The Second Sunday of Easter
Watch the Sermon Here
Here we are on another beautiful spring day, on the heels of yet another mass shooting, with news of further police brutality, still in the long uncertain life of a pandemic. Today’s psalm cries out, ‘Many are saying, “Oh, that we might see better times!”’ And so do we all. I don’t know about you, but over the last few days, I’ve been battling yet another round of misery about our current situation. So this is really a sermon for me. The rest of you can tune out, if you like.
It’s hard right now. It’s this weird mix of what the whole world is experiencing, the loss and anxiety, the anger over injustice, the boredom; the guilty pleasures of working from home, the lethargy, the attempts to plan in the face of unknowing…and the whole world, all at once, being in on this same slew of emotions. You look for things to shake it up, things to look forward to – even if it’s just whatever new recipe you’re cooking up for dinner tonight – but it always seems to settle back into this dread in the pit of your stomach, the feeling of pent-up tears, irritation, fear of what will happen if you reopen the church too soon, or if Derek Chauvin is acquitted of George Floyd’s murder. Above all, it settles over and over into this unease at the unknown of it all. The unknown, and the vastness of the unknown. Ugh.
Last weekend, fueled by some primal need, our family (well, three of us) watched the two ‘Frozen’ movies – and then how can you not go around singing ‘Let it go, let it go, don’t hold it back anymore’ and ‘Into the unknown…’? I enjoyed ‘Frozen’ all over again, but I found myself terribly irritated with Elsa in Frozen II. Everything wrapped up so beautifully in the first movie, so why does she have to go off all restless ‘into the unknown’ in the second one? Doesn’t she realize the value of certainty, and the happy ending of the first movie, I thought? What a silly person. My internal critique was a sign of my mood. I’m sick of the unknown. I want to know how this is all going to turn out, and I want to know now.
So I have some sympathy for the weird gospel reading for today, the wrap-it-all-up ending Luke tries to give the whole unsettling account of the resurrection. Think of the total confusion those disciples experienced on Easter day – the day started with the women meeting angelic messengers at the empty tomb, then running to get the other disciples, who wouldn’t believe them (except that Peter went to check anyway); then later, the two disciples walking to Emmaus, and that puzzling encounter with the stranger who turned out later to be Jesus; and then finally, after those two came rushing back to the group with their story, Jesus himself is suddenly there, standing among them, saying ‘Peace be with you!’ No wonder that after looking around the room Jesus notices the little crowd of friends is ‘startled and terrified’ – ‘why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your mind?’ he asks. Well, duh, Jesus, why do you think?? I’d want to say. Their entire world has turned upside down in the last 48 hours and they are totally freaking out. What did you expect them to feel?
So Jesus goes back to the basics. Look at me, touch me, I’m really here, flesh and bones; now give me something to eat. Let’s just start with that. All the rest of this is blowing your mind, I see that. In all this unknown, let’s return to what you can know.
One commentator pointed out how physical this story is, something that might strike us particularly given our disembodied Zoom existence. These are real bodies in a small room together, and Jesus is one of them – resurrected and yet tangible and physical and completely real. The resurrection, this gospel is at pains to show, is not just a theoretical construct – it’s real. (And by the way, what’s more, these people are eating together! Jesus and the two disciples broke bread together in Emmaus, and now here Jesus is, having a piece of fish. We only wish we could share such a meal with one another these days.)
And having established reality again, Jesus reminds them of what he’d already told them, and ‘opens their minds’ to finally really understand the whole thing in a way they never could before. All their questions, it seems, get answered. We only wish we could have that part too.
Which reminds me, forgive me, of a scene in another well-beloved film, ‘The Princess Bride.’ This must be my pop culture week, sorry. The hero Westley has been killed by the evil Prince Humperdinck, but he’s been revived by a pill made by Miracle Max and his wife Valerie. He’s still limp and nearly immobile, but his two friends Inigo and Fezzik need Westley to help them storm the castle and defeat the Prince and his henchman, the Count. So they formulate a plan, but Westley says, Now, there may be problems once we’re inside. Inigo replies, I’ll say — how do I find the Count? — Once I do, how do I find you again? — Once I find you again, how do we escape? —
Don’t pester him, says Fezzik. He’s had a hard day.
Jesus could be said to have had a hard few days too, crucifixion and tomb and all. And yet there he is, turning up for the disciples, who are lost in their grief and then further lost in their bewilderment at his appearance. Ready to answer all their questions and tie it up with a bow. Cue the credits, says Luke, we got to the happy ending at last.
Well, we don’t get it all tied up with a bow today. There’s a lot that’s still unknown. Shall we list some of it? We need gun control in this country, and some reknitting of society so that young men stop killing and being killed; we need police reform and justice and a country where we realize everyone belongs; we need a sense of the common good and a shared willingness to do what it takes to beat this virus; we need stronger families, more love, more readiness to care for our neighbor. And none of that is going to get tidied up this week, this year, maybe ever. So yes, Jesus, we’re frightened, and doubts arise in our minds, and there are days when that’s all we can see as real.
So what would Jesus say to us today, if he were here in the midst of us, in this Zoom room? How would he speak to us in our fear?
He’d probably start with ‘Peace be with you,’ again. And he’d look at us and see how scared we really are, and he’d name that aloud for us, perhaps. And he’d take us back to the basics. Look and see my hands and my feet; touch me; let’s eat together. And then he’d keep working on opening our minds and hearts, because we are witnesses, and we need to share that witness with others. That’s what Jesus would do.
And you know, that’s exactly what we’re doing here today. ‘Peace be with you,’ we will say to one another in a few moments. We’ll name aloud our fears and longings together, ‘Risen Lord, hear our prayer that the powers that oppress and destroy may decline, and justice and peace may be lifted up. Heal those who are sick. Comfort those who mourn.’ We’ll eat the bread – even if only symbolically still – together. We’ll talk and share and learn together. And we’ll be sent out as witnesses, to be Jesus’ hands and feet, to touch the truth of life with all its scars. We real, physical people, with all our doubts and fears, are the body of Christ. Just as we are, God comes among us. And just as we are, God sends us to help redeem the world.
It’s not the happy ending yet – we are called out into the unknown, because for now, that’s still where we’re at. But we know that God is with us; we know how Jesus shows us the way to live; we know that the Spirit is renewing us over and over again. We have the basics; we have all we need.