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A Trilogy of Fear

The text for today’s sermon is taken from Luke 24:36b-4:8.

Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  We celebrate Easter like a wedding feast, a birthday party and a 50th anniversary rolled up into one.  We put on our Easter finery.  We sing hymns of hope and praise.  We eat sweets and fatted hams. But when we look at the record of what happened on the first Easter and the weeks immediately follow Jesus resurrection, there are no shout of “Christ is risen!”  For instead of joy, the good news is met with a healthy dose of fear.

We’ve been hearing about the fear for two weeks now.  In our Easter gospel for this year, Mark’s version of the story, when the women go to the tomb and find it empty, they go home and say nothing to anyone because they are afraid.  Last week, we heard that on the day of the resurrection, the disciples gather behind locked doors for “fear of the Jews.”  And today, we see the same reaction – fear.

According to Luke, the same people who have been told of the resurrection, not once, but twice – once by Peter and once by the two on the road to Emmaus – still don’t get it.  They react with fear and superstition when Jesus actually appears to them in the flesh. “They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost.” (vs. 37)  So, apparently, in spite of what they had seen and heard, the disciples had trouble believing in the resurrection.  They could not proclaim as we do, “Christ is risen.  He is risen indeed.”

It may have been that after his crucifixion, the disciples of Jesus were trying to sort out the meaning of the reports they had been receiving about appearances of the risen Christ.  They may have wondered if it were a hoax.  They may have been filled with even greater doubt than good old Thomas.  For they were not completely immune to superstition and to them, it was entirely plausible that these reports had something to do with some kind of ghost. So when it happened to them, when Jesus himself stood among them, the disciples were startled and frightened.  But then, who wouldn’t be?  It was simply too wonderful to be true. He was alive and he was with them right there. No wonder they had difficulty believing.

So Jesus said to them, as he said to Thomas last week: “Why are you questioning and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See 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 I have.”  Then, in order to convince them that the resurrection was real and something more than the world’s greatest divine parlor trick, more than just the ultimate surprise ending that would startle and jolt everyone who heard about it, Jesus asked for something to eat.  Jesus knew that it would take more than the palm of his hand, and the marks on his feet and the hole in his side to overcome fear, ignorance, and superstition.  To prove that he was truly and completely there, he did what no ghost could do – he ate.

Jesus appeared to his disciples and to others, over and over again, in different places (the garden, the Emmaus Road, the seashore, the Upper Room) in order to prove that he was alive, that he was back from the dead with a body. Jesus wasn’t content to send a postcard from heaven: HAVING A GREAT TIME. WISH YOU WERE HERE.  No.  Jesus showed up among the people as his own witness, threatening them with life.  For that is what Easter is all about – life, not death.  The crucifixion, the death, the tomb are relegated to the past as life prevails.  Jesus has risen!

The stories of Jesus’ physical resurrection that are recorded in the Bible are to help us believe and not doubt that God raised Jesus and through his resurrection God offers us new life – a new life in here and now, trusting in God’s promises and presence, and a new life to come in which we be like Jesus.  This means that Easter does not mean that a better day is coming by and by, that with a little bit of luck we can turn things around in our lives, or that there is no situation so difficult that God cannot resolve it.  Easter means that life wins out over death.  And this life that God offers us is more than just offer some kind of generic “new beginning” and “fresh start.”  It means that the sin and evil that put up obstacles and caused a chasm between us and God will not stand. God will restore all things to himself. This restoration begins with the marks of the nail and the hole in the side.  It begins with the physical resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  And it will end on that day when we rise in Christ and be like him, not limited to a “spirit” existence, but physically able to eat and touch and be touched as we relate to God and one another.

We are called to proclaim this physical resurrection clearly and joyfully – and this challenging in a world that wants concrete evidence of a divine miracle and promise.  Only God can prove the resurrection to a disbelieving soul.  And yet, we are grateful for the witnesses of the resurrection who doubted and feared – for they reacted to the good news in the way that any normal person would react.  We are grateful for the joy they found in wounded hands, feet and side, for it took such evidence to change doubt into belief and fear into joy.  And we are grateful for the breaking bread and eating with the risen Lord, something that they did which proved the real presence of Jesus and something we enjoy with them each time we gather at the table.  And most of all, we are grateful that we celebrate Easter like a wedding feast, a birthday party and a 50th anniversary rolled up into one, as we proclaim,  Christ is risen.  He is risen indeed!

May those words breathe new life into dreary days and bring you hope for life in Christ.  And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.




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