Sermon by the Rev. Dr. James A. Gibson III
Third Sunday of Eastertide
Texts: Micah 4:1-5, 1 John 1:1-2:2, Luke 24:36-49
“And as they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them and said, ‘Peace to you!’” (Luke 24:36)
Collect of the Day
Almighty God, you gave your only Son to be for us both a sacrifice for sin and an example of godly living: Give us grace thankfully to receive his inestimable benefits, and daily to follow the blessed steps of his most holy life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
“The Christian church made clear long ago that our faith is not first and finally about ideas and concepts only,” writes Scott Hoezee. “We’re not Gnostics seeking to be saved through a word of knowledge. We’re not Eastern-like mystics who believe that the key to spirituality is to find ways to transcend this world’s physicalness so as to drift into realms of pure thought and consciousness. No, our faith is gritty and fleshy and tangible and involves nothing short of the renewal of all things: lakes, mountains, tadpoles, tangerines, real human bodies.”
That’s why, two weeks after Easter Sunday, we are still talking about it or, rather, talking about him . . . and don’t be surprised when, as we talk about him, he shows up.
“As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, ‘Peace to you!’”
To borrow from one of my old seminary professors, who probably borrowed it from someone else, do you know the difference between Christianity and every other religion?
Our founder is alive!
Confucius is dead. Buddha is dead. Mohammed is dead.
Jesus Christ is standing among us, right now!
|Ignatius of Antioch|
“I myself am convinced and believe,” says Ignatius of Antioch, “that he was in the flesh even after the resurrection. When he came to Peter and his friends, he said to them, ‘Take hold of me. Touch me, and see that I am not a bodiless ghost.’ They immediately touched him. They were convinced, clutching his body and his very breath. For this reason, they despised death itself and proved its victors.”
The disciples then could see and touch and feel. They could even share food with him—not just here but also in the immediately preceding account of the travelers on the road to Emmaus when, upon entering their home, Jesus is recognized in the breaking of the bread. There is also John’s account at the end of his Gospel with Jesus sharing a breakfast of broiled fish with his disciples.
Seeing, touching, feeling, eating. What more proof did they need? This is no ghost; no disembodied spirit. This is Jesus of Nazareth, the man they saw die on a cross three days earlier. But here he is alive, standing among them, inviting them to see his wounds, to touch him, to feel him, and share a meal with them.
But that was then, and this is now. How do we know that he is here among us today?
“The truth is,” writes Hoezee, “that every time we get together—whether excitedly or doggedly or with a hint of boredom in our voices—every time we get together to talk about Jesus, to debate a theological point, or to present some sermon we have worked on, Jesus always comes and stands in the midst of us (whether he is always minded to greet us with ‘Peace be with you’ is another matter . . .). We can never merely talk about God or Christ or the Holy Spirit without being aware that we are speaking in their presence as well.”
Recall Jesus’s words to Thomas last week, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Augustine would say, “What a tremendous favor grace has done us! We have neither seen nor touched, and we have believed.”
But is it all invisible to us? Do we not also have some visible, tangible, even edible sign of Christ’s presence in our midst?
Don’t ever make the mistake of overlooking the significance of food in the biblical story. From the very beginning, in the Garden of Eden, it was food that gave life, and food that brough about the fall. Melchizedek, king of Salem and priest of God Most High, brought Abraham bread and wine. The Israelites ate the Passover meal as they prepared to leave Egypt and then received manna while in the wilderness.
Jesus fed the five thousand with five loaves and two fish. He ate the Passover meal with his disciples the night before his death and instituted the meal that we have continued down through the ages as the sign and symbol of his presence among us.
It comes as no surprise that the Emmaus travelers recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread; no surprise that the definitive proof of his resurrection was his partaking of a piece of broiled fish.
Our faith is not in some nebulous ghostly presence. Our hope is not an eternity as disembodied spirits.
Our faith is in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen bodily from the dead, “the firstfuits,” as Paul says, “of those who have fallen asleep.”
Yes, because he is truly risen, death is not a permanent state. Those who fall asleep in Christ will also awake in his presence.
Our hope is eternity in the presence of Christ, sharing with him the victory that is the resurrection—all of us being renewed and restored in every way: spirit, soul, and body!
We come to the table and that faith is so real we can touch and feel it.
We come to the table and that hope is so close we can taste it.
Whenever I teach the kids about communion, I try to keep it simple—as simple as so great a mystery can be, of course.
I tell them the bread is Jesus’s body, the cup is Jesus’ blood, and when we eat the bread and drink the cup, Jesus is with us.
As the Psalmist says, “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good.”
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen, indeed! Alleluia!
+IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER,” AND OF THE SON, AND OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. AMEN.