A Sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter, Year B – Luke 24:36b-48
Well, here we are again, back in a locked room with fearful disciples who are suddenly surprised to find a very risen Jesus standing before them.
The Gospel reading today recounts one of the resurrection appearances of Jesus to his disciples, but this time from Luke’s account. This may well be based on the very same encounter as the one from John that Thomas missed out on, but Thomas is not a focus of Luke’s story here. In fact, it’s only in John’s account that Thomas is portrayed as the doubter, which has led scholar Elaine Pagels to wonder aloud, “I wonder what Thomas did to make John mad?”
This particular encounter with Jesus in Luke’s account happens immediately after his appearance to two of Jesus’ disciples who were making a journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus, just a few miles away.
Now, these disciples were not from among the twelve, so we speculate that they were from among the 70, the group just outside the inner circle of the twelve. Whoever they are, they are making the day-long journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus with rumors of Jesus’ resurrection ringing in their ears, but they cannot bear to hope for such a miracle. Then a stranger comes along side them on the road and begins to instruct them how all of the events of the last few days, the triumphal entry, the betrayal of Jesus, his trial and crucifixion, and yes, even his resurrection, had been foretold in the Hebrew Scriptures.
These disciples invite their new friend to stop and break bread with them in Emmaus before he continues on his journey. When this stranger blesses and breaks the bread, they know him to be the Lord, but immediately he vanishes from their sight. Filled with joy and hope, they rush back to Jerusalem to tell the other disciples.
So here we are in today’s lesson. These two disciples have arrived in Jerusalem from Emmaus and are recounting their tale to the other disciples gathered in this locked room, when suddenly Jesus appears to them.
He speaks words of comfort to them and encourages them not to doubt his resurrection. He even provides them with the ultimate proof, the same proof he offers Thomas in the other account, “Touch me. See that I am no ghost. I am flesh and blood.”
But then there comes this curious request of the Lord. “Do you have anything to eat?”
Was Jesus hungry? Perhaps he was, as all these resurrection appearances must surely be tiring. But I’m not sure hunger was primarily on his mind.
So why did he ask them for food?
I see a recurring theme in these accounts of Jesus visiting with his disciples after his resurrection in his last days on this earth – Jesus wants to fellowship with them. But here they offer him fish and he eats it, “in their presence,” Luke specifically points out. Jesus likes food. Food is good. Sharing food with those you love is even better. In another famous account in John Jesus even fixes the disciples breakfast.
What better proof of his resurrected humanity than eating food with them, just like they had done in the upper room only a few nights before. The disciples in Emmaus had only seen him break the bread, but now they were seeing Jesus actually have a meal.
There is something intimate and sacramental in just sharing a meal – we often miss this in our disposable, fast food culture, but even today in Middle-Eastern culture, hospitality and sharing a meal is highly important to the daily functioning of life.
But Jesus does not just eat with them. He teaches them.
Just as he had done with the two on the way to Emmaus, Jesus showed this group all of the scriptures that prefigured his life, death and resurrection. All of scripture, all of the history of the Jewish people before this point had been leading up to this one man, his life, his sacrificial death and now his miraculous resurrection.
I love how understated Luke’s account his here, “He opened their minds to understand the scriptures.” The writer of Luke is pointing all of the followers of Jesus who were hearing or reading this account in those first generations of Christians to look back and study the Hebrew Scriptures. Look for Jesus there. You’ll find him! It’s as if Jesus, through Luke, is giving them permission to appropriate all of Jewish tradition as their own, even Gentile followers like Theophilus to whom Luke was supposedly addressed.
But again, Jesus does not stop with teaching. He’s got news for the disciples. This was the first day of the rest of their lives.
In almost a preamble to the great commission that he gives them just before his ascension, Jesus reminds his followers that “repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”
Where were they gathered? Jerusalem. Jesus was getting them ready to be sent out to proclaim the good news to all the nations. He has given them their marching orders.
What are the last words we heard in today’s gospel lesson – they are significant ones for them and for us: “You are witnesses of these things.”
Flash forward just a few weeks into the future and we read the account from our first lesson today from the Acts of the Apostles, which was, tradition tells us, written by the same author as the Gospel of Luke. This account in Acts finds Peter proclaiming the good news in Jerusalem. This is Peter, passing along everything that Jesus had taught them. Peter is acting as a first hand witness of God’s truth. Peter? Is this the same man who denied Jesus three times on Good Friday? Is this the same fisherman who would not let Jesus wash his feet?
What a miraculous change in Peter! What could possibly have happened to him? Is there anything that takes place between these two lessons that could explain Peter’s transformation from a relatively loud-mouthed but cowardly follower to a man who powerfully proclaims the good news of Jesus Christ.
The only answer is the day of Pentecost. We are in the Easter season now, but we are headed for the Ascension and then Pentecost! Peter is a changed man, and the truth he proclaims so boldly here in Acts is the very truth that Jesus is reminding them of in this resurrection appearance in Luke.
So, where are we in all of this?
Well, we who call ourselves followers of Christ, or Christians, we too are witnesses to his death and resurrection. We who are gathered here receive food from the Lord’s Table. We even quote from the Emmaus story in Prayer C, “Risen Lord, be known to us in the breaking of the bread.” But we also reach out, doing that evangelism that Jesus ordered his first disciples to do. Now, our evangelism may not look like that of other Christians. We don’t go door to door, or hand out tracts, or lead people in the sinner’s prayer, and yet we reach out, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God.
At Christ Church we take mission and outreach very seriously. The very fact that I am standing before you this morning is that you as a congregation think that college students are important people, people worth caring for and reaching out to.
Next week, a loyal bunch of parishioners will transform the Great Hall into Yard Sale Central. The proceeds from the yard sale will go directly to the various outreach ministries here. Whether it is working with the American Indian Ministry or our Sister Parish in Guatemala or supporting Anglicans in the Sudan or the food pantry or the Interfaith Childcare Center, or any of the other ministries I could mention, Christ Church is serious about reaching out and touching the world around us in the name of Christ. This is the resurrection joy we hear about in these readings.
We are Christ’s body, broken and given to the world. Every time we reach out, whether it is through tangible outreach ministries like those here at the church, or just in our day-to-day lives when we try to live our lives for justice, we fulfill the mission Jesus called us to.
So as we receive food and drink from the Lord today, the nourishment he provides, the way-bread to strengthen us for the journey, let us truly go forth in the name of Christ, rejoicing in the power of the spirit. Let us go forth to love and serve the Lord, and let us bless the Lord.
St. Augustine, in his Easter sermon puts it this way, “You are the body of Christ. In you and through you the work of the incarnation must go forward. You are to be taken; you are to be blessed, broken, and distributed; that you may be the means of grace and the vehicles of eternal charity.” Amen.