I love watching footage of Publisher’s Clearinghouse winners or housewives who get surprised by Oprah’s cameras. We can watch an entire story playing out across their faces as they are told they have won a million dollars or are about to meet Tom Cruise. At first they are embarrassed to be caught in their bathrobe. Next, they are suspicious that they are being scammed. Then they just stare blankly, usually with their mouths partially open, thinking. Finally, the news sinks in and they start jumping up and down and screaming like crazy people.
Any life changing news, whether good or bad, takes a while to filter through the human brain.
We celebrate Easter for a full 50 days, representing the time that lapsed between Jesus’ resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. God gave the disciples a nice, long time to absorb the news of the resurrection before throwing the curveball of the Holy Spirit at them.
Our Gospel lesson today is from the Gospel of Luke. You’ll remember from our time together at Easter that the Gospel of Mark does not contain any post-resurrection appearances, so the creators of the lectionary are borrowing from the Gospel of John and the Gospel of Luke this year. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus makes two post-resurrection appearances.
First, Jesus appears to two disciples walking along a road to Emmaus. They don’t recognize him at first, but he says a few elusive things and then breaks bread with them. In the act of breaking bread, they suddenly realize who he is.
The second appearance-the one we read today-happens when all the disciples are gathered together, discussing the first appearance.
Jesus materializes suddenly, out of nowhere, and the disciples are-here’s that word again-terrified.
Jesus understands their fear, Jesus understands that it takes our small brains time to absorb new information.
Jesus’ response to their fear tells us so much about God and the kind of love and patience that God has for us. Rather than getting down to the business at hand right away, Jesus gives them time to absorb the experience of being with the risen Jesus. He invites the disciples to touch him. He invites the disciples to view his wounds. He invites the disciples into this intimate moment of connection to reaffirm their bonds and reassure them of his identity.
Throughout all the resurrection appearances, eating is a theme. The resurrected Jesus almost always eats something within the stories where he appears to the Disciples. This story is no different. After giving the disciples a chance to touch his resurrected body, Jesus then eats a piece of fish in front of them. Eating the fish not only proves that Jesus is no ghost, but must have evoked many memories for the disciples. So many important moments in Jesus’ ministry happened around food. When the disciples saw Jesus eat the fish, they must have remembered the final Passover meal together, and the time Jesus fed 5000 people with just fish and bread, and the meal during which Mary poured oil over Jesus head and feet. The extraordinary resurrected Jesus chooses to do something extremely ordinary to help root his disciples in the reality of the present in a gentle, calming way.
Jesus does not delve into bible study or instruction until all those introductions are out of the way. Only when the disciples have come to understand that he is, indeed, resurrected from the dead, does Jesus begin to teach them about the implications of his resurrection. He helps them to understand that their mission is to go out and teach others about repentance and God’s forgiveness of sin.
The church year also gives us time to gently absorb the news of Jesus’ resurrection. We have all of Lent to focus on repenting and then 50 days of Easter to focus on the fact that our sins are forgiven.
And even with these 50 days of Easter, I don’t know that the good news really ever fully sinks into our hearts and minds.
I wonder what would happen if each of us took the next few weeks of Easter to really think and pray about how the forgiveness of sins affects each of us. The phrase “forgiveness of sins” has sort of a stern Catholic-school connotation. We don’t easily jump up and down in joy over the image of a stern God solemnly wiping our slate clean while giving us a one eye-brow raised nod.
But the forgiveness of sins is not about a schoolteacher God judging us and reluctantly changing our grade from an F to an A. The forgiveness of God is about the gift of an abundant, loving relationship with our Creator. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, God forgives us of our sins. Because Jesus mediates between us and the Father, we can be in a close relationship with God. Jesus modeled this kind of intimate relationship that is now available to us through his relationship with his disciples.
Jesus’ relationship with his disciples was marked by breaking bread together, walking together, and teaching. While Jesus occasionally rebuked or got frustrated with his disciples, his relationship to his disciples could not be characterized as stern or cold. Jesus loved his disciples and his disciples loved him. Jesus reaffirms this warm relationship with disciples by continuing to break bread with them after his resurrection.
Experiencing a relationship with God can sometimes feel abstract and frustrating. God does not literally walk with us or break bread with us. But, our relationship with God is just that-a relationship. The relationship is dynamic and intimate, just like Jesus’ relationship to the disciples was dynamic and intimate. We may not experience God in a palpable manner, as the disciples were able to do, but if we lead lives of prayer we do occasionally get a strong spiritual sense of God’s presence and a very powerful sense of God’s love for us.
Maybe this Eastertide, as we slowly absorb the reality of God’s powerful love for us, we’ll have a moment of insight about just how incredible this intimate relationship with the divine really is and we’ll start jumping up and down and screaming like one of those Publisher’s Clearinghouse winners!
Even for us staid Episcopalians, that would be an appropriate response to the Good News of God’s love for us!