Third Sunday of Easter B
While the disciples were telling how they had seen Jesus risen from the dead, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.
Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you– that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that 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. You are witnesses of these things.” Luke 24:36b-48
It is one thing to say that we believe in the resurrection. It is quite another to allow ourselves the experience of the Risen Christ. Experiencing resurrected life begins with recognizing the risen Christ among us. That is the gift of Easter. It is also the challenge described in today’s gospel.
Jesus, again, shows up out of nowhere. “Peace be with you,” he says to the disciples, but they don’t recognize him. They “thought that they were seeing a ghost.” After all Jesus was crucified, died, and buried. Dead men don’t come back to life. This can only be a ghost, a spirit without a body. The tomb is open, but their minds are closed.
The disciples are unable to recognize transcendence, the sacred, holiness standing amongst them. They are continuing to process everything in the usual human categories. They separate spirit and matter, divinity and humanity, heaven and earth. Whenever we make such separations, we close our minds, we deny ourselves resurrected life, and we lose our ability to recognize transcendence, the sacred, holiness amongst us in the world, in one another, and in ourselves.
With the resurrection of Jesus, God shatters our human categories about who God is, where God’s life is to be found, and how God works in this world. Resurrected life can never be comprehended, contained, or controlled by ordinary human understanding. The resurrection of Jesus beckons us to step outside our reality and enter into God’s reality.
God’s reality does not separate spirit and matter, divinity and humanity, heaven and earth. God’s reality begins with touching and seeing, flesh and bones, hands and feet, and broiled fish. Jesus said to his disciples, “Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” Then “he showed them his hands and his feet.” After this he ate a piece of broiled fish in their presence. In last week’s gospel Jesus’ hands and feet, his flesh and bones, passed through walls and locked doors. He invited Thomas to put his finger into the wound in His hand and his hand into the wound in His side.
The resurrected life of Christ, it seems, is revealed in and through the material creation. It is not, however, bound by the perceived limits of material creation. Rather, the resurrected body and life of Christ unite the visible and invisible, matter and spirit, humanity and divinity, earth and heaven. As the words of the Exultet, sung at the Easter Vigil, in honor of the paschal candle, symbol of the risen Christ proclaim, “This is the night in which heaven is united to earth.” On the one hand, Jesus has a real body. On the other hand, it is not subject to the natural laws of time and space. It’s not one or the other. It’s both. It is a new and different reality.
The degree to which we have allowed ourselves to be bound by the created order, that is, time and space, matter and form, is the degree to which are unable to see resurrected life and holiness in this world. We bind ourselves through our fears, our sorrows and losses, our runaway thoughts and distractions, our attachments and addictions to things, people, and even beliefs. Sometimes it’s our unwillingness to allow or trust God to grow and change us. In binding ourselves to the created order we lose our ability to recognize and to live in the sacred. But resurrected life is the ability to recognize and to live in the sacred.
The resurrected life of Christ reveals that all creation and every one of us are filled with God, drenched with holiness and bearers of divinity. Nothing can bind or supersede the grace that is given us through resurrection. It is the grace that is unconditional love, unconditional forgiveness, and unconditional life. That is, I think, one of the most difficult things for us to see, believe, and live into. It is, however, the divine reality into which we are invited, not at some future time and place but here and now.
Christ our God longs and desires to open our minds to understand, to ingest and to digest the scriptures, to fully incorporate all that has been written, spoken, and revealed about him in whatever form that has happened and is happening.
That’s what Jesus did for the disciples and it’s what he does for us. This is not an academic or intellectual understanding. That the disciples are witnesses means they now have the life Jesus died and rose to give them. They are witnesses based not on what they know, but on who they are, how they live, and on their relationship with the risen Jesus. You are able, but are you willing and ready to be risen with Him in this very moment, today and tomorrow
I don’t know how this happens. I can’t give you a set of instructions or a to-do list. That would be like giving you a set of instructions on how to fall in love. The resurrected life is not something we acquire. It is a gift we receive. The reception happens when we risk unbinding ourselves from the usual ways of seeing, living, and relating.
As I was preparing this sermon, I thought of a song composed in 1955 by Tony Bennett. A slight alteration of the lyrics can serve to bring what I am trying to say into stark relief.
“Take my hand, I’m a stranger in paradise, all lost in a wonderland, a stranger in paradise. I saw his face, and I ascended, out of the commonplace, into the rare somewhere. In this space, I know that He cares. I am no longer in dark despair, from all that I hunger for. For He has opened His arms, to the strangers in paradise. And He tells us that we need be strangers no more.”
This is not a rejection of the natural order. It is allowing the natural order to open to and reveal something more. That’s what happened for the disciples with Jesus’ hands and feet, with his flesh and bones, and the broiled fish. The saw and recognized something about Jesus and in so doing they saw and recognized something about themselves. They recognized holiness. It happens for us too.
Think about a time in your life when you lost track of time. I don’t mean you forgot what time it was, but that you were so awake, so present, that you entered a new world.
Think about a time when life seemed more real than it ever had and you touched or tasted life in a way never before.
Recall a moment when your heart opened, softened, and you knew you were somehow different.
Remember that day when you sensed something new was being offered you; possibilities that you did not create for yourself. They just opened up.
Reflect on that moment when you realized that you were ok and could again start to live.
Those are the moments when Christ opens our minds to understand. They are moments of awe and wonder that leave us in sacred silence. They fill our eyes with tears. We weep, not from sorrow or pain, but the water of new life. They are the moments in which we say, “I never want this to end. I don’t want to leave this place.”
In each of those moments the one who is fully alive and risen, the Christ, is calling us to see and recognize him, to join him, and to discover our new life. This is the authentic self we long to become, the self that we already are, and the self we are becoming ever more fully. This is resurrected life.
Let’s not lose this moment. Let’s not put today’s gospel behind us. It is much too easy to come here each Sunday, listen to the gospel, hear, for better or worse, whatever I have to say, and then return to life as usual. Don’t let that happen. Your life is too important to let that happen. Carry this gospel with you over the next week.
Let it open your eyes, your heart, and your mind to the life Jesus is offering you. Let it be the voice of Jesus opening your mind to understand. Sit with it. Pray with it. Wrestle with it. Trust it. As soon as you catch a glimpse of the risen Jesus and your own resurrection – dare to share it with another.
“You are witnesses of these things,” He says to us. Tell it. Live it. Become it. The resurrected life is yours. You are witnesses. We are witnesses.
The Rev. Frank J. Alagna
April 18, 2021