St. Paul’s Congregational Church, April 18, 2021
Luke 24: 36b – 48; Easter 3B
You Are Witnesses!
The Rev. Cynthia F. Reynolds
Our scripture stories these past two weeks tell of the difficulties for the disciples and the others closest to Jesus to recognize their risen Lord. Imagine the disorientation they all feel – their friend, their Master, their teacher was dead. They were afraid, surrounded by doubt, fear, and I’d imagine some guilt – they’d all let him down in some way or another – no wonder it was hard for them to recognize that Jesus was alive and really with them. We can just feel their pain – their wondering about what’s next!
Last week in the gospel of John we remembered Thomas, the doubter, the questioner, who, in spite of his reputation, makes the most complete and profound affirmation of the Risen Christ: my Lord and my God!
This week we hear Luke’s account of Jesus’ appearance to his disciples – as he suddenly appears among them and greets them: peace be with you – the same greeting we heard in John’s gospel. The disciples’ reaction was probably like ours would be – startled, doubting, frightened, even terrified – they thought they were seeing a ghost. But Luke’s concentration is different from John’s – Luke concentrates on the very physical: the senses of touch, look, taste – this is no hallucination, no wishful thinking, no dream – Jesus the Messiah, executed, raised from the dead, comes among the disciples and asks for food – he eats a piece of broiled fish. For Luke, the Risen Christ is the man Jesus who died - God has done something entirely new here and we are called to remember that Easter is forever joined to Good Friday. To follow the risen Christ is to follow the one who bore the cross, the one who tells us “see my hands, see my feet.” Jesus Christ is the man of Nazareth, our crucified and risen Lord. Not a ghost. Not an image. A man. Not a life without pain, cruelty, suffering. We cannot separate from that – all of us know pain and suffering.
So, like the disciples we have trouble recognizing Jesus. And that’s our challenge in these weeks right after Easter Sunday, a day of overpowering joy and excitement. But then when the holiday is over, we go back to a routine – do we ask ourselves, what just happened here? What’s next? What does all this mean? Maybe we do – maybe not – but how do we sustain the joy, the hope, the promise, of Easter?
The dust begins to settle. And again we are faced with tragedy and pain again in our families, our community, in our world.
I’ve been wondering if it isn’t especially difficult this year for us – our second Easter Sunday worshipping remotely – it’s not the same is, it. We miss the flowers, the brass instruments, the crowd in the sanctuary. We miss our family gatherings. Yes, we have feelings of hopefulness with the availability of vaccines, with businesses re-opening, with some semblance of “normalcy” ahead of us, some schools re-opening – I’ve wondered this year more than ever before, what difference does Easter make in our lives? It feels like a parallel event this year – not one that has the potential for making all things new. There’s just been so much bad news, hard news, uncertainty around us for so long.
This too has been an eventful week in so many ways, hasn’t it, starting with a good Church Council meeting on Monday night where we began to face the reality of trying to discern where is God calling us as a church. What’s our mission? What’s our ministry? Facing financial issues that persist. At the same time, suggestions for new ministries and volunteers to pursue them – it was a good and hopeful meeting.
But at the same time, amid the chaos all around us, we’ve been introduced to new names: Adam Toledo, 13 years old, shot in Chicago. Daunte Wright, killed in Minnesota, a few short miles from the site of the trial of Minnesota police officer Derek Chavin, accused of the murder of George Floyd. In Virginia, an army medic was pepper sprayed for no apparent reason. We observed the 100 day anniversary of the violence, the insurrection on January 6 at our nation’s capitol building. Where were you that day? I was in University Hospital, 2 days post-op, doing pastoral care to the staff there who were in and out of my room all day – they’d come in and we’d watch a few minutes of the coverage on CNN of what was happening there – how can this be? What has come of us? So much violence. So much horror. So much anger.
And I hear the words from Jesus: You all are witnesses! We have heard the good news yet again! Jesus is alive! What now?
