This is my personal blog. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the congregations or presbytery I serve.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Matter Matters.

Luke 24:36-53

            The disciples are gathered back in Jerusalem, probably in the same upper room in which they had celebrated the Passover with Jesus the previous Thursday.  It is now Sunday evening.  They are sharing some bizarre stories.  Jesus’ body has disappeared, and some of them are claiming to have seen him alive.  Peter said he met Jesus, and the two disciples we heard about last week recount their story about walking with him on the road to Emmaus.  Earlier in the day the women who went to the tomb reported that they had seen angels who said Jesus was alive.
            Sharing our stories is important.  It is good to get together and talk about the experiences of the Lord’s presence that we have had.  We can get a lot of insight and wisdom from hearing each others’ experiences.
            Unlike the two disciples on the way to Emmaus earlier in the day, they are now quite beyond trying to figure out the meaning of Jesus’ trial, crucifixion, and death.  Now there are enough stories of Jesus appearing alive for this new thing to be dominating their attention and conversation.
            I think that’s where our attention needs to be.  The entire New Testament is written from the perspective of the resurrection.  Obviously, the cross is also important.  But it is possible, and not that uncommon, to so over-emphasize Jesus’ sacrificial death that the resurrection is reduced to an afterthought, an incidental by-product of what happened on the cross.
            In reality, without the resurrection we are not sitting here today.  And without the strange rumors and experiences the disciples are having, they do not re-gather in the upper room to share what is happening.  They remain scattered, ruminating in fear over Jesus’ death.  It is the resurrection, before they even have a grip on what it even is, that draws them back together.
            Into the middle of this group, Jesus himself materializes.  He doesn’t use the door, or even walk through the wall.  He just manifests in the middle of the room, perhaps like he was beaming down from a starship.
            And he says: “Peace be with you.”  It is at the same time a common greeting, and a restatement of one of the main themes of Jesus’ ministry.  He comes to bring peace, to establish God’s shalom in the hearts of God’s people.  Paul will write that “through Christ God was pleased to reconcile all things to himself, whether on earth or in heaven by making peace through the blood of his cross.”  It is his blood, that is, his life, that now connects and reconciles all things.   

            The disciples, as we might imagine, are “startled and terrified.”  This is beyond normal experience for us as well.  The disciples apparently think they are seeing a ghost, literally, a “spirit.”
            Jesus reassures them by asking the rhetorical questions: “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?”  I know why they were frightened and doubting!  A dead person just popped into the room!  Most of our minds would be short-circuited by searching for some rational explanation.
            The first thing Jesus wants to do is ensure that the disciples understand that it really is he.  So he shows them the flesh of his hands and feet, still ripped open from having been pierced with Roman nails.  It is Jesus’ wounds that constitute the continuity by which he identifies himself.  The wounds prove who he is, they are his credentialing device.  (I understand that today, in American Sign Language, the sign for “Jesus” is to point to one’s palms indicating nail-holes.)
            Jesus’ resurrected body retains the marks of his crucifixion.  He does not have some restored, perfected, ideal body.  He has the same body that was crucified.  This is important.
            Then he invites them to touch him to prove that he is not a ghost.  He is solid, physical, and material.  Even though he just blinked into their presence, he still has flesh and bones that can be touched and felt.  Then, for good measure, he points out those wounds again.
            Then Luke describes the disciples trying to wrap their minds around what is happening.  He says: “In their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering.” 
            Clearly they are in some liminal, transitional place where they could be both joyful and disbelieving at the same time.  Their emotions are contradictory.  All of the pieces have not yet fallen together in their consciousness.  They see enough to begin to let themselves be joyful, but part of them is holding back, still asking questions, still trying to figure something out that is essentially un-figure-out-able, still not trusting their own perception, still expecting to be let down by the facts when they are finally known, still looking around for “the man behind the curtain” who is pulling the levers and wires to make this appear to be real.
            In our jaded, cynical time we are acutely aware of the “too good to be true.”  We daily delete things that purport to be spectacular windfalls because we don’t trust them.  Our disbelief doesn’t even let us get to any joy because we know it’s a load of crap.  At best, these marvelous benefits come with many strings attached.  You don’t get the free vacation without having to endure hours of guys trying to sell you a time-share.

