4/15/2018 Third Sunday of Easter The text is Luke 24:36B-48.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Every family has its strengths and every family has its weaknesses, and each one of us is genetically a mixture of both. For me, both parents were short, so I’m short. Everyone on my father’s side was stocky, so I’m built like a plow horse and from birth I’ve always carried extra pounds. My mother’s side of the family had bad eyes, so I’ve worn glasses since I was eight. But, my vision is stellar compared to my mother’s.
It’s been more than 50 years since my mother had cataract surgery, but I remember it very well. At that time, it was considered a major operation. She was put under general anesthesia, hospitalized for 10 days, and restricted to her bed for most of the time she was in the hospital. Once she came home, she couldn’t do any lifting and she spent most of her time in dark, shade-drawn rooms. But, the one thing I remember most about that surgery is the pair of glasses she wore for the rest of her life and how the cataract lenses in those frames magnified the appearance of her eyes out of proportion to her face. Unlike today, after the operation, she didn’t see much better than she did before she had it done. There were no lens implants. That meant that the fog didn’t totally clear up. And no matter how many times she went to the eye doctor, she was never able to see clearly again.
Oh, how things have changed! The scientific advances over the last 50 years are amazing. The same surgery that my mother endured is now done on an outpatient basis, under local anesthetic, with the procedure taking less time than the paperwork and wait time. Lenses, which are implanted directly on the eye replace the need for the coke bottle lenses that my mother wore. And patients, who are sent home the same day, often find that once the eye has healed they have sharper vision than they have had for years. That which we could not conceive as possible some 50 years ago is now an everyday event. The blind are given sight and cloudy vision is made clear.
But, not all cloudy vision is so easily eradicated by the surgeon’s knife. Sometimes vision is cloudy not because of a defect or problem with the eye, but because of a defect in sight, and an inability to believe and accept that which is clearly visible. It is this type of cloudy vision that the disciples of Jesus suffered after Jesus’ death and resurrection. They could see the risen Lord, but they couldn’t believe that the impossible had happened – that Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
Death has a way of clouding our vision. When someone near and dear to us dies, we often look at life differently. Our eyes focus on the past as our hearts are filled with a sense of loss in the present. We begin to see our own mortality, our own vulnerability, our own inevitable death. Our eyes are focused on ourselves and on our loss, and it takes a lot more than the skill of a well-trained 21st century ophthalmologist to clear our vision and restore hope.
The same was true for Jesus’ disciples. They had seen Jesus die. They knew where the body had been laid. And even though Jesus had stood among them as the risen one, it was going to take a lot more than a couple of visits by Jesus in order to them to believe that which they had seen clearly – the risen Christ. It was going to take a lot more than a couple of visits for them to believe – Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! And that meant that there is new hope for today and something more to come.
The first time Jesus appeared to the disciples, they were filled with fear and doubt. They listened. They saw. They received the gift of God’s peace. They reacted immediately to Jesus’ presence by rejoicing, BUT once he left, they stayed behind locked doors. They had seen, but their vision remained clouded by fear and by the pain of death. So, in short order, Jesus appeared a second time to them. This time, Thomas, the missing, was there. Once again the disciples listened. They saw. They touched. They received the gift of God’s peace. Thomas reacted of Jesus’ presence with faith, a faith that would dispel doubt and bring joy, a faith that would take away the pain of loss and the fear of death. And so, you would think that with doubt dispelled, all the disciples were now free to venture out, to unlock the door and go into the world, bearing witness to the resurrected Christ. BUT this just didn’t happen! They were still trapped by the past. They couldn’t get on with life for living required faith in something beyond the black hole of death.
So, for the third time, Jesus appeared to the disciples. Their reaction when they became aware of Jesus’ presence was no different from that of Jesus’ first appearance. Once again they were startled and terrified and thought they were seeing a ghost. In spite of everything they had seen and heard, touched and received, they were still blinded by fear and the events of the past. Their vision was so clouded by the realities of death that they were unable to see the truth of the resurrection and to have that truth seep inside them and bring them hope.
You would think, that by this point of time, that Jesus’ patience with this motley crew would have been taxed to the max. He had instructed them while he was flesh and blood. He had visited them twice once he was resurrected. And still, they don’t seem to be able to get past the tomb. But, our Lord is a patient God. Our God is a Lord who will go the extra mile for us. So, rather than throwing up his arms in frustration, once again Jesus spoke with them. Once again he bestowed on them God’s peace. Once again he showed them his hands and side and let them see that it was he and no ghost. But on this third resurrection appearance, Jesus did one final thing – he asked for some broiled fish. Jesus sat down and ate with them and in the breaking of the bread their eyes were finally opened. At last, their vision was clear. At last, they saw that the one who was dead now lived. At last, they could proclaim as we do often – Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
It took patience and the ordinary stuff of life for the disciples to come out from behind locked doors and re-engage life. Patience and the ordinary stuff of life – that’s what it took for the disciples, and that’s really what we all need when our vision gets mucked up by tragic events and painful realities. Patience and the ordinary stuff of life – that is what we need and that is what our Lord offers.
Our God never gives up on us, even if our vision is cloudy and we give up on him and on ourselves. Our God is a gracious God who will go that extra mile for us so that we may live in his peace and find hope for each new day. God does this, not with amazing scientific advances, but through ordinary stuff like bread and wine, like water and word. God does this through the witness and the gentle touch of ordinary people whose vision for today and tomorrow has been made clear through the hope of the resurrection. For God wants us to live in hope. God wants us to know that we have a friend in Jesus, the one who fulfills all the promises that have been handed down through the generations, even the promise of life over death. God wants us to be able to unlock the doors and tear down the walls which keep us from engaging the world head on. And God wants us to step out into each new day with confidence, trusting in him, bearing witness to his grace in Christ Jesus, and finding peace to go on even in the midst of those things which trouble us.
May you find that peace which comes from God. May you find the hope in the witness of the hard to convince disciples. May you feel joy in the truth of the resurrection and joy in God’s presence. And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.