The Rolling River of Easter

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Third Sunday of Easter
April 22, 2012
Luke 24:36b-48
Peder Stenslie7-9-09 (TreeSwallow6)

It takes a while for the reality and fact of Easter to sink in for the disciples.  That’s easy to understand.  Just imagine what it would be like to try to wrap your head around the events of Holy Week.  However, Jesus makes it clear in today’s Gospel lesson that Easter is not a one-time event.  It is part of a fluid and flowing work of God… and the disciples are now carried in its stream.  They are a part of God’s Easter work and Christ’s resurrection continues in and through them.


In today’s Gospel lesson, the disciples’ first reaction to seeing Jesus is alarm and terror.  Why?  Because they don't believe that life is more powerful than death.  They don't understand who God is… who Jesus is.  They don't understand the way or power of God.  They are at a complete loss to grasp what is going on in their lives and in their world.  They are incapacitated… frozen… by fear and uncertainty.

And these disciples are us.  We might like to think we would have been smarter or braver than them.  But we are like them.  We are people who live, often fearfully, in the shadow of death.  We don’t understand God.  We don’t understand Jesus.  We don’t understand what is happening in the world or in our lives.  We just fumble along, hoping, often pretending, we know what’s going on when we really don’t have a clue.

Jesus comes in compassion to his lost disciples in today’s Gospel.  He understands where their fear comes from.  They fear they are seeing a ghost… a troubled face of death.  They fear they are in danger.  They fear they are forsaken.  The disciples understand clearly and feel intensely how lost they really are in life.

Jesus responds first by bringing them back to the physical reality they know.  He draws their attention to the physical things that they can see and feel and taste.  "See… I have flesh and bones… I am no ghost.  See my wounds…  Do you remember these?  It’s me… Jesus, your companion.  Let us eat food together as we once did as friends."

Flesh and bones… physical scars… eating food….  These things are familiar to the disciples.  Jesus mentions them in order to reassure and to ground his friends in the real and familiar. 

However, Jesus then moves to take the disciples beyond their familiar and known world.  His goal is to draw them forward into the mysterious and unfamiliar… into the Kingdom of God.  Jesus, in today’s Gospel lesson, is tenderly taking his disciples by the hand and weaving their lives into the tapestry of God’s work in the world. 

Jesus equips his disciples for growth and change… and for work in the Kingdom of God.  We hear in today’s Gospel lesson how Jesus “opened their minds to understand the scriptures” (v. 45).  This is a new gift… a gift that is given by the resurrected Christ, not the earthly Jesus.  He gives them illumination.  He gives them his Spirit.

He then gives them a new life task to carry out.  The Gospel continues:  “Repentance and forgiveness of sins are to be proclaimed in [my] name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  You are witnesses of these things” (vv. 47-48). 

The disciples are to bear in their lives the Good News of Jesus Christ.  They are to live the call to repentance (which means new living) and the promise of forgiveness… and they are to share these things with all they meet in the world.  They are to remember all that Jesus has taught them and bear witness to that teaching with their lives.

It is a pivotal moment of transition… change and growth… for these disciples.

I have many birdhouses in my yard and enjoy the excitement they bring every summer.  This week I had my first Purple Martins show up in the yard.  They joined the Tree Swallows and Eastern Bluebirds that have already claimed homes there.

During the summer months, I spend a lot of time watching the action around the birdhouses.   I watch the parents tirelessly bring food to the nestlings hidden inside the nestboxes.  Eventually, when they’ve grown to a certain size, the nestlings begins to peak out the hole as they wait for a parent to bring them their next meal.

I’ve often wondered what the little nestlings think when they poke their head out of the nestbox hole and see the big wide world for the first time.  How huge and scary it must look!  And of course, they’re not ready for that world.  They can’t fly.  They don’t understand the dangers of the world.  They don’t know how to live out there.

But they are being fed and they are growing and observing and learning.  The days before they take flight for the first time are always very exciting.  Tree Swallows, for example, gather all the neighbors and relatives around the birdhouse to encourage the nestlings to launch.  It is so much fun to watch.  The nestlings are resistant to go, but everything is pulling them out of the nestbox to the life they were created for. 

Their parents’ good care, their own hunger, the urging of neighbors and relatives, the call of the open skies… all push them to enter that scary world that stands before them.  And so, eventually, they do launch and become something new… a swift and graceful creature of the air.  What an amazing thing that is!

The young Tree Swallows still have much learning ahead… but they are on their way.  They are flying and living the life they were created for.

The disciples in today’s Gospel lesson face their own moment of transition and growth… and so do we.

It takes a while for the reality and fact of Easter to sink in for the disciples.  That’s easy to understand.  Just imagine what it would be like to try to wrap your head around the events of Holy Week.  However, Jesus makes it clear in today’s Gospel lesson that Easter is not a one-time event.  It is part of a fluid and flowing work of God… and the disciples are now carried in its stream.  They are a part of God’s Easter work and Christ’s resurrection continues in and through them.

We too were created to carry in us the life of God.  We too are called to ride the rolling river of Easter… to grow and change and become the people of God we are meant to be.  We too are being threaded into the fabric of God’s work in the world.

As we face these changes and challenges, we will need all the gifts God aims to give us.  We need to know… and live knowing… that life is stronger than death.  We need to let God speak to us… let Jesus lead us and transform us. 

We need to learn about the way of the Kingdom of God so that it shapes us.  We need to trust that even though we don’t understand what’s going on in our world and in our lives, God is with us always and he will forever keep us in his love and care.

Easter means that against all expectations, life is stronger than death. That is true, not only for Jesus, but for all creation.  It is true, not only in the future, but begins now.  That is the promise of Easter… a promise that beckons us, like it beckoned the disciples.  It beckons us to venture forth with courage and hope into the wide open skies of life, putting to work the gifts of God, so that we can become what we are called and created to be.

Amen.