in the day on that first Easter, evening or even night. Two followers of Jesus had returned to Jerusalem, having originally been on their way to Emmaus, but coming back to tell the rest of the group that they had met a man on the road who opened up the scriptures and set their hearts ablaze, a man whom they came to realize was the risen Jesus in their midst when they all shared together in the breaking of the bread.

Those two have just been telling their story, and now—now—Jesus is there. Jesus is there, with a greeting of peace, and an invitation to see him and to touch him, that they might cast off their doubts and their fears. And then, Luke tells us, “in their joy they were still disbelieving and still wondering.”[7]

So, hear that my friends… with all of that, the tale of the women, the sight of the empty tomb, the story of the two who came back from Emmaus, and now even Jesus standing in their midst… even after all of that, they still don’t believe. Perhaps just as puzzling—or just as marvelous—“they can be both joyful and disbelieving at the same time.”[8]

So, as much as any of us have questions or reservations or doubts about the Easter story, it turns out that we are certainly not the first.

Nor will we be the last, I imagine.

§

For many of us here in this congregation, this Eastertide—this Easter season in its 50-day fullness—has been coming at us with all sorts of challenges to easy certitudes and pious platitudes. This particular weekend has taken on a rich and tender note, as many of us gathered in this place yesterday to celebrate and commend to God our sister Trudy Lamb and as many of us will do so again just two days from now to do the same for our brother Duwayne Keller. That old term “pillar of the church” was coined for just such beloveds as these, not just because both of them had been here as long as they had, but because in those many years their work and witness, their faith and fortitude, has become such an integral part of this place. Just like this church building would not look the same if we took out one of those noble pillars on the front portico, this church community will simply not be the same without Trudy’s and Duwayne’s presences in our midst. And especially when such a transition comes as unexpectedly as many of us found Duwayne’s, any of us can find ourselves shaken, doubting, and sorrowful even when the calendar says it’s supposedly Easter.

Death itself, though, is not the only thing in our lives that can make the word of resurrection to seem an idle tale. The never-ending burden of chronic illness. The scourge of cancer. The tragic accidents that injure and kill. The traumas and trials of broken relationships and heartbroken souls. The bondage of addiction and the despair of loneliness. Even now, in the era after Christ was raised, the presence of these sorts of things persists in our lives. Sometimes, even, it is almost as if it seems like things are getting worse, not better. For instance, even as we think we’ve made progress in justice and acceptance and equality for people of diverse races and diverse sexual orientations, then a year like this one comes along when this very campus community here at UConn is besieged with a rash of bias related incidents—racial bias flowing in streams of paint on the infamous “rock”, anti-LGBTQ bias being voiced in vandalism of an art exhibit at the Student Union. And, of course, it’s not only been here at UConn, but on other campuses both here in eastern Connecticut and across the country.

In the face of all those realities of our human experience, the personal pains and the systemic struggles, “if you don’t have at least some difficulty believing the promise that God not only raised one person, Jesus, from the dead, but also promises new life and second chances and forgiveness and grace to all, then you’re probably not paying attention.”[9]

But you see, my friends, doubt is not the opposite of faith. Uncertainty is not the opposite of joy. Questioning is not the opposite of trust.  In fact, it’s been observed that doubt may well be an integral part of faith.

After all, faith isn’t simply believing something that you can prove isn’t true; that’s simply foolishness. And faith also isn’t believing something that you can absolutely prove to be true beyond all doubt; that’s simply what we call knowledge. As our friend David Lose observes, “Faith is more tension-filled. It is acting as if something is true even when you have no proof that it is.”[10] If you start to think about it that way, faith isn’t as much about giving intellectual assent to certain details and doctrines as though they were fact. Faith is about choosing a way of life, a path to follow amid the myriad paths of this world. It’s about forging a trust that opens from the possibilities.

In the scene we’ve heard from Luke, we’re not quite told that those disciples come to absolute certitude. Perhaps they did—maybe that’s what’s meant when Luke tells us that Jesus “opened their minds to understand the scriptures”[11] But perhaps they didn’t. Perhaps they remained with wonderings and questions and doubts.

What we are told is that Jesus called them into a new future regardless. Jesus proclaims them witnesses of the good news of God, witnesses that repentance and forgiveness is to be proclaimed to all nations, witnesses of all that God promised. And that’s how it works, you see: it’s not ultimately about them in their certitude, but about God in God’s goodness, and about the new future, the new life, the new path God calls them to because of it. Those disciples are invited to begin acting as if the resurrection is true even while they are still in the midst of their questions and doubts. They are invited to the path of faith, not faith that contradicts all evidence to the contrary, but rather faith that transcends it, faith that invites them up and out and beyond into the new possibilities opened by God’s future.

And clearly, those disciples did just that. They chose the path of acting as if the news they heard was true, even while they still carried wonder and doubt. And in the path they followed, in acting and working and witnessing, they came to know the grace of that work. They came to know the truth of that path, the truth of God that transcends our reality and invites us into a new and even truer reality. After all, had they not—had they not acted as if the news was true until by that path they came to know it true—had they not, then none of us would be here today. The women would have never stopped running, never saying anything to anyone, for they were afraid.

So, my friends, how might we live differently if we make the choice to act as though God’s promises are true? If it’s true that God raised Jesus from the dead… If it’s true that God promises to renew the whole creation and grant us new life… If it’s true that nothing—nothing we’ve done, nothing that has been done to us—can separate us from the love of God… If it’s true that God will not turn God’s back on any of us, but always reaches out to us in grace, mercy, and forgiveness… If any of this—let alone all of this—is true, then how might we live our lives this week differently? How might this faith—not absolute knowledge, but rather trusting, courageous faith—how might this faith change how we look at our relationships, and our work, and our politics, and our resources, and our communities, and our future?[12]

And, you know, if takes a little time, a little effort, a little struggling, to get to that place of active trust and faith and choosing to live as though these promises are true, well, just remember that you’re in good company. After all, Jesus’ first disciples obviously struggled with all this as well. And yet, even in the struggle, they found themselves in joy.

Blessing and honor, glory and power, be unto God, now and forever. Amen.

 


 

[1] Story adapted from Adam B. Yates, untitled sermon on Luke 24:36b-48 for the 3rd Sunday of Easter, Year B, preached 22 April 2012 at St. Paul’s-on-the-Green Episcopal Church, Norwalk, Connecticut. Used by permission.

[2] David Lose, “Easter 3 B: Resurrection Doubts”, …in the Meantime (blog), www.davidlose.net, 13 April 2015, accessed 18 April 2015 at http://www.davidlose.net/2015/04/easter-3-b-resurrection-doubts/ .

[3] Ibid., emphasis added.

[4] Mark 16:8, nrsv.

[5] John 20:15, nrsv.

[6] Luke 24:11, nrsv.

[7] Luke 24:41, nrsv.

[8] Lose, ibid.

[9] Lose, ibid.

[10] Lose, ibid.

[11] Luke 24:45, nrsv.

[12] Paragraph adapted from Lose, ibid.

 

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