April 19th, 2015 “Perspective” Rev. Heather Jepsen
In the church year, this is the third Sunday of Easter. As I mentioned last week, the season of Easter, of joy and zeal, of rebirth and resurrection lasts for 7 Sundays until the day of Pentecost which falls on Memorial Day weekend this year. While this extended celebration of Easter may be true on paper and in scripture reading, we must be honest about the fact that the Easter joy generally peters out after just one Sunday in the church. We have our big Easter morning, our big weekend with our families, and then our minds turn back to other things in our lives. Now is the time for spring sports, the upcoming end of the school year, thoughts of summer vacation travel, and getting out in the garden. Easter has come and gone and we are back to the ho-hum hum drum. Basically, we have lost our Easter perspective.
That is not the case in our scripture reading. Luke wants to draw us in and keep us in the Easter moment. In fact, this text finds us still in the very day and night of that first Easter. Even though our lived time has moved on, in the Kairos time of the church we remain in that same Easter day.
The scene is one of chaos as the disciples and first followers are gathered. The women are talking about the empty tomb, Peter is talking about his experience of the resurrected Lord, and Cleopas and his companion are talking about their experience on the road to Emmaus. It is as if a storm is brewing; each one telling stories, each one questioning the other, and together they all are working to discern the truth.
Luke tells us that while they are busy talking, Jesus suddenly appears in their midst. “Peace be with you” he says, but their response to his presence is anything but peace. Luke says that those gathered were terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. From hurried stories and accusing questions, they have easily moved into a space of fear. Something strange is going on, something new, and the natural human response is an elevated heart rate, shallow breathing, and wide-eyed fear.
Ghosts were a real concern in the ancient world. Spirits that somehow were trapped in this world were a real threat. Jesus’ sudden appearance, after folks had seen him die, would certainly make them think he was a ghost. So, Jesus goes to work quickly dispelling that myth. Come and touch me, he says, you can’t touch a ghost. He is not spirit, he is flesh and bone. He also eats fish in front of them, which doesn’t immediately drop to the floor as in so many cartoon encounters with ghosts. Rather, the fish appears to be swallowed, residing in the belly of this man. Jesus makes it clear he is not a ghost, he is something else entirely. Before he does anything else, Jesus addresses the disciples’ fear.
It is only after the fear of the group is dispelled, that Jesus goes on with the purpose of this visit. A mind in fear cannot be opened, and Jesus has come to open their minds. Jesus has come to give the group some perspective. He has come to show them that this happening, his death and resurrection, was not a random act. No, this event, the death and resurrection of the Messiah, was part of a much bigger story. While the disciples sit with a narrow vision, still a bit afraid and confused, Jesus shows them that the story is much bigger than they are, much bigger than even this moment. The story of Jesus is the story of their whole faith tradition.
Preacher Scott Hoezee sums it up well when he writes,
“As it turns out, the stories of Scripture all form one Big Story. The Creation account, the narrative cycles involving Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph; the Exodus from Egypt, the wandering in the desert, the conquest of Canaan; the failures of Saul and the successes of David and Solomon; the long and sad period of Israel’s history when kings forgot Yahweh, and then also everything Isaiah and Jeremiah and the others predicted about how God’s faithfulness would transcend the people’s recurrent unfaithfulness—all of those individual stories and passages and predictions and praises and laments were pieces in a narrative jigsaw puzzle that, when you finally put them all together in the right order, created the picture they saw before them that evening in Jerusalem: the Son of God in the flesh and raised victorious from the grave.”
The disciples needed perspective. They needed to realize that even though they were afraid, even though this was something they had never seen before, this was the way things were meant to be. The disciples needed to come out of their fear and get a new perspective. They needed to realize that they were actually part of one big story, and the story was about everyone, just as it was about them as individuals before the Lord.
The same is true for us, especially in our modern culture and society. It is easy for us to forget the importance of Easter. To sit here in the Easter slumps thinking more about the spring school season, or the work we need to do in the yard; than we think about the resurrected Lord. It is easy for us to lose perspective, to forget that Jesus’ death and resurrection was as much about us as it was about the first disciples. Be it fear, worry, or just plain ignorance, it is easy for us to forget that we too are part of God’s great big story with humanity.
Again, Scott Hoezee writes,
“Easter does not mean that a better day is coming by and by, that with a little luck we can turn things around in our lives, or that there is no situation so difficult that God cannot dawn upon us a bright new day. No, Easter means we were made for God. Easter means we were made for flourishing before the face of our God. And Easter means that the sin and evil that put up obstacles and yawned open chasms between us and God will not stand. God will bring all things back to their created intent. God will restore all things to (Gods-self). Easter is not only about the end of the cosmic story but is also a vindication of the beginning.”
The season of Easter, the celebration of the resurrected Lord, is a reminder that God is in control of things. It is a reminder that there is a cosmic story unfolding before us and we have a part to play. Nothing, not our fear or our worry, our distraction or our confusion will keep us from God’s love which has been at work throughout creation from the beginning. The big story about God’s love for the people of God’s creation is also wrapped up with our own big stories about how we were born, how we grew up, and how we became the very people we are in this moment today.
I believe that these Easter stories are as much about us as they were about those first disciples. I love that Jesus comes to them in their moments of fear and confusion and he proves that he is a reality, not just a mirage. I think that as modern people, removed from the physical presence of Jesus by centuries of time, we often assume that Jesus was just what he takes pains to prove he is not. In our modern world of science and knowledge, of systems and proofs, we assume that Jesus was a ghost, a mirage, some kind of spirit. We assume that he was not like us, but that he was something different.
This text gives us perspective, it points us to something else. This text challenges us to consider Jesus as a person just like us. Flesh and blood and bone, a real living person, who eats and sleeps, who gets tired and angry, who has the same physical and emotional needs we do. Jesus was real, not a ghost. And in his reality he was wounded. Again we visit that theme from last week where Jesus comes before the disciples and shows them his wounds. He is not a superman, rather he is fragile and vulnerable just as we are.
So often in our lives, we are like those disciples on that first Easter day. We are afraid, we are confused, and we lack direction and understanding. As with the early disciples, Jesus comes among us bringing his peace. And with the gift of his peace, he brings us perspective. We are part of a great story, a love story, between God and humankind. And while the story is bigger than us, it is also distinctly about us and about our own personal relationship with God.
Like Jesus, we are not simply mirages or spirits. We are real people with hopes and dreams, with fears and nightmares, with things we can control, and with seemingly insurmountable problems. Like Jesus we are wounded by our world, for that is essential to the state of human existence. Vulnerability and woundedness are the truth of who we are, just as they are the truth of who Jesus is.
Jesus comes to the disciples in their state of fear and unknowing and he brings peace. He tells them the story of God’s love for humanity, and he tells them about how his life was a part of that story, and about how their own lives are also a part of that story. Today, we too, are a part of God’s love story with humanity in whatever state we are in. That gives us some perspective. Luke writes that the disciples were startled, terrified, frightened, doubting, joyful, and disbelieving; and in all of this they were witnesses. So too, in whatever state we may be this morning we are witnesses of our risen Lord. May we have the courage to go out and share this perspective with the world. Amen.