St. Thomas’ Church, Whitemarsh
Easter 3, Year B, 2015
“You are witnesses of these things.”
The Easter season is filled with stories of people who witnessed Jesus’ resurrection. This makes sense; after all, Jesus’ death and subsequent resurrection are the most incredible, compelling, and important part of our faith. The resurrection is why we are Christians instead of remaining Jews.
Last week in the resurrection-witnessing lineup we heard about Thomas and his need for proof before believing that Jesus had come back from the dead. At the beginning of today’s passage, taken from a different Gospel account, we find the disciples talking over Jesus’ appearance to two men walking on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus. In Luke’s Gospel, the women who come to anoint Jesus are the first witnesses of his resurrection, followed by the Emmaus duo and then Peter. To the rest of the disciples, it’s all hearsay; they haven’t experienced Jesus’ return for themselves, and so they don’t quite know what to believe. They are going over the details of the Emmaus story trying to process what it means when all of a sudden, Jesus appears among them.
After all they have heard, it is still a shock to see Jesus again; the text says that they are “startled and terrified, and [think] that they [are] seeing a ghost” (v. 37). In Luke’s version, it is not just Thomas who expresses incredulity; most of them have a difficult time believing it’s the same Jesus they knew and loved and followed. Jesus assures them that he is real, proving it by letting them touch the marks of the nails in his hands and feet, and eating something to show that his digestive system is still intact. He is not a ghost, but a living, breathing human being.
I find it interesting that the first meal Jesus has with the Emmaus travelers is the Eucharist, the bread and wine. But when Jesus is with his disciples, the first meal he shares with them is broiled fish, which hearkens back to when Jesus was first gathering his disciples and promising them that rather than fishermen they would be fishers of men.
After the piece of broiled fish, Jesus opens up their minds to receive and understand Scripture. He doesn’t keep them out of the loop, but makes sure that they have the tools they need to build the movement that later will become the Church. After they are thus equipped, the disciples are sent out to broadcast the message of repentance and God’s forgiveness to all people, beginning with those in Jerusalem.
My previous rector likes to tell the story of an experience with one particular group of eighth grade confirmands. They were gathered in the church around the altar while the rector explained to them about the Eucharist. The eighth graders were listening as best they could, when the rector asked them a question. “What is the most important piece of furniture in a church?” The kids just looked at him. He repeated the question, this time patting the altar, “What is the most important piece of furniture in a church?” Without hesitating, a boy answered, “the exit sign.” [facepalm] “The exit sign?” the rector asked, becoming quite irritated that the kid wasn’t taking the lesson seriously. “What do you mean, ‘the exit sign’?” The boy replied, “because after the service we exit and go out into the world to do God’s work.”
When Jesus is resurrected, he spends some time opening up Scripture to his disciples, but that’s not where the story ends. The disciples don’t remain hidden in their houses; they follow Jesus’ command to go out into the world and spread the Good News. If we keep this story to ourselves, then what’s the point?
We come here each week to learn about God’s saving work in Scripture. We come here each week to share in the sacred meal of Christ’s body and blood, food for the journey beyond these doors. We come here each week as a community to pray and worship together as the Body of Christ, but the service doesn’t end there.
When you go out of these doors today, ask yourself what you are going to do.
Jesus appears to the disciples
(image found here)