The Third Sunday of Easter

The Very Reverend Steve Lipscomb, Dean
Luke 24:36b-48

It’s the same story but a different version, as today we hear Luke’s account of Jesus’ first resurrection appearance to the disciples. Once again, as in last week’s gospel reading from John, we find the disciples somewhere in Jerusalem, locked away in fear and hiding, and with long faces.

Oh, they’ve heard about the tomb being empty. They’ve heard rumors that Jesus is back. But, so far, they haven’t seen any substantial proof. And so far, “resurrection” doesn’t look like they thought it might. Like it is sometimes for us – for me.

Because for me resurrection looks a lot more like cultivated rows of English gardens than the bombed out rubble of an Isis target, more like azaleas lining the sidewalk than the aftermath of a tornado, more like Hands across America than the sight of picket groups with signs proclaiming their hate—and, falsely, God’s hate—for others.

And so the disciples sit huddled in that closed room, thinking maybe if they sit there long enough, it will all go away. Thinking, what happens next? Will we get caught? Can we get our old jobs back? Do we have to put “follower of Jesus” on our resumes? Maybe we’re just suffering separation anxieties. After all, three years together and now, poof!

Things haven’t turned out for the disciples exactly as they had planned. In life, they didn’t really know Jesus or understand his mission or his plan. On the road to Emmaus, two of them told the stranger, “We had hoped he would be the one to redeem Israel.”

And they don’t really recognize Jesus for what he is after death, after resurrection, perhaps as we fail from time to time to recognize Christ’s image in one another.

Jesus shows up in the flesh—in the resurrected flesh—and they are “startled…terrified” because they think they are seeing a ghost.

But that’s because the disciples are thinking in terms of conventionality—strains of Helenistic and Judaistic conventionality—and that is that the afterlife is of the spirit. You see, the disciples lived, like most of us, in a closed system, and whenever something breaks through and disrupts the preconceptions that are formed within that closed system, we become disturbed –startled, afraid.

So Jesus says, “Sorry guys, you’ve got it all wrong (again). Resurrection is ‘fleshy’ stuff. So look at my hands, look at my feet: then give me a bite to eat & let’s sit down and let me tell you about that. In life, you questioned my motives and my technique. In the end, you doubted me, denied me and deserted me. Yet, all these things had to happen as they did.”

“And so, in spite of all that, I have come back to break this bread with you, and so that you might know one thing: This rejection of me, yours and the world’s, is not enough to overcome the power of love in which I came. (And this meal—our communion meal—is a reminder of my acceptance of you.)”

Yes indeed, there is much suffering in this world, most of it a result of what we inflict upon one another, out of our fears that we might lose our conventionalities or our closed circles.

But there is also another kind of suffering: that which the self is willing to endure for the sake of the other. Like a king, a Lord, a Savior nailed to a tree. And the love behind that kind of suffering can transform the world, just as it did with that huddled, frightened, little mass of impotent humanity, who emerged from that locked room empowered to preach the gospel to all the nations. And as Christ lives, in flesh, in us, the power of that love endures.

Last week, I watched the movie “42.” It’s a great movie and I recommend it if you haven’t seen it. It’s the story about the late, great Jackie Robinson, who, after convincing managers that he could bear the heat and withstand the pressure, became the first black Major League baseball player.

At each stop and every stadium the crowds, and even the team players were ready for Robinson with their racial slurs and insults. And, at first, he was ready for them, too. He just kept his eyes straight ahead, did his job on the field, and tried his best to ignore the curses and boos.

Yet, in time it took its toll. Though not part of the movie, the fact is Jackie’s loss of concentration began to adversely affect his game, and there was even talk of sending Jackie back down to the Negro minor leagues.

On a particularly crowed day in Cincinnati, (and this is in the movie) the venom from the stands was almost out of control when Robinson took his position on the field. As he stood there, listening to the howls, his head bowed to be sure not to challenge or incite the crowd in any further, his team captain, a white man and celebrated league all-star, left his position at shortstop and started walking toward Robinson.

All action ceased. The crowd noise fell to whisper. The man continued to walk toward Robinson until finally they stood face to face looking into each other’s eyes. Then the white man reached out with both arms and embraced Robinson. The crowd went utterly silent, then, slowly, to a roar of approval, and, from that moment on, Jackie Robinson was accepted—by most.

Pee Wee Reese, a baseball hall-of-famer, in all his conventional exploits, never caught a ball or swung a bat that had more impact on a human life than that simple embrace.

In his own way, Pee Wee understood that we are resurrection people. One body in Christ. And if Christ is incarnate today, he is incarnate (made flesh) in you and me and every other human being, even if we may not recognize him from time to time.

And Pee Wee Reese knew something else that all of us ought to know. & that is, that the means to change things, to really change things, is born not out of power in the traditional sense, but out of a power so profound (so full of grace), it sees through rejection, knowing that rejection is only a symptom of this broken world.

That is the power—the flesh and blood power—of the risen Jesus. That is the power of resurrection. And it is in us all.

If we are to be God’s people—if we are followers of Christ—then we are Resurrection people. We are resurrected people. We are risen people.
For if he is risen, then we are risen.
And the Lord is risen, indeed. Alleluia!