Recognizing the Resurrection - Luke 24:36-48
“If it weren’t for Covid, we never would have developed three new programs at the seminary in one year,”
My colleague said.
“The pandemic forced us to stop so many things,
We were able to re-direct our efforts from day to day operations to building something new,” he went on.
We were at our clergy group, sharing about our ministries,
And it seemed to me that this incredible accomplishment might have parallels for other people.
So I asked, “Can anyone else fill the blank: ‘If It weren’t for Covid, I never would have….’?
The answers were various, from learning new skills and technologies,
To fostering community, spirituality, and Christian care in novel ways.
“If it weren’t for Covid, I would have never…”
I think we all have a response to this prompt, because there have been hidden blessings for almost all of us
As we have moved through this pandemic.
Whether it was additional family time, or reconnecting with old friends, spending more time outside, or
Finding creative solutions that actually work better than the old way.
As I reflect on this conversation, it occurs to me that these are resurrection stories—
Stories of how new life emerged from the pre-pandemic world that died.
But for every story of new life, there are stories about what Covid took away.
The aunt who lost cognitive abilities from the months of isolation
The restaurants and other businesses that have gone belly up
The families that had to grieve without saying goodbye to their loved one.
You don’t get these things back, and it can be hard to see a new beginning in many such losses.
What do you do when you can’t see the resurrection?
For me, that’s where the Gospel lesson from Luke comes in.
What I like about Luke is that he takes us back to the beginning,
To the first disciples gathering on Sunday evening, at end of the day of Jesus rose from the dead.
They did not have the benefit of hindsight and 2000 years of spiritual reflection to help them
recognize the resurrection when they saw it.
They are in this story like us, caught in the midst of loss and new possibility.
Let’s take a look and see what the disciples made of this most unusual turn of events.
When we meet up with the 11 disciples and their companions in our gospel lesson,
they had already heard some astounding news:
The women who went to anoint Jesus’ body said the tomb was empty,
And that angels met them and told them that Jesus was raised from the dead.
Luke says, however, that the disciples didn’t believe the testimony of the women,
And felt that their words of the angelic message were nothing but an ‘Idle tale.’
Then Cleopas and another disciple reported that Jesus had appeared to them as a stranger,
walking with them to Emmaus.
They said that Jesus revealed himself as they shared a meal, and then disappeared from sight.
When they came back to Jerusalem that evening to tell their news,
they learned that Peter also had seen Jesus alive.
Thus in one day, the women saw angels and heard Jesus was alive, and three disciples actually saw him.
All these people were there when Jesus appeared in our lesson, alive.
So it seems odd to me that Jesus’ closest friends didn’t get what was happening when Jesus showed up.
Despite the testimony of the women,
Despite the three eyewitnesses present who had seen Jesus alive already,
The disciples still question Jesus when he appears—they are startled and terrified, thinking he is a ghost.
Even the three who had already seen him!
Jesus’ disciples did not recognize the resurrection in their midst.
And when you think about it, why would they?
Jesus did not follow the playbook of the Messiah as they had expected.
The Messiah was supposed to be the successor to the great king David.
That meant defeating enemies, protecting the people, restoring the nation, and establishing justice.
Instead Jesus suffered and died – he was a failed messiah.
Of course Jesus had said this would happen when he was alive—
and not just that he would suffer and die, but also be raised from the dead.
But a suffering Messiah was out of the question, completely beyond their frame of reference.
Their expectations blinded them to what Jesus said would happen all along,
and what was right under their noses.
It makes me wonder if we, Jesus’ modern day disciples, do the same thing.
When confronted with a loss or disappointment, how many times do we embrace it
And trust that God will work it out?
It seems to me that more often we try to avoid the pain of loss and disappointment.
God may be offering us a gift in the changes of life,
but often what we see seems so different than what we are accustomed to, we don’t recognize the possibilities.
We do not see the resurrection life in our midst, because it requires letting something die.
That kind of surrender is radical, and it is hard.
Jesus responds to us the same way he responded to the disciples long ago.
Jesus’ first words to the disciples who can’t recognize his resurrection are, “Peace be with you.”
I take heart in these words.
For Jesus is not here to settle accounts, to haunt, or to hold onto the past.
In one sentence, Jesus releases all of that.
The peace of Jesus works at so many levels-
With a word, Jesus quells fear, bestows forgiveness,
and in the Jewish sense of the word shalom, brings wholeness and healing.
Jesus then gives the gift of his presence to them,
inviting them to touch him and to eat with him.
He shows them his feet and hands are where the marks of the nails would be.
It is a sign that the Risen Jesus can be with the disciples wherever they are—
Jesus does not need to travel or walk through doors, he simply appears
But more importantly, he promises to send his Spirit to be with them always.
The presence that Jesus offers his disciples is one that connects them to him at all times.
The presence of the Risen Lord both heals and incorporates old wounds
The presence of Christ ultimately feeds and sustains the disciples for the long haul.
In the face of doubt and fear, Jesus gives his gift of peace and presence to his disciples—
To those long ago who have trouble recognizing the resurrection, and to us.
And yet Jesus leaves one more gift.
He opens their minds to understanding, beginning the scriptures.
He said, “Thus is is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise again from the dead on the third day,
and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations.”
Understanding is a change of mindset, and repentance is a change of direction.
But that is not all
Jesus opens their mind to understanding through their own experience, as he goes on to say:
“You are witnesses of these things.”
The disciples become part of the resurrection story
They apprehend realities that are far beyond what the physical eye can see.
They sense new possibilities among the shards of broken existence.
Their role changes—they are no longer merely disciples, but also witnesses of the resurrection
Given eyes to see and lives to proclaim the good news.
Jesus invites us to view the world with resurrection eyes
To see within the dead shell of human experience the seed of new life.
When we meet the resurrected Jesus, we too receive his peace and presence
Which renews and sustains us.
We are reoriented to a mindset of hope and are given a new direction.
We are called to be witnesses of his risen
To recognize the resurrection in our midst
And to share that hope, that courage, that irrepressible life of the Risen Jesus