Third Sunday of Easter
Have you ever felt betrayed? Has someone you trusted thrown you under the bus? Was there ever a time when someone denied knowing you? Perhaps you were at some event and someone you knew or even had worked with snubbed you? Walked right by you as if you were invisible?
Or have you at any time in your life felt abandoned when you fell on tough times? Some of the folks you thought you could count on deserted you and even when the crisis passed never bothered to check in. If you’ve been in any of these dark places you know what Jesus experienced and you know that his followers must have felt such guilt about their behavior when he appeared to them on that Easter evening.
Betrayal, rejection, abandonment hurt deeply. They are wounds that cut us to the core and don’t heal that easily. It’s not so easy to forgive and forget when we’ve been bruised and damaged by others, especially those in whom we have faith. So we might not have too much trouble understanding why the disciples were “startled and terrified.” They had abandoned Jesus in his darkest hour. One of their company had betrayed him. Peter had denied him.
They thought they had seen a ghost and with good reason. In nearly every literary type, the appearance of a ghost is associated with revenge or payback or a warning that something bad will happen. A classic example of this is the apparition of Jacob Marley to Ebenezer Scrooge in the familiar Christmas story A Christmas Carol. So the disciples were expecting the worst. I’d imagine that their thoughts might have turned to the words of the psalm we prayed today: “Oh that we might see better times!”
Some of them were confused by what they had seen at the empty tomb, others questioning those who had seen, but all of them—in the wake of the previous three days and what had transpired and what they had done and not done— wanting for, yearning for better times.
So on this evening of the first day of the week the resurrected Jesus appears to his friends who have hunkered down in Jerusalem and gets very “fleshy,” very physical by showing them the wounds he sustained in his hands and feet and side and asking them to feed his human hunger. The message is pointed: Ghosts don’t eat fish.
Through a simple mealtime gathering, the extraordinary Easter miracle is known in the most physical and human of ways: eating with friends. Easter becomes less about an empty tomb then it is about food shared around a table. Jesus calls those he loved to the place where bread is broken and shared, not a rally or public forum.
That should not surprise us given the many times we have seen Jesus at table—dining with Martha and Mary and with a host of outcasts, feeding hungry crowds, passing the Passover bread at his final supper before his death, breaking bread with strangers on the road to Emmaus, having breakfast at the beach with his closest friends. These are all moments that brought hope to those who were hungry for it. He continues to be present with this, and every community gathered in his name, in the breaking of bread. And in his name, we continue to invite the “stranger” into intimate space where the living Christ is experienced.
These first disciples of Jesus did not experience resurrection as some triumphant single event, but rather in fits and starts, in hours of both uncertainty and elation, during days of numbness and grief, interrupted by moments of holy presence and powerful faith.
We may believe, as did the first disciples that we are still beyond resurrection’s reach and there may be times when you have approached this Table and extended your hands to receive this holy food when you have all but pronounced hope dead, given up on the possibility that life could be better or richer or fuller, had prepared the spices for burial and were ready to climb into the tomb. Then, the bread is placed in your hands—the Body of Christ the Bread of heaven—and you hear again the proclamation that new life is about to commence in you.
This short Gospel passage is a story about real people who experienced an amazing phenomenon and who tried their best to communicate it to the next generation and for generations to come— even to us who are centuries and centuries removed from them. Their confusion and lack of understanding is very real and very present in this text and that is testimony to their humanity and to the power of God’s grace.
Here’s some real Good News to take home today: What Jesus tells us in this story is that not only has he been raised from the dead but that we can let go of our fears about God’s retaliation for our fickleness of faith or for any of our failings. It’s easy to feel guilt and shame. We can cower like the disciples did and miss the grace of forgiveness that God freely offers us.
Even better news is that God understands our pain when we feel abandoned, denied, rejected, and thrown under the bus, especially by those whom we have trusted and cared about. Jesus bares the same wounds and wants to heal ours and restore our ability to have hope again, to trust one another, even to forgive those who have hurt us deeply. For the destructive, evil powers of the world do not write the final chapter in the book of Life. God has another ending planned. Oh, that we might see better times! Yes, we will. Count on it—for the resurrection was and is and is to come. “There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.”*