            But what’s happening here to the disciples is an experience of unsurpassed joy while part of them is still looking around for the “catch.”  They are gradually moving from the “too good to be true” to the realization that this is too true not to be good.  It is in need the best and truest thing that ever happened.
            While their minds are stripping gears trying to adjust, Jesus… asks for something to eat.  In the entire literature of angels and ghosts there is no instance of one appearing to people and asking for a snack.  Angels and ghosts don’t eat.  Resuscitated bodies cannot simply appear out of the thin air of a room, even in Jerusalem. 
            Someone gives him a piece of the broiled fish left over from their dinner.  Jesus chomps down on it just like old times.  If they didn’t recognize him from his wounds, they certainly recognized him by his eating.  During his ministry meals were important times when significant teachings and actions frequently happened.  Jesus even compared the Kingdom of God to a wedding reception, the banquet part (not the hokey-pokey part).  The two disciples in Emmaus finally recognized Jesus when he sat down to eat with them.
            After eating the fish, we have no more mention of them not knowing who he is.  Apparently if he eats like Jesus then he is Jesus.
            The New Testament does not tell us precisely what Jesus is, at this point.  Even Paul’s magisterial chapter 15 in 1 Corinthians uses metaphor and simile to try and describe the resurrection body.  It is very clear though what the risen Jesus is not.  Our faith stands or falls on making sure we do not mistake Jesus for either a ghost, that is, the spirit of a dead person, or a resuscitated body, as if he didn’t really die but recovered from his wounds.  Neither of those solutions has the power to accomplished what was accomplished in Jesus’ name.
            It is important that the resurrected Jesus has a physical body, one that can even eat.  His life is the transfiguration and blessing of matter itself.  If he left all that behind, then he leaves us, and the whole creation, behind.  Jesus’ resurrection means that matter matters.  In his resurrection he reveals the truth and energy at the heart of creation, the uncreated light of which all things are made, which God spoke into existence on Day One of creation.  In other words, the resurrection of Jesus is the most literal, factual, historical, and reliable thing in the whole Bible. 

            Once that is settled, Jesus gets down to business.  And what does he do?  Bible study.  “Like I said during my ministry, those of you who were paying attention, everything written about me in the Torah, the prophets, and the psalms, that is, basically the whole Bible, had to be fulfilled.” 
            The continuity once again is really important.  The new thing Jesus is doing is rooted in and based on the Jewish tradition.  It is not out of the blue, as it were.  It is not accidental or random that God chose this particular people to be the ones from whom the Messiah would emerge.  It is in fact essential that Jesus fulfill the faith of Israel.  The church would have no Bible except the Old Testament for centuries.
            These are the Scriptures that Jesus “[opens] their minds to understand.”  And his summary, with more detail than we are told he gave to the disciples in Emmaus earlier that day: “the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”
            So he opens their minds to see that the pattern of death and redemption pervades the Scriptures.  The God of the Bible is always about deliverance.  God is always bringing life out of death, good out of evil, and light into darkness.  The people invent prisons for themselves, and God springs them out.
            Jesus also transforms the minds of the disciples, which is the meaning of the Greek word for repentance: metanoia.  It literally means having a new or changed mind.  The word for forgiveness literally means “release.”  So Jesus is charging his disciples with proclaiming a new way of thinking, and a liberation, freedom, and emancipation from our condition of sin, being at enmity with God and each other.           
            Thus Jesus gives them the same message that he preached from the beginning.  It has always had to do with repentance and forgiveness, even back with John the Baptizer.  This new, transformed mind is surely what is developing in the disciples right now, as they evolve to recognize the presence of the risen Lord with them. 
            And the release has to do with letting go of old ways of thinking and acting that had reflected and expressed their bondage to sin.  The new mind is a liberated and liberating mind.  It is oriented not towards sin and separation from God, not towards the fear, anger, and shame that sin spawns in us.  But the new mind, the mind of Christ Jesus, has to do with life in union with God.
            Jesus sends the disciples out with this message of hope and peace.  But they are to wait in the city until the Holy Spirit descends upon them and clothes them with power from on high.  This whole thing has to brew and steep and simmer for a while among them.  They are not yet ready to embark on this mission.  They have not yet been fully equipped for this task.
            This necessity of waiting for the Spirit is something the church frequently disregards, unfortunately.  We want to charge ahead in mission!  We want to go out and tell the good news of the resurrection now!  The idea of waiting for something else to happen seems like procrastination.
            Maybe sometimes it is.  But maybe going out “half baked” as they say is an unconscious distraction because now we can still do this our way.  If we wait for the Spirit – and who knows how long that will take – it will have to be done God’s way.
            The disciples will invest the next 50 days in intensive study, conversation, prayer, organization, and reflection.  When the Spirit does come, which is not until the Book of Acts, Luke’s second volume, they know it and they are ready.
            Meanwhile, later that night, the risen Jesus leads the disciples out of the room, down the stairs, through the streets of Jerusalem, down the steep road through the Kidron Valley, the road on which he had entered Jerusalem a few days before, and up the Mount of Olives as far as the village of Bethany.  Jesus blesses them, and then he is visibly carried up into heaven and disappears.
            Ecstatic with joy, the disciples go back to Jerusalem and spend their days in the Temple in worship and praise to the living God.
            Their response is worship.  That’s how they get busy.  That’s how they get ready for the Spirit.  Maybe our worship as well would benefit from a consciousness that something, someone, is coming.  Maybe we too need the conviction that we will be clothed with power from on high.  Maybe we need to look for those gifts emerging among us, that equip us for our apostolic mission, our being sent into the world as emissaries of God’s peace and release.

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