Texts: Acts 3:12-19, Luke 24:36b-48
I regularly stand before you as assisting minister, communion assistant, and choir member; other times as Vacation Bible School leader or Audit Committee member. But today it is a great privilege to stand before you as proclaimer of the Gospel, and this is the Easter good news in today’s scripture readings: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again!
Christ has died. It may seem odd that this is Easter 3, still in the middle of our seven-week Easter celebration, yet we begin with Christ has died. But that is one of the key parts of the first accounts of the Resurrection. At each of the appearances of the resurrected Jesus, the disciples see clearly visible the marks of the wounds in his hands and feet. The experience of resurrection is intimately connected with the experience of suffering and death. Many then found that scandalous; some still do. Some suggested that Jesus did not really suffer, but just did a really good simulation of suffering. Others theorized that Jesus did not really die, but was in a temporary trance or state of suspended animation. But to those who want to go directly from the glory of Palm Sunday processions to the exultant joy of Easter morning, the witness of scripture is that we cannot skip over Jesus’ suffering and death.
The wounds of Jesus remind us in a powerful way of the deep connection Jesus has with each one of us. Each of us carries around our own wounds, our own deep hurts and scars and traumas. Beginning in childhood and continuing all our lives, pain is part of human existence. Misunderstandings, missed opportunities, misadventures remain with us long afterward. As we get older, we invariably become more familiar with all sorts of chronic and serious diseases. Dimmed vision, diminished hearing, and thinning hair are regular parts of the aging process. The beloved children’s book, “The Velveteen Rabbit”, describes the Skin Horse, who through the years has fallen apart and lost his hair through wear and tear and the hazards daily life. Sometimes getting older doesn’t seem quite that benign.
But whenever we would become discouraged or disheartened by our own personal challenges, Jesus would stand before us, and with an understanding look in his eyes, hold out to us his loving hands, and in the marks on those hands remind us that he knows, he cares, he is with us in our painful times. And that message is not just for us as we look deep within ourselves. To join with Thomas and the other disciples and humbly acknowledge, “My Lord and my God!”, means to see Jesus beckoning to us, calling us to join him in reaching out to those around us in pain—the homeless, the hungry, those seeking work, refugees, those suffering in body or mind, victims of violence of whatever sort—to see Jesus is standing there with each one of them even as he stands with us, bound together by his undying love.
Today’s First Lesson and Gospel both were written by Luke, who many believe was a trained physician. With a clinician’s eye he describes the remaining evidence of the trauma of crucifixion, but also the amazing evidence of Jesus’ resurrection. These were not carefully crafted medical case notes made with a handheld device to be included in an electronic health record. In both readings, with the eye of faith, Luke points us to the amazing power of God and calls us to embrace and continue proclaiming that power.
Christ is risen. One of my favorite films is “The Lion in Winter”, with Peter O’Toole portraying Henry Second and Katherine Hepburn playing Eleanor of Aquitaine. The story of their complicated lives in the late 1100s is filled with as much political maneuvering, violence, and adults behaving badly as you can find on the internet today. I’ve long found the movie to be a classic illustration of a dysfunctional family. But tucked away in the script is this line from Eleanor: “In a world in which a carpenter is resurrected, anything is possible.” Critics debate whether the real Eleanor ever said those words, but they still are worth pondering: in a world in which a carpenter is resurrected, anything is possible.
