Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | April 19, 2015

2015.04.19 “Encore! Encore” – Luke 24: 36 – 48

Central United Methodist Church
Encore! Encore
Luke 24: 36 – 48
The 3rd Sunday of Easter
April 19nd, 2015

"Appearance of the Risen Christ Surrounded by the Apostles" by Duccio d Buoninsegna, 1308/11

“Appearance of the Risen Christ Surrounded by the Apostles” by Duccio d Buoninsegna, 1308/11

As they were saying this, Jesus himself stood among them. But they were startled and frightened, and supposed that they saw a spirit. And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do questionings rise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And while they still disbelieved for joy, and wondered, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them.

Then he said to them, “These are my words which I spoke to you, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.” – Luke 24: 36 – 48, the New Revised Standard Version

We’ve all had the experience: we go to a concert of a well-known performer(s) of whom we are fans. They do their concert, but there is a favorite song we would like to hear, which they do not do. They end the concert and exit the stage; we rise to our feet applauding, shouting “Encore.” They reappear on stage for an encore, maybe the number we’ve been waiting for.  Whether it was Jimmy Buffett singing “Margaritaville,” or Vladimir Horowitz playing “Traumerei,” you know what I’m talking about.

An encore is exactly what Jesus delivers in today’s Gospel from the last chapter of Luke, to his anxious disciples and to us.  In many ways, the story is very similar to the story we heard last week from the Gospel of John.  So, this morning if find yourself saying, “Wait – didn’t we just hear this story?” you will be like most preachers who spent a lot of time this week saying, “Wait, didn’t I just preach this sermon?” This is also why many pastors like to go away after Easter.

That is, of course, if we haven’t already left the building. After all, it is now the third Sunday of Easter, well into spring – and we have a lot to do. The grass is growing, the flowers are blooming, the trees are budding, our kids are hurtling toward the end of the school year; we’ve got sports events and concerts and graduations to attend, not to mention vacations to plan. And – oh yes – jobs; I forgot about jobs?  Aren’t we ready to move on from doubt and fear to joy and faith?

Since it is three weeks after Easter, you might think by now Jesus’ disciples have also moved on, but they haven’t. While it’s three weeks for us, it’s still the evening of the resurrection for them.  While they are still in a state of shock and grief and loss, mostly what they are experiencing is disbelief. Early in the morning (and earlier in the chapter) there was the women’s report from the tomb, which they discounted as – some translations say – “an idle tale;’ what we would call it can’t really be spoken here, but the first half of the world refers to a male cow.

Then, there was the report of two travelers on the road to Emmaus, to whom a mysterious stranger appeared. When evening fell and they invited him to stay, he took the bread and broke it, and their eyes were opened and they recognized who he was. Then raced back to Jerusalem to tell the others.

Then, right in the middle of that story, Jesus appeared among them, speaking peace.” And what do you think they said?  “Jesus, it’s so good to see you! We’ve been so worried! Are you OK?” Nope! What happened was: “They were startled and terrified, and thought they’d seen a ghost.”

We know startled. Startled is when someone enters the room without making any noise and we turn around and see them. I don’t know if I told you the story that a few years ago when we rented an apartment in Stockholm, it had a mannequin in it, by the front door; I don’t know how many times that thing startled me. That’s startled: they were startled and terrified by Jesus’ sudden appearance among them.

Once they got their hearts back down into their chest – the kinds of questions and concerns they had, were in some ways the same kind of questions and concerns we still have, twenty centuries later.

The first question is, “Is the Risen Jesus real?” Because they thought they were seeing a ghost; Jesus the Friendly Ghost. After all – he did “appear” before them, just like a ghost might do.

If you compare all the accounts, it does get confusing.  The Apostle Paul asked the question first: “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” (1 Corinthians 15:35) The Gospel stories themselves are not clear, and therefore invite caution. Mark has an empty tomb but no appearances of the resurrected Jesus. Luke describes a period of 40 days during which Jesus appeared, talked, ate, and was touched before he “ascended.” Matthew and John do not define a 40 day period, but they describe appearances of the resurrected Jesus as involving a person who could walk around and was so “normal-looking” he could be mistaken for someone else. In John’s Gospel, Jesus tells Mary “Don’t touch me;” a chapter later he tells Thomas, “Touch me.”  What are we to think? Was he a ghost or wasn’t he?

