041821 Easter 3
The sermon begins at minute 11:10 of the video
Psalm 4; Acts 3:12-19; Luke 24:36-48
When I first read today’s Scriptures, they struck me as downers. Aren’t we supposed to be celebrating Christ’s resurrection? Why do these passages focus on rejection, murder, ignorance, suffering, and longing for better times? Then I remembered that Jesus spent the 50 days between Easter and Pentecost helping the disciples understand what they had just lived through. It was not a time to celebrate that the cross was behind them now, and to move on. Jesus knew they could not move on if they did not learn the lessons and secret insights from the difficult time they had just experienced.
We have been saying for weeks that the world faces a similar prospect with the light at the end of the tunnel of the pandemic. We long to celebrate, and to see each other in person again. Many are jumping to that experience full speed ahead: parties, beach trips, movie theaters, indoor concerts, shedding masks, embracing loved ones, returning to church, and an endless list of doing things we’ve missed doing. But, at least in the short run, the disease itself seems to be warning us, “not so fast.” Surges, variants, side effects, and increasing pollution are signs that maybe we need to be more thoughtful as we pick up on the lives we used to know.
There are also long terms impacts of rushing ahead without reflecting. On this Earth Sunday, we would do well to reflect on what we learned about how we treat the earth during the pandemic. Remember a year ago when the air was clear, and the freeways were empty? We learned that it really is in our hands to heal the earth. But we will have to change – to limit some of the choices we’ve had in the past. We may have to suffer some deprivations. The lessons and secrets that the pandemic holds for us will not all be pleasant, just as the lessons the disciples learned were not all pleasant. But life is better when we learn them.
Is there a connection between the life secrets Jesus taught the disciples between Easter and Pentecost, and what our generation needs to learn today? From one perspective, our society is in a good mindset to listen to life’s secrets: conspiracy theories are more popular than ever. The attraction to conspiracy theories may have the same roots as our longing to be in on secrets. When we “know” something that others don’t know – even if it’s not true – we feel like we’ve found a buried treasure, a secret wisdom, that was just waiting to be found.
Jesus took advantage of this human characteristic. Not only did he teach in parables that required ears to hear and eyes to see; anyone who has done a serious study of the Gospels knows about the messianic secret. Jesus often told people not to report to others what he had done for them. Why? Does that have anything to do with life secrets he taught them after the resurrection? Mark’s gospel makes it clear that there is a hidden, secret wisdom that needs to be grasped if one is to understand the deep design of things. What is that secret?
In short, it’s the cross of Christ and the wisdom contained within it. Jesus’s whole life and mission laid open for everyone the deepest secret of all, and made it accessible to everyone. But it wasn’t until he had died and risen that the disciples could understand it. His way of dying was innocent, trusting, unwilling out of love to protect himself against suffering, absorbing hatred, and sin, understanding and forgiving those who were murdering him, refusing to resort to any kind of superior physical power to overwhelm his adversaries, refusing to give back in kind, and refusing to give himself over to bitterness and cynicism. That was definitely a different way to face death, especially being unjustly murdered.
So, with his death as a backdrop, Jesus invited his disciples – and us – to connect Jesus’ death with their own lives. The disciples had just heard the crazy story from the Cleopas and his friend about their experience on the Road to Emmaus. But suddenly, without warning, Jesus appeared. They were startled and terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost. Jesus replied, ghosts don’t have flesh and bones, do they? Touch me and know I am real. He showed them his hands and feet, with the wounds of the cross now made beautiful by God’s love.
He began to explain his passion, death, and burial. He recalled everything written about him in the law of Moses and in the prophets and psalms. He said why the Son of Man had to suffer, die, and then be raised. The passage from Acts tells us that, after Pentecost, Peter and the others went off to preach what Jesus taught them during those weeks: what God had announced beforehand through the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, and would die and be glorified. This is the “rest of the story” of Emmaus. It is also the rest of our story. Jesus showed the necessary connections between all the events they had witnessed that week. In those connections were the keys to crack the code of love.
Jesus wanted them to sit with those connections, and relate them to their own lives as they received power to teach them to others. We don’t crack that code all at once, at a weekend retreat or at religious rally. We crack it slowly, painfully, with many setbacks, over the course of a lifetime. One preacher put it well: isn’t it precisely when we are vulnerable and unable to impress or overpower others that we are finally open to intimacy, love, and family? Aren’t self-sacrifice and self-denial, in the end, the way real love manifests itself? Isn’t the crucifixion of the private ego the route to empathy and community? Isn’t the forgiveness of those who hurt us the final manifestation of human maturity? (Ron Rolheiser) Those are the connections we find when we sit with all the facts.
We have a lot to sit with this Eastertide, don’t we? The unnecessary and unjust deaths of so many black people killed by police keep multiplying and causing grief, anger, and protest. There are so many shootings with multiple victims that we don’t even know what to call them anymore. Our hearts are stretching to the breaking point. The uneven course of the pandemic breeds confusion about how to move forward with our lives. Even at St. Athanasius, we’re finding that the road to in-person worship is bumpy. The mere mention of Myanmar, Russia, China can overwhelm us. And this doesn’t even include all the challenges we face in our personal lives – our own health issues, trying to get vaccinated, the sickness and death of family and friends, income and employment challenges, and the list goes on. Are Jesus’ words helpful in all this?
As we await the empowerment of Pentecost, the Psalmist’s advice can give us a way to find out if Jesus’ words are helpful: speak to your heart in silence upon your bed. What does that mean to speak? For the Psalmist it means remembering all the ways God had set me free, done wonders for the faithful, put gladness in my heart, and made me dwell in safety. But not just to feel optimistic. The remembering occurred against the backdrop of being hard-pressed, dishonored, and longing for better days. That’s the same things Jesus was teaching the disciples to do. The body of resurrection, and even the world of resurrection, still has wounds. The work of this season may be to speak to our hearts in silence upon our beds. That might be the best way to get ready to speak and act on what God has announced during these turbulent times.