The Third Sunday of Easter – April 18, 2021
I John 3:1-7
You can’t manage or control a resurrection. You can put it into your normal understanding of reality. Like all mystical experiences, resurrection is always life-shattering and initially beyond belief. We can neither expect or program a resurrection. But, when it comes, we are amazed and transformed. Can we who have heard the resurrection stories countless times, almost knowing them by heart, hear them in new ways and allow ourselves to be transformed? Can we who know the happy ending be amazed, astounded, and altered by resurrection?
All the great religions begin with mystical experiences that are presumed to shed light on all reality. The transcendent gives light for our daily lives, creating the contours for interpreting reality, most especially life’s most challenging experiences.
Luke describes the disciples’ incredulity at encountering the Risen Christ. They have just heard of Jesus’ encounter with Cleopas and his friend at Emmaus and are astounded. In the midst of their conversation, Jesus appears greeting them with God’s peace. Resurrection life brings peace; it calms, clarifies, unites, and empowers. It also amazes, unnerves, and recalibrates our sense of reality. Perhaps a sense of God’s peace is the only way we can accept the radical message of resurrection. But what does peace mean in a death-filled world in which the bad news often outweighs the good, and in which leaders, in the spirit of Pilate, often embrace the ways of death? What does the peace of resurrection mean when we are still trying to find our way out of COVID and return to some normalcy in our congregational lives?
At first, the disciples believe Jesus to be a ghost, and so he must prove his holistic “embodied” existence. He must prove that the resurrection is real, not a phantasm. More than a ghost or hallucination, Jesus invites the disciples to see him as alive and embodied, perhaps even revealing his crucifixion wounds to them. As a final demonstration of his “realness,” he eats a piece of fish. Imagine that! A gastronomical proof of resurrection!
Jesus then proceeds to share the scripture witnesses to his death and resurrection, and empowers them to go out into the world, sharing God’s good news of repentance, forgiveness, and new life. The nature of Jesus’ resurrection body was no doubt a mystery to his first followers and it must be to us. A ghost that can enjoy a fish dinner? A highly energetic quantum body? A being of light? Whatever the nature of the resurrection body, it cannot be contained, defined, denied, or described. The mystery and marvel open us up to seeing the world with new eyes, and embrace new possibilities.
What are we to make of this encounter? How would we respond if Jesus showed up in our congregation this morning, embodied and giving us a commission to share good news to the world? Would we skeptical about his embodiment and resurrection life? Would we think we were going crazy or hallucination? Would we see this mystical encounter as coming from God and calling us to holy adventure?
However we respond to such resurrection encounters, it is clear that we cannot domesticate these stories. They go beyond the rationalism of the Enlightenment and the literalism of the fundamentalist. They can’t be confined by our logic and ways of seeing the world and defy any attempt to fully understand or control by believer and skeptic alike.
The gospel of Luke invites us to affirm a number of things:
1) Resurrection is real.
2) Resurrection is embodied and holistic.
3) Resurrection is met with doubt.
4) Yet doubt is part of a larger sense of peace.
5) Resurrection leads to mission.
6) Resurrection is grounded in the history and hopes of Israel.
The words of Acts 3:12-19 make little sense apart from the healing story that precedes it. Peter embodies resurrection power in healing a disabled man by the power of Jesus’ name. He explains the man’s healing as the result of God’s power and not his own, and then invites the assembly to repent, to transform their lives, and believe in Jesus’ name. Resurrection power transforms cells as well as souls.
The name of Jesus is powerful. As the hymn says, “take the name of Jesus with you.” Repeat it, and let it be the lens through which we experience reality and claim God’s power of salvation despite our past experiences.
The passage from I John 3 is a call to transformed living. The author of I John sees sin as touching all of us. To say we have no sin is to claim perfection none of us has. But sin cannot dominate those who follow God’s way. God is willing and able to forgive our sins and put us on the right path. In confession, we become honest to God and ourselves. Yet, we are not to persist in our sins. Those who follow Christ are to walk in the light. Our calling is to be as Christ-like as possible. In liberating ourselves from the power of sin, we are able to see Christ as he is, in us and in those around us.
Following Christ, however, is never clear. Our intent is to live by love and hospitality, to love one another as God has loved us. The content of our love is what is most challenging. Jesus’ love was considered countercultural and, in fact, “sinful” by some religious leaders. Our own acts of love may raise eyebrows and lead to conflict, since love, in the spirit of Jesus, is relational and not legalistic in spirit. Still, we must do our best to follow God’s guidance, recognize our tendency to self-interest and the reality that we are complicit in the evils we often oppose, and be willing to confess the imperfections of our best efforts.
Let us practice resurrection, recognizing our limitations and imperfections, seeing our complicity in the pain of others, and welcoming the new life that comes through the Living Christ. The Living, Risen Christ empowers us to be God’s healing companions, freed from the past, and open to the horizons of God’s future, claiming our partnership in furthering the moral and spiritual arcs of history.
Bruce Epperly is a pastor, professor, and author of over sixty books, including WALKING WITH FRANCIS OF ASSISI: FROM PRIVILEGE TO ACTIVISM; MYSTICS IN ACTION: 12 SAINTS FOR TODAY; PROPHETIC HEALING: THE CONTEMPLATIVE ACTIVISM OF HOWARD THURMAN; PROCESS THEOLOGY AND POLITICS; and 101 SOUL SEEDS FOR HEALING AND WHOLENESS.