Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church
April 19, 2016
Things can change in a second. I was reminded of this lesson on Monday night as I watched Carolina roar back from a 10 point deficit (the largest they’d had in the playoffs). With less than five seconds left in the game, Marcus Paige hit an incredible three point shot to tie the game. Things were looking up. After a time out, a Villanova player quickly brought the ball up court and acted like he was going to drive when he tossed the ball to another player behind him who had a clear shot. The ball cleared his hand just before the buzzer sounded and swished through the net. Villanova won. It was almost the reverse of the situation in the 1982 National Championship game when Michael Jordan shot at the buzzer to give Carolina the win over Georgetown. Things can change in a second.
My passage this morning is from one of the post resurrection appearances of Jesus in Luke’s gospel. When Jesus first appears before his disciples, they think he’s a ghost. Jesus shows otherwise by eating a piece of fish, after which the disciples realize it’s him in the flesh. I don’t know what it is about the post resurrected Jesus and fish, but both Luke and John tell us about him dining on seafood. Food plays an important role, for it’s in the sharing of meals the disciples recognize him as Jesus. After dinner and once they understand who he is, Jesus explains to the disciples how his mission was foretold in the Scriptures. READ LUKE 24:26-49.
There is a story of a Scottish man who ran a ferry across a loch in the highlands. On one of the oars of his boat he’d carved the word “Faith” and on the other he’d carved the word “Works.” He never said anything about these, but if he was asked about them, he’d demonstrate the need for both but pulling one of the oars out of the water and rowing with the other, which caused the boat to go into a circle in one direction. Then he would pull in that oar and paddle with the other, causing the boat to circle in the opposite direction. After the demonstration, he’d began to row with both oars and head straight for the other shore. No words were needed. He’d made his point. I think this was a lesson the disciples learned on Easter Sunday. When their faith is restored in the living Christ, they are allowed to go out and work for Jesus in ways they’d never imaged.
It’s late in the day on that first Easter. The disciples gather and discuss the strange reports they’ve heard. The women have told them about finding the tomb open and speaking with an angel. And there’s the report from Emmaus, of Jesus appearing to two followers who recognize him only after he breaks bread. Tension’s high; the disciples are unsure what to do or believe. Although Luke doesn’t tell us this, John informs us that they were hiding behind locked doors because they are afraid. The memory of Jesus dying on the cross is fresh in their minds and none of them want to end up that way.
I’m sure most of us have experienced the shock of talking about someone and having such person, at the most inopportune moment, appear. This is the classic case of such a phenomenon. It’s supposed to be safe to talk about dead people. But Jesus changes the rules as he appears in the midst of the disciples, proclaiming peace upon them. “Peace be with you” was a common greeting amongst the Jews of Jesus’ day. They were not a group of people who knew a lot of peace. But the greeting also expresses the hope they held in the coming of God’s kingdom, a kingdom of peace.
At first, the disciples are frightened and I’m willing to bet that we’d also be frightened if we had been there. Jesus calms them by telling them to look and see, it’s him, in the flesh, with the wounds still showing. Luke informs us that they are joyful, but still not quite sure. They don’t know what to make of it, so Jesus eats a piece of poached fish and this helps them understand and see him. It’s interesting that in many of the post resurrection scenes, it’s only in the sharing of food that Jesus is recognized. Obviously there’s something special about Jesus for him to conquer the grave, mortals don’t do that, but Jesus is still the same old guy, enjoying food and the company of his followers. Two of these post-resurrection meals involve fish. Maybe there’ll be seafood in heaven! We can only hope!
Jesus uses the occasion to once again share with the disciples how he has fulfilled the Scriptures—that his death and resurrection is a part of the divine plan to reclaim the human race. This is the third time that Luke has included this information in his reports of the first Easter. It is first told to the women at the tomb by the stranger, probably a heavenly messenger or angel as we heard on Easter morning. Next, it was Jesus himself explaining this to the disciples on the road to Emmaus as we heard last week. Although, if you remember, at the time he was explaining it all, the disciples didn’t recognize him. Now Jesus is with the disciples.
In the second chapter of John we’re told how Jesus predicted his death and resurrection while there at the temple. “Tear this temple down and I’ll rebuild it in three days,” he says. At that point, everyone thought Jesus was referring to Herod’s temple, one they’d been working on for forty-six years. For a mere man to suggest he could single-handedly rebuild the temple in three days was absurd. It wasn’t until after his death that the disciples realized he was referring to raising up his own body.
Now, with Jesus back among them, things are a bit clearer. For those of us who look back on the life of Jesus through the resurrection, we have a harder time understanding how the disciples could have been so confused. However, rising from the grave was (and is) unheard of. When you’re dead, you’re dead. They were looking for a different kind of Messiah, one that didn’t go out and get himself killed. And if he did get himself killed, they’d expect his resurrection to make headline news, not the quiet secret way it happened, him only appearing to believers locked behind closed doors, on rural roads, or on deserted beaches.
The gospel accounts of Jesus’ resurrection are somewhat unglamorous. Unlike his birth, there are no choruses of angels filling the sky singing praises. We’re not told of any magi from afar, bearing gifts. Jesus doesn’t even take the time to haunt Herod and Pilate and the priests, something I would have done. Instead, Jesus shows up at the most ordinary of places. He finds his disciples walking along a road, having dinner, out on the sea after a night of fishing. Even after the resurrection, he’s humble. He’s a regular sort of guy whose gentleness extends even to the disciples who ran and hid when he was arrested. But Jesus doesn’t make them feel bad; instead, he uses this last opportunity to teach them, once again, what’s he has been saying all alone. This time they get it.
This passage closes with Jesus commissioning his disciples to be his witnesses in the world—starting in Jerusalem and extending out to the far reaches of our planet. As his witnesses, they and we are to proclaim what we’ve experienced—that Jesus offered himself for our sins and, by the power of God, rose from the dead. His resurrection, however, links his former life to his new life for his wounds are still evident. He didn’t have a total make-over. Instead, he comes back with holes in his hands and feet and side. Jesus’ humanity is unmistakable, but he’s more than a man for he has conquered the grave.
The gospel writers are clear about one thing. Jesus’ resurrection wasn’t a just a spiritual event. He didn’t come back as a ghost, nor as a figment of their imagination. They don’t buy into the Greek concept that we’re given something eternal from God at birth, something that returns to God at death. Instead, they believed the grave was it. And let me tell you, the grave is our final resting place, unless the God who gave us the breath of life intervenes. This is our Christian hope—that God will intervene.
We don’t know or fully understand how Jesus rose from the grave. Nor do we understand how we might rise from the grave. If we understood such, we’d be God. There is a mystery about Jesus—a man who was human and divine, one who gave up his life but is able to rise again. If Jesus is also God, how did he rise from the grave? We don’t know? It’s beyond explanation. Instead of trying to understand, we trust in him and believe that after our own lives are over, God will also intervene. Because we have this trust in God, a God who came to us as a man named Jesus, we can have faith and work for a better world to come. Or, like our Scottish ferryman, we can pull on both oars, so that our journey through life might be straight and true. Amen.
 See also John 21:13-17.
 John 20:19.
 John 2:19.