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Not a Ghost, Still Human, and Yet Living the Resurreciton: The Third Sunday of Easter

Sunday, April 18, 2021:
Acts 3:12-19
1 John 3:1-7
Luke 24:36b-48

We heard from the First Letter of John: “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.”

“We will see him as he is.” I think the group that put the lectionary together was seizing on that theme of seeing Jesus, and connecting it with the resurrection story from the end of Luke. And similar to what I said last week, I think part of the point here is that the resurrection has to do with us, not just Jesus. Yes, our faith orients us toward the resurrection of Jesus; but it’s the ultimate Christian hope that, like Paul wrote about, we, and all creation, will one day be remade. Jesus is the first fruits, the “firstborn of all creation,” if we remember that line from the eucharistic prayer. Flesh and blood, not a ghost. And yet, somehow, different.

And this letter continues: “And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.” And this stern talk of sin and righteousness. There’s no sin in Christ. We “abide” in Christ. And so we must not sin. How does that sit with you, and your experience of life???

So we hold this alongside today’s gospel. The context is that the two unnamed disciples have had their encounter with Jesus on the road to Emmaus, and after their meal experience of recognizing him, they run back to Jerusalem. “They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon” we’re told right before our section kicks in. It’s a group that has come to believe. And yet life, and people and communities, are more complex, aren’t they? So this transformed, encouraged group is described a bit differently, just a few verses on: “[Jesus] said to them, ‘Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?” Even with reports of angels and an empty tomb, stories from the road and dinner with Jesus at Emmaus, and an appearance to Peter [not explicitly recorded in the Gospel] — and now Jesus here right in front of them — “doubts arise in [their] hearts.” And even after Jesus reassures them and gives them proof, the narrator describes the situation so uniquely: “in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering…”

It’s a paradox. If we like things clearcut and smoothed out, it probably won’t sit right with us. But I think it paints the picture quite accurately, of being human and being Christian. Saved and yet still entangled in sin. So full of potential and giftedness and yet so often driven by our flaws and our hurts. Holy and yet in need of continual reform.

One of the great figures of our Anglican history, Michael Ramsey (Archbishop of Canterbury in the mid-20th century) caught this paradox, and accepted it. Because if we don’t, we run the risk of conceiving of the Church as the home of the perfect, rather than a hospital for the sick. Rarely is being ignorant or dishonest about our fallibility do anyone any good. And so in his book on the resurrection he writes: “[Our] attempts to make the Church less paradoxical involve a false short-cut and a denial of truth. For the New Testament will not ease the paradox for us: it allows us to overlook neither the truth that the Church is the Body of Christ nor the existence of Christians who crucify the Son of God afresh and put him to a perpetual shame. But the New Testament suggests that the way is to accept the paradox, not with complaisance nor with a sense of grievance but with the light of the Cross and Resurrection upon it. The [one] who knows, from the Cross, [their] own need is not ashamed to put [themselves] beside the other members of the Church whose need is like [their] own; and to discover amid the contradictions of the Church’s members the risen life of Christ which is the divine answer to [the needs of us all.]*

So there are no quick, easy answers or formulas here, but different glimpses into a community coming to terms with an amazing occurrence. The gospel writer’s descriptions should ring familiar to us in our own day: a call to repentance and the promise of forgiveness; a message of peace; a study and growth in our understanding of the scriptures, and a meal. As we grapple with the paradoxes of life, the subtle message of the evangelist is to enter ever-deeper into the life of the Church. And even though we might have our doubts, our fears, and our shortcomings and sins, we’re called to live a certain life; the life of witnesses to the resurrected Jesus.

© 2021 The Rev’d Matthew Kieswetter

* A. M. Ramsey, The Resurrection of Christ, revised edition (London: Fontana Books, 1961), 99.