First Congregational Church
April 15, 2017
Third Sunday of Easter
“Real and Alive?"
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
There was once a woman who inherited an old house. The neighbors told her that iwas haunted, but she didn’t believe them. When she inspected the house, she was delighted to see that it was completely furnished. She didn’t see anything out of the ordinary, and she moved right in. On her first night in the house, she got into bed happily. She was just drifting off to sleep when she heard an odd sound, way off in the distance. It sounded like this: “Rap, rap, rap.” She tried to ignore the sound, but she couldn’t. Finally she decided to get out of bed and investigate. When she opened her bedroom door, the sound was louder: “Rap, rap, rap”. She walked down the hallway. The sound got louder: “Rap, rap, rap”. She headed downstairs. Now it was even louder! “Rap, rap, rap.” She went into the dining room. It was so loud! “Rap, rap, rap.” The sound seemed to be coming from a corner of the room. She walked in that direction. “Rap, rap, rap.” There was a chest of drawers in the corner. The sound was overwhelming now. “Rap, rap, rap.” She opened the top drawer. There was nothing there. “Rap, rap, rap.” She opened the second drawer. There was nothing there. “Rap, rap, rap.” She opened the third drawer. There was nothing there. “Rap, rap, rap.” She opened the bottom drawer - and saw ……… a roll of wrapping paper!
A photographer goes to a haunted castle determined to get a picture of a ghost on Halloween. The ghost he encounters turns out to be friendly and poses for a snapshot. The happy photographer later downloads his photos and finds that the photos are underexposed and completely blank. The moral to the story is that the spirit is willing, but the flash is weak.
I have wondered if there is anyone else who has wondered about, been confused about, tried hard to remember about the order of things that happened in Jesus resurrection. To assist you in this academic portion of today’s message, I turn your attention to the little handout that came with your bulletin this morning. The first row is how the passage begins, generally with the listing of the witnesses. The chart then goes on, putting the major events of the resurrection account in order, as to their writer. There are other details missing, but I intended this to be just an overview.
As we are still in the season of Easter, it seems like a fair exercise - to remember and realize that the earliest documents that we have, and with the latest technology, the earliest gospel, that of Mark, was written somewhere between the years 66 and 70 AD, or CE if you are in postmodern timing, which is 33-37 years after Jesus’ actually crucifixion. Matthew and Luke were written in the 80s or 90s and John was probably written in the year 110.
What did you do on April 22, 1985 or 1984 or even most any other specific day thirty years ago and beyond? Layer onto your awareness your political persuasion - if you were even old enough to have one, and the particular familial experiences you’ve had over the years and even your genetic ancestry. Perhaps it is a little clearer how our four gospels can be similar and different - all at the same time.
Going on from that resurrection day, the gospel of Luke tells us that two from the group of followers of Jesus were going to Emmaus when they encounter, but do not recognize, Jesus. They express their disappointed hope that Jesus would be the one to redeem Israel, but Jesus explains how everything that happened was necessary according to Scripture - meaning the Old Testament. The two invite Jesus to spend the night with them. During the meal, when Jesus blessed and broke the bread, their eyes were opened, and they recognized Jesus, but he vanished from their sight. They rush back to Jerusalem and report to the gathered believers what had happened and discover that Jesus had already appeared to Simon.
Luke 24:36-48 (NIV)
Jesus Appears to the Disciples
While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence.
He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”
Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.
Thank you, Dave. As is so often the case, there are things that stick out or catch our attention in scripture passages. On the 18th reading of that passage, since it is indeed the one that was going to be used last week, I noticed that Jesus “opened their minds so they could understand the scriptures.” Sure wish he would open my mind about complicated stuff like figuring out taxes, car repair or other useful stuff.
One of the things that also caught my attention was the idea of ghosts, Jesus even lending credibility to the idea of ghosts in his comment that ghosts don’t have flesh and bones, but that he did. We don’t hear much about the topic, but ghosts and ghost-like entities were a part of surrounding cultures long before Abraham way back in the old testament. Several ancient Near East religions promoted the offering of gifts to dead ancestors to ease the deceased’s after life - which was not so unlike their earthly life. It may seem odd to hear Jesus make reference to ghosts, but in many ways, they were as much a part of life back then as they are today - at least in a general sense.
