3rd Sunday of Easter
May 8, 2011
The disciples, in spite of their cluelessness about the work and will of God, do in fact show us what that looks like. They stay together and look after each other… support each other… comfort each other. They work together to find ways to reconnect to life after tragedy and loss have devastated their lives. They reach beyond their grief to show kindness to a weary traveler. They express their love by taking care of Jesus’ body and mourning his death.
Grace to you, and peace… all you Easter people… from God our father and our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ.
Many years ago, a pair of robins nested in a neighbor’s yard. It was the first year that my son Kristian discovered the magic of birds. He was really excited about those three robin nestlings that he could see in the nest. Then one day a cat discovered the nest and took one of the nestlings before it could be chased away. That was, of course, very sad. The next morning, Kristian left the house to walk to the bus stop for school. A few minutes later he was back… and was crying. On his way to the bus he had checked the nest. All the nestlings were gone. The cat had come back and finished off the nest. Kristian was terribly sad, but he had to pull himself together and get to school.
After school that same day, I looked out our window and saw Kristian walking home from the bus. When he got to our neighbors’ yard, Kristian walked over to the tree and looked in the nest again. It was still empty… and I could see the terrible disappointment in his body language as he slumped to walk the rest of the way to our house.
I was intrigued. I wondered, “What was he expecting? Did he think, somehow, those nestlings would be back? Was he thinking it was maybe all just a bad dream? Was he expecting a miracle?”
I don’t know what was going on in his mind, but I could see that he was hoping to find the nestlings there. And I do know that Kristian’s spirit of hopefulness was not shared by the disciples after the devastating death of Jesus. They were not looking for a miracle.
There are varied… and sometimes conflicting… stories in the Bible of what happened in the days immediately following Jesus’ crucifixion. I’m sure it was a very chaotic and terrifying time, so it’s no wonder that accounts of those days would be different. But there are two compelling themes that come through in all of them.
First, the followers of Jesus were completely devastated by the death of their friend. Second… they were not expecting the resurrection… not at all.
It’s important to explain that today’s lesson doesn’t follow last Sunday’s Gospel lesson about the appearance of Jesus to Thomas. That was from the Gospel of John; today’s lesson is from the Gospel of Luke. What came just before today’s Gospel is actually mentioned in the reading.
Look down at verse 22: “Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.”
You see, the followers of Jesus were filled with sorrow and despair. Mary Magdalene and the other women went to the tomb to tend to a dead body. It wasn’t to check and see if maybe he had come back to life. There was no thought of that at all.
And when they discovered the tomb empty, their reaction was not joy, but befuddlement. It soon turned to terror when angels appeared before them. The angels told them that Jesus had risen from the dead. What’s more, the angels reminded them that Jesus told them that all this would happen.
According to the Gospels, three times while Jesus was with the disciples, he told them that he would go to Jerusalem, be rejected, abandoned, suffer and die… and then rise again. He told them this three times, but when it all happened, they still weren’t looking for it. It came as a surprise.
After their experience at the tomb, the Gospel of Luke relates that the women went back to the disciples and told them all they experienced… and the disciples did not believe them. The words “seemed to them an idle tale,” the Gospel writer tells us. The only one who seemed to show a bit of Kristian’s spirit of hopefulness was Peter who immediately ran to the tomb to see for himself. But even he could not fathom what the empty tomb meant… even though Jesus had looked him in the eye and told him… three times… that all this would pass.
And then we have today’s lesson… and yet another common theme in the Gospel stories of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances… his followers don’t recognize him.
Jesus’ followers walk and talk with Jesus… and for the better part of a day they are unable to recognize him… even though he’s the topic of their conversation.
Right after this story (in Luke)… Jesus suddenly appears among all the disciples… and they are startled and terrified. They don’t know who he is until he shows them his wounds.
In the Gospel of John, Mary Magdalena sees Jesus, but doesn’t recognize him until he says her name.
A little later in John, Jesus appears to the disciples… and they don’t recognize him until he speaks to them and shows them his wounds.
Still again in John, Jesus appears a third time, on the shores of Lake Galilee, and the disciples don’t recognize him until they are hauling in a net full of fish after following the instructions of Jesus.
You have to wonder about this. Why couldn’t they recognize him? Some people assume he must have looked different because he was in some sort of spirit form… but that is incorrect. All the lessons take pains to describe him as having physical form… he has wounds, he eats and drinks, they think he’s a common traveler… a gardener, etc.
I certainly don’t understand what’s going on and why they can’t recognize him. But I do see that it fits a common pattern of both the Old and New Testaments.
People… who you think would… just don’t know God, don’t know Christ; because God is, quite simply, full of surprises. His manner and his coming are always unexpected.
One reason, I think, we people fail to see Jesus is that we have a tendency to assume we know a whole lot more about God than we do…. We think we know, for example, where God stands on issues, what he’s up to, how he’s involved in the world.
But the resurrection shows us how completely we fail to know God. The people who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem with waving palm branches misunderstood God; and when Jesus didn’t fit their image of what they thought the messiah should be, they turned against him. The chief priests and Pharisees misunderstood God completely and concluded that the Son of God himself was actually an enemy of God that needed to be destroyed.
Even Jesus’ closest followers who had been alongside Jesus, learning from him for three years, were completely lost on this one. They just didn’t understand the power and purpose of God here.
Jesus even told them, with great care and concern for their well-being, that all of this was going to happen. He told them three times; and yet they were lost when the crucifixion occurred and completely unprepared for the resurrection.
I think being Easter people means accepting the fact that we are quite clueless creatures. The mysteries of God and human life are beyond us. It means admitting that we’re bewildered most of the time.
Does that mean, then, that we know nothing? No. As Easter people, we know… as God wants and expects us to know… that he loves us beyond price or measure. We know that God has done… and will do… whatever it takes to save us from sin and death. We know that he has the power to turn death inside out; and it is his pleasure to give that gift to us. We know that God is there with us even when we (like the disciples on the road) can’t see him. We understand that God is working out his will for life in ways we cannot comprehend or predict.
And we, then, are free to build our lives on that knowledge.
The disciples, in spite of their cluelessness about the work and will of God, do in fact
show us what that looks like. They stay together and look after each other… support each other… comfort each other. They work together to find ways to reconnect to life after tragedy and loss have devastated their lives. They reach beyond their grief to show kindness to a weary traveler. They express their love by taking care of Jesus’ body and mourning his death.
In these simple, down-to-earth ways, they live out of the promise of being Easter people. God takes care of the rest. He weaves these good thoughts and deeds and words of his people together with all of their mistakes and failures and cluelessness to create something new… a people of God in which, and through which, the love and hope of God shines brightly.
In that way, our lives come to reflect the resurrection of Christ… now, today… as… as expressed by Peter in today’s 2nd lesson: “You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.”
So let us all be Easter people, gratefully accepting the rich and wonderful love of God, and sharing that love with all those God has given to us in our day to day lives.