Dick Brandt, Richard Hermstad and I all attended Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota (although, of course, we were not there at the same time). One of the memorable people on campus was Jennings Mergenthal. Jennings grew up in rural southwest Minnesota. At an early age, his legs were crushed in a farming accident, and for the rest of his life he walked with two crutches. That did not stop him from earning a degree in business and a CPA license, and when he sensed a call to ministry, his home congregation supported him in his studies at Luther Seminary. When he finished the seminary program, however, he was denied ordination. Some on the faculty felt he could not handle the physical demands of parish ministry. Others argued that because of his physical disability he was not qualified for ordained service, pointing to passages in the Old Testament book of Leviticus suggesting that those with missing or maimed members were not suitable for serving God. Jennings took the rejection in stride, and he went on to run the seminary bookstore for 37 years, turning it into one of the most widely respected theological bookstores in the country. He became well known for his amazingly broad knowledge of theology, and he was consulted by generations of students and scholars from around the church and around the world. In his last years, as attitudes in church and society changed, he was finally able to serve as supply pastor to small congregations in rural Minnesota and Wisconsin. (2)
History is filled with stories of people who despite personal challenges were filled with God’s power and used for God’s purposes. Moses, perhaps greatest of the Old Testament prophets, had some sort of speech impediment and had to rely on his brother’s public speaking skills. The apostle Paul lamented a “thorn in the flesh” which many think was some sort of vision impairment. Both Martin Luther and Mother Theresa described their struggles with what now would be classed as clinical depression. Yet all were used by God and accomplished amazing things.
If Simon Peter had gone to high school, and if he had taken a career aptitude assessment, I suspect he would have been encouraged to pursue a career in the commercial fishing industry on the Sea of Galilee. Even at a young age, his impulsive nature, fiery temper, and salty language might have allowed him to fit right in on a fishing boat. Is it any wonder that the night Jesus was betrayed, Simon Peter was identified at the house of the high priest as part of the rough crowd from Galilee? His words and actions made it clear that is what he was. And yet it is just a few short chapters later in Book 2 of the two-part series of Luke-Acts that this same Simon Peter is preaching eloquently in the biggest, fanciest, most prestigious place of worship in the nation. What happened? What changed? Clearly, the continuing power of the Resurrection was at work!
In a world in which a carpenter is resurrected, anything is possible—including the possibility that God can use each of us here to continue the work of God and accomplish surprising, amazing things. The same God who could work through Moses and Simon Peter and Martin Luther and Mother Theresa and Jennings Mergenthal can work through us.
Christ will come again. Some people focus on the image of Christ returning in glory at the end of the age. I find meaning in the way Christ comes to us day after day in seemingly ordinary ways. Take meals, for example. Jesus seemed to like being with others at meal times. The first miracle was the changing of water to wine at the wedding feast in Cana of Galilee. The feeding of the five thousand with loaves and fishes must be in the list of Top 10 Favorite Miracles. Facing his imminent death, Jesus wanted to be with his disciples at a supper table. And after the resurrection, there are multiple reports of Jesus showing up again at meal time. In today’s gospel reading, knowing how many of the disciples had been recruited off fishing boats, it’s probably no surprise seafood again makes an appearance on their menu, and Jesus is offered some of their broiled fish when he shows up at mealtime.
Why was Jesus interested in being present at meals? Maybe because for most humans eating is at least a daily activity, and Jesus wanted to be with his followers on a daily basis. Maybe it was because of his delight in the pleasures of God’s creation—a fine meal must be one of the most universally recognized pleasures in life. Or maybe it was because even when dining alone, we are reminded of our connection with others, and Jesus wanted his followers to understand that his message of new life is not just for individuals but for all society.
Many of us are familiar with the mealtime prayer that begins, “Come, Lord Jesus, be our Guest…” When we say those words, we are asking Jesus to come again and sit at our table, to strengthen us with his familiar presence—and day after day, Jesus does just that. And the same thing happens when we gather at this table with bread and wine and pray, “Reveal yourself to us in the breaking of the bread, as once you revealed yourself to the disciples”—Jesus does just that, and he comes again to stand among us as we eat this bread and drink this cup. The details of the Resurrection may be hard to explain, but the power of the Resurrection cannot be denied. The resurrected Jesus appears to the disciples and says, “Peace be with you,” and their lives are forever changed. Today, and each time we gather at this table, our resurrected Lord says the same words to us: “Peace be with you,” and our lives continue to be transformed.
Christ has died! Christ is risen! Christ will come again! This is the Easter message for us. Amen!
- Favorite phrase of Michael Curry, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church.