Two weeks ago, at the Ministerial Association Meeting, we talked about this passage, and several of us mentioned the topic of broiled fish. Broiled in our culture is close heat from the top, so maybe broiled in Jesus’ day was close heat from the bottom, without grease or oil. The fisherfolk among us wondered what type of fish it was, but wondering was as far as we got.
If Jesus were alive in our modern culture, one might envision him going to the fridge, standing in front of it and asking if there was anything to eat. I wondered if the writer of this passage brought in the idea of eating fish - not just to indicate Jesus’ “realness,” in that he was hungry, but if there was some idea of the way Jesus might have held his fish, or how he might have broken it. Many of us can think of a particular person and the very specific way they eat or drink something and how that behavior is a dead giveaway to the identification of that individual.
It’s also interesting that Jesus says, “Peace be with you” in this passage, and he said it twice in the passage from two weeks ago, from the gospel of John. We can surely appreciate that statement in light of a dead man, now resurrected, standing in front of disciples. But I wonder if there is more to that statement, especially in light of what Jesus said later in this morning’s passage and again in the previous passage.
Two weeks ago, in the the gospel of John and in the locked, upper room, where the disciples were hiding in fear, Jesus appeared to all the disciples, Thomas included, and said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
This week, after spending a little time proving himself to the disciples, Jesus quotes the Old Testament, saying, “The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”
It wasn’t just the duplicity regarding the mention of forgiveness from John and Luke’s passages, but thoughts from Mark G. Vitalis Hoffman, Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, PA and Stephen Garnaas Holmes that made this God-cidence of terms and topics relevant to us modern day followers of Christ.
Mark Vitalis Hoffman pointed out that, "Luke clearly wishes to demonstrate a flesh-and-bones Jesus, not a mere spiritual presence or apparition. Still, Luke, like us, has never seen a physical Jesus, so that can’t be the key (to understanding the physicality of the resurrected Jesus). The point is, in modern parlance, that Jesus is really real and truly alive! So my brain wondered, how do we know - really know - that Jesus is alive and real? None of us have seen him either, and it’s been a long time since the first century. None of us get opportunities to touch Jesus’ hands or feet or put our finger in his side, no matter how gauche any of that can seem.”
It was Stephen Garnaas Holmes who asked another question, "What do you talk about when you come back, bodily risen but still wounded, from the grave?” His answer? Forgiveness. And the rest of his poem from a couple weeks back, is just plain beautiful.
The repentance we preach is not forced on others,
it's our repentance,
turning from retribution to forgiveness,
from self-protection to self-giving.
When we forgive, we offer resurrection.
Christ is risen in the body
of those who forgive in this world.
Forgiveness is where resurrection takes form,
where wound becomes blessing,
where lives become actually new,
where people become free,
lured by astonished fishers out of graves into light.
The new self is freed from the old life;
anger no longer has dominion.
Justice rises not from the cross of retribution,
but the empty grave of grace.
Members of the crucified and risen Body of Christ
are not afraid to be wounded in offering forgiveness.
No suffering can stop us:
we have already died and gone to heaven.
We are as fearless as angels.
We are witnesses of these things.
Let us pray. Holy and Marvelous God, thank you. Thank you for giving us all of this life to live. Help each of us to lay to rest in the tomb of your grace the hurt we may have caused and the hurt we may have borne. Forgive us, when we have failed to understand our mistakes or refused to humble ourselves in bringing about the justice that is needed for others. Help us to open our eyes to see Christ, risen and restored in you, in those around us, that they may inspire us to greater authenticity of practicing our faith. Let Christ rise to new life in us, wounded but whole, radiant, forgiving and alive with your love. Create us anew; by your grace, let there be light. This is the day you are making. Let us rejoice and be glad in it, and all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.