Friends, maybe now is the time! The chaos, the violence, the destruction must stop! Maybe our task this most difficult year in these days following Easter Sunday is not to let the dust settle – we who are witnesses, we who have had the breath of life breathed into us – we who have seen Jesus appear to his disciples in the most ordinary ways, in the most ordinary places – in the garden, walking along a road, at supper time – it’s now that Jesus appears in our midst, in the midst of people, in the midst of real life, in the midst of questions, fears, doubts, angers of the real world. He tells us not to be frightened, not to have doubts – we are witnesses to the fulfillment of all prophecy, the law, the promises, the wisdom of that which has come before.
We are called not to let the dust settle.
That’s a whole lot easier said than done, though, isn’t it.
Maybe, just maybe, we’re missing how we can be instruments of healing, of living in hope, of knowing we’re not alone. Jesus is with us!
Frederick Buechner writes, “The sacred moments, the moments of miracle, are often the everyday moments, the moments which, if we do not look with more than our eyes or listen with more than our ears, reveal only the gardener, a stranger coming down the road behind us, a meal like any other meal. But if we look with our hearts, if we listen with all of our being and our imagination, if we live our lives not from vacation to vacation, from escape to escape, but from the miracle of one instant of our precious lives to the miracle of the next – what we may see is Jesus himself, what we may hear is the first faint sound of a voice somewhere deep within us saying that there is a purpose in this life, in our lives, whether we can understand it completely or not, and that this purpose follows behind us through all our doubting and being afraid, through all our indifference and boredom, to a moment when suddenly we know for sure that everything does make sense because everything is in the hands of God, one of whose names is forgiveness, another is love; this is what the stories of Jesus coming back to life mean, because Jesus was the love of God, alive among us, and not all the cruelty and blindness of man could kill him.”
I was feeling pretty overwhelmed this week – and it came to a head on Thursday. Even though I tried not to watch the news, I couldn’t stay away from it – I was tired, sore, discouraged – a friend’s daughter had been admitted to the hospital after her eating disorder had again gone out of control, she was at risk for yet another suicide attempt.
Now, do you remember what a yukky day it was on Thursday – cold, rainy – I wanted to be outside in my garden cleaning up but it sure didn’t feel like spring – staying warm wasn’t easy in spite of afghans and blankets wrapped around me.
As I sat on my couch late afternoon I happened to look out the sliders to my deck and saw sunlight for the first time all day on the top of the trees, reflecting on the upper floors of an apartment building a couple blocks behind my house – I got up to look and was greeted by the biggest, most brilliant rainbow I’d ever seen. I texted my neighbor, grabbed my phone, and went outside in the rain showers and the sight was breathtaking! We both stood there in the cold rain watching this awesome miracle unfold – a double rainbow, more beautiful I could ever imagine – even the blue and purple colors were stunning. And the entire rainbow was in front of us!
Then, in about 15 minutes it was gone – the clouds rolled back in and suddenly the sky was dark, gloomy, and there was more cold rain falling hard again. But my spirits were restored – a sacred moment, a moment of miracle, a moment of hope, a time of God’s presence. How many opportunities like that do we miss?
Ann Weems has written a poem: Walking Rainbows:
A rainbow is not just a symphony of colors
sent to calm the storm in our souls;
it is a talk with God,
a mysterious, miraculous conversation with God,
heart to heart,
the very heart of God saying to our hearts:
"I remember I am your God.
Be my walking rainbows,
so that the whole world
will know to whom you belong,
for I am the God who keeps promises,
and I have not forgotten our covenant."
This is the hope of the church: that God keeps promises.
The mission of the church is to walk among the suffering and give,
for we are covenant keepers, walking rainbows,
bringing hope of the good news to the poor.
This Eastertide as we celebrate the coming of the New Covenant in our midst, let us remember: God keeps promises. The mission of the church is to walk among the suffering and give, for we are covenant keepers, walking rainbows, bringing hope of the good news to the poor.
I pray that regardless of how disoriented the world might leave us, and it leaves us plenty disoriented, doesn’t it – we will readily recognize that love is alive. That Christ is alive and near us now. And God’s promise is fulfilled.
That message could not have been clearer than it was on Thursday night – may each of us be empowered and strengthened to be walking rainbows in a world where darkness seems to reign. Don’t let the dust settle! The light has come! And we shall overcome the darkness, with God’s help. Thanks be to God!