Third Sunday of Easter
Luke 26: 36-48
While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, ‘Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’ And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence. Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.
The Anglican/Catholic church has something called the Lectionary, it is a three year pattern of readings that is used for all of our services and it takes us through the Old and New Testament with the Epistles in a uniform way. Lectionary-based preachers will tell you that there are both plusses and minuses to following this method of sermon preparation. We never have to search for a sermon topic or plan out a year's worth of sermons. Each week we have an abundance of topics and directions we can take. However, there are some occasions that present the preacher with a challenge; the repetition of stories, and this Sunday is a case in point.
During the Sundays after Easter the gospel readings recount the stories of Jesus' appearances to the disciples. This means that the gospel story for the Third Sunday of Easter taken from Luke's gospel bears a striking resemblance to the gospel reading we had last week. In each text Jesus appears to the disciples; they are afraid and unbelieving. He convinces them that he is their teacher and friend raised from the dead and that they are to continue his mission in the world.
It may sound as though we are repeating ourselves, but these two narratives offer significant differences. The challenge, then, is to help us appreciate that there is always new grace found in all of these stories, even when we appear to be telling the same story once again.
Before Luke describes the meeting of Jesus and the disciples the evening of that first day, he is the only one who tells the story of an encounter between Jesus and two dispirited disciples, Cleopas and an unnamed companion who are on the road too Emmaus. You will find this in Luke 24: 13-35. There are key similarities that link these two important resurrection accounts.
Both accounts follow the same pattern – easy to remember because they all begin with the letter ‘E’ :
Encounter – the disciple’s failure to recognise Jesus
Explanation – Jesus explains his resurrection through the lens of the scriptures
Eating - Jesus breaks bread or eats fish
Enlightenment - the disciples eyes are opened, their hearts burn, and they recognise him
Exit - Jesus departs the disciples
In the first story two people from Emmaus, returning home, continue to believe that the women's report was an idle tale. They encounter a stranger on the road and tell him what has happened in Jerusalem. They report the news of what happened to Jesus and how the tomb was supposedly empty. But, as this stranger observes, they are foolish and "slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!" Jesus explains to them what happened was what the scriptures had told. They invite the stranger to eat with them and it is in the breaking of the bread that they are enlightened; their eyes opened, hearts burn, and they realise that they have been speaking with their risen teacher. Instantly Jesus exits.
The two disciples hurriedly return to Jerusalem and excitedly tell their companions what happened to them. It is at this moment that today's text begins and the pattern repeats itself; this is "what they were talking about." The opening line in our reading. The gathering of disciples encounter Jesus but again they do not understand what is happening. They appear to connect this figure with their crucified friend, but they think that he is a ghost. They are filled with confusion and doubt. Jesus then seeks to explain what is happening by offering them his body, showing them the wounds of the crucifixion.
Next, as he did at the table in Emmaus, he eats a piece of fish. After all, ghosts do not eat. He continues his explanation by opening to them the scriptures to show that everything they have learned before his crucifixion led them to this very moment, they are enlightened
There is one significant addition to this story. Although Jesus did not send Cleopas and his companion out as witnesses, that was exactly what their encounter caused them to do. But in this second appearance Jesus directly tells the disciples that they are to be witnesses. Here is the difference with John's account. There is no infusion of the Spirit. Today's reading ends with the commissioning of the disciples. The Spirit will come, but for now the disciples are to tell of repentance and forgiveness that will come in Jesus' name.
It is here where we are able to enter the story. We come with our doubts, confusions, fears, misunderstandings and our expectations. Amazingly the pattern is just the same. Through worship we encounter the risen Christ. In the reading of the scriptures and the preached word we are offered an explanation, proclaiming the good news of what God has and is doing. In the breaking of bread and in the wine in the Eucharist we eat (partake ) of the Holy meal. The Holy Spirit which came at Pentecost brings enlightenment, opening our hearts and minds, and hopefully giving us ‘holy heartburn’ setting our hearts on fire. Finally, the exit will be ours for Jesus Christ has sent us out into the world to be witnesses to this amazing news. If that last sentence fills you with trepidation just remember how Jesus greeted his friends who felt just the same. “Peace be with you.” Amen.