First Reading Acts 9:1-20
Psalm Psalm 30
Second Reading Revelation 5:11-14
Gospel John 21:1-19
“Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work.”
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
As we move through the Easter season, we continue to celebrate the resurrection. As Christians, we are resurrection people. It is the foundation of our faith. In our baptism, we die to self, to all the temptations and limitations of humanity, and seek to live in the life of the resurrected Christ. Yet it is easy to relegate the resurrection to an event that happened long, long ago, in a place far, far away. Some evidence of this might be our brothers and sisters that brighten our doors on Easter Sunday, mark the special occasion, and on their way out say, “See you at Christmas.”
Easter is not just one day, but a season. The resurrection is not merely an historical event, but an ongoing salvation reality that reconciles God and humanity, and transforms heaven and earth. Our readings through Easter recount appearances of the resurrected Jesus, and the reactions of witnesses to the risen Lord. Perhaps we should pay attention.
There are other voices competing for attention. An opinion writer recently stated in his column that you cannot be a Christian if you do not believe in the resurrection. In a related article, almost certainly motivated by politics, he proclaimed that Episcopalians are not Christians. My first reaction to such statements is usually dismissive. Any person that places themself in a position of authority to decide who believes and who does not, who is a ‘good’ Christian, or who has acceptable faith, is competing for God’s job. Jesus pushed back against self-serving religious authorities telling people how to observe the Sabbath, when one can show compassion and mercy and heal, who is in and who is out, who you can eat with or talk to, or placing limits on love. Despite the slander, I choose to hang around with Episcopalians. A quote attributed to the Rev. Jeremy Smith, “I’d rather attend church with messed up people seeking after God, than religious people who think they are his enforcers.”
Worse than others dictating righteousness or judging our faith, are our own demands and expectations for a perfect faith. Christian writer Rachel Held Evans, an Episcopalian who regularly questioned Evangelical absolutism, wrote, “It’s a frightful thing - thinking you have to get God right in order to get God to love you, thinking you’re always one error away from damnation. It’s a kind of legalism really ... How ironic. The very condition of humanity is to be wrong about God. The moment we figure God out, God ceases to be God. Maybe it’s time to embrace the mystery and let ourselves off the hook.” Rachel died yesterday at age 37 due to medical complications. We will miss her voice. May she Rest In Peace, and may all mysteries be revealed.
I appreciate the recent challenge of belief in the resurrection and our faith. The opinion columns have sparked wonderful conversations between faithful people seeking to grow in the knowledge and love of God. I suspect the writer believes in the resurrection because ‘the Bible tells us so.” But the nature of our tradition compels us to go deeper. Like little children who constantly ask “why”, “because I said so” is not enough. Admittedly, we proclaim the resurrection each week as we recite the Creed, but rote memorization is not faith. If this were so, scripture would proclaim ‘Christ is risen’ ... End of story. Yet the story continues.
Our Easter readings share encounters of the risen Jesus. The risen Christ has already appeared to Mary Magdalene at the tomb, the Apostles in the locked room, and again to the Apostles with Thomas present. They must be overwhelmed with joy. Apparently, they do not know what to do next. Peter slips back into his comfort zone and states, “I’m going fishing.” His friends go along, but they have apparently forgotten their former trade, because they fish all night with no luck. Jesus stands on the shore, but they do not recognize him. Jesus bids them try again on the other side of the boat, and they catch more fish than they can handle. In a moment of revelation, they recognize the Lord. Jesus has a fire and some bread waiting, and along with the fish the resurrected Christ continues to feed them. After they eat, Jesus engages Peter. Three times Jesus asks, “Do you love me?” Three times Peter proclaims, “Yes Lord; you know that I love you.” While Peter is obviously hurt by the three-time repetition, the risen Christ has offered forgiveness and redemption for Peter’s three-time denial of Jesus. Moreover, Jesus professes his faith and trust in Peter to continue the mission as he commands, “Feed my lambs, tend my sheep.” The risen Jesus continues to feed, teach, and guide us.
After the Ascension and Pentecost, Jesus continues to dwell among us. Saul was a notorious persecutor of the faith, yet Christ appeared to him as a blinding light and spoke to him. Identifying with the Church as the Body of Christ, he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” Jesus does not scold Saul, but invites and guides him, “you will be told what you are to do.” Ananias also encounters the risen Jesus in a vision, and is invited to participate. Reluctantly, Ananias obeys, and after three days of blindness, Saul is given new sight. These are not physical encounters with Jesus’ body, but the risen Christ continues to be present and active in the world, and offers new life. Saul becomes Paul.
We continue to simultaneously celebrate and wonder about and ponder the resurrection. It is a challenging reality for a limited human understanding. Of course, clinically dead bodies are brought back to life in emergency rooms all the time. Yet they will die again. Lazarus was raised after days in the tomb, yet some years later, he died too. In the resurrection, Jesus is raised, and defeating death, will never die.
And what of Jesus’ resurrected body? Jesus has a physical form, speaks, breathes, and eats, yet also does things an ordinary body cannot do. Nineteenth Century Anglican theologian Richard Benson writes of the resurrection, “The Body of Jesus is taken into a condition of superiority to all. Nothing can oppose it. ... The Body of Jesus consequently appears as He wills. Space has for him no limitative power. He leaves the tomb, and afterwards he enters the Apostolic chamber, without any aperture through which to pass. He rises from the grave and shows himself in various places, but it is without motion. ... The Body of Jesus abides in its own glorious sovereignty, supreme over created forces. He has but to will, and instantly His Body is present to act upon the created forces round about Him in any place, without Himself being limited or opposed by any power, however solid it may seem. He Himself says, ‘All power is given unto Me both in Heaven and upon earth. This condition of supreme power is altogether beyond our perception. We may argue up towards it, but we cannot apprehend it. We may experience its results, but we cannot know it in itself. ... We can only know it as being made His members and living ourselves in Him. In proportion as the force of His Resurrection-Body moves us, we shall know the reality of the power of His resurrection.”
In the resurrection, Jesus is transformed, and invites us to new birth, new life, new humanity. Some preachers invite the congregation to participate with the call, “Can I get a witness?” We are witnesses to the ongoing power and efficacy of the resurrection. Jesus Christ lives in a new way and will be recognized by those who know his voice when he calls them by name. Jesus enters rooms locked by fear because the power of his life drives away fear and brings peace. Christ bears the marks of wounded humanity and shows them to those who would believe. He is mysteriously present to his disciples as we work and eat and pray and serve together.
“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Yet we are blessed to see and believe. We are witnesses to the resurrection. God’s presence and power is palpable among us. God is calling us into resurrection life, to wipe the scales from our eyes so that our sight might be restored, to invite Jesus into the locked, protected places of our hearts, to receive holy food and drink at the table Christ has set for solace and for strength. The resurrection is God’s “I love you” to humanity. When God asks, “Do you love me?”, in our feeble humanity we respond, “Yes Lord; you know that we love you.” After this, Jesus bids us simply, "Follow me." Amen.