In Luke’s Gospel, to convince his disciples that whatever he was, was real and not a ghost, Jesus asks for a fish, and eats it before them. (I’m sure, Sam, if they’d had pizza, he would have asked for pizza) When he eats the fish, they know! It’s like saying, “How do we know it’s a Church? They serve food, don’t they?” How do we know it’s Jesus? Because he says, “You got anything to eat!”

In other words, they knew it was Jesus because he did what Jesus always did: he ate with people. No wonder Jesus complained, “John the Baptizer came fasting and you called him crazy. The Son of Man came feasting and you called him a lush. Opinion polls don’t count for much, do they? The proof of the pudding is in the eating.” (Luke 7: 34-35, The Message)

Should it be any different today? Gathering people around God’s table were the way of Jesus, and it should be our way as well. Every church needs a Bible and a pulpit and an altar, but every church also needs a stove and a kitchen and tables to gather around, like we do every Sunday. That’s how we recognize Jesus in our midst.  Beyond that I don’t understand it any more than they did or you do.

The second question they had, which Jesus answered without them asking, was “What sense does it make?” After all you’ve done for people, Jesus, after all you’ve said, to be killed like that, and alive again?  What sense does it make; we don’t get it?

Even though – Jesus had told them over and again, and they didn’t get it – he told them one more time, in what we might call the “world’s greatest Bible study,” or the first edition of Disciple Bible Study:

“Then he said to them, “These are my words which I spoke to you, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”

For Luke, the cross and empty tomb make no sense apart from the Biblical story, and at the same time, the crucified and risen Jesus become the key to understanding the Scriptures.

I give thanks for the serious study of the Scriptures, as we do every Sunday in worship, in Sunday School, and in Bible study. In our tradition we do not take the Bible literally, as some do, but we do take it seriously. Once we understand that the purpose of the study of the Scriptures is to find in the Word of God THE WORD OF GOD, then we experience the freedom to read the Bible as a human book, in which the divine may be encountered.  I also find it telling how Luke comments, that Jesus OPENED their minds to understand the scriptures. Should we conclude that authentic Bible study in the school of Jesus should always result in the OPENING of our mind rather than the CLOSING of our mind, as it seems to do in many Christian circles today.  In short, it should make us more like Jesus.

The last and final question, is “Now what?”  For Jesus, this is clear, and he makes it clear to them, that even though they are not ready yet: when he leaves the scene, they’re to be the witnesses, carrying on his work, preaching repentance and forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name to all nations and all people, beginning from Jerusalem. The surprise of who would be included – not only Jews but Gentiles – would soon be a shock to them; just as it continues to be to a shock to some Christians today. ALL means ALL.

Our experience – of course – will never be the same as theirs: “How lucky we were,” they might have said. “We witnessed the risen Jesus Christ, and no one will ever do that again.” But that is not the tone of the Gospels. They make these appearances of the Risen Christ to his first disciples (unique to them) exemplary of the Christian community’s experience (available to us), especially of the presence of Christ in the hearing of the word and the breaking of the bread.  And that’s why we do it every Sunday.

As we now experience Christ in a different way, so we also witness to him in a different way. Several years ago, Kristen Bargeron Grant, who was at the time the pastor of Cedar United Methodist Church in Ham Lake, Minnesota, spelled out what it means for us to be a witness for Christ today:

“We are witnesses when we can invite someone to look into our homes, our families, our friendships, our work, our checkbook, our daytimer – and find Jesus there. We are witnesses when we allow ourselves to be touched by folks who are lost and afraid. We are witnesses when we live in a way that defies any explanation other than the presence of the risen Christ within us. Look, touch, see, believe! It isn’t a ghost. It’s the living God.”

So, in these days after Easter, as we compare our story with the story of Jesus’ first disciples, we find their story to be different, but also the same. Like them, we still find ourselves bouncing between faith and fear, doubt and daring. We find ourselves forgetting the gift of our experience, and the responsibility of our witness. On the other hand, if we are willing to reach out and touch, we still experience the Risen Christ week by week, through the breaking of bread, and the study of the Scriptures, opening our eyes and hearts and minds to all the ways we can serve as his witnesses in the world today.  Encore! Encore! Amen.

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