Canon Treasurer - The Reverend Canon Leanne Roberts
I wonder if all of us present here today feel filled with Easter joy?
Today, the third Sunday of Easter, 15 days after Easter day itself, we are still firmly in ‘Eastertide’, a time of rejoicing and celebrating for the Church in the resurrection of Christ, and the redemption of our souls. So I wonder: do you feel it? Is it real for you?
If you’re not so sure, it seems to me that this is hardly surprising. We are not robots who can switch emotions on and off at the flick of a liturgical switch, though the Church can sometimes seem to demand that we do just that.
For example, Advent: a season of sombre watching and waiting for coming of Christ and the judgement this entails appears to abruptly, overnight, turn into delight at the birth of a baby (despite the fact that that might mean very mixed feelings for some), a celebration of family (regardless of how problematic, isolating, or traumatic that might be for others), and an increasingly elaborate and expensive time of gift-giving (even though most of us cannot afford this).
The transition from Lent to Passiontide to Holy Week to Easter is even more extreme for Christians, though less compulsory, on the whole, in our society in terms of family celebrations. How are we, as people of faith, to receive what is being offered to us during these seasons and celebrations?
Do we feel forced to respond a certain way, and what does it mean if we can’t? How can Easter joy become real for us in an authentic way? Today’s Gospel passage can help us with these questions. It’s the second resurrection appearance by Jesus in the Gospel of Luke, following on from the revelation on the road to Emmaus, and on a par with the appearance to so-called ‘doubting’ Thomas from John’s Gospel we heard last Sunday.
Jesus appears to his disciples who are gathered together after his death. There’s a sense of claustrophobia in their huddle, and it doesn’t take much to understand how they might be feeling: grief-stricken, traumatised by their friend’s violent death, frightened for their own safety; bewildered about what might happen next, and how, in the light of recent events, they could possibly make sense of Jesus’s teaching.
As if things weren’t horrific and unsettling enough, they suddenly discover Jesus, who they knew was dead, standing among them. The Gospel account says that they were ‘startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost.’ Well, is that any wonder? Jesus’ greeting of ‘Peace be with you’ seems optimistic, under the circumstances.
He senses immediately that they are scared, and can hardly believe their eyes. As ever knowing the right thing to do, and in an attempt to reassure them, he asks if they have something he can eat – this is immediately grounding, everyday, normal, reflecting how they used to be together. And it serves the helpful purpose of showing that this is no mere apparition, because ghosts don’t eat fish.
Jesus is clear about the physicality of the encounter: he invites them to look at his hands and his feet, he says ‘see that it is I myself. Touch me and see’. Touch me and see.
This is reminiscent of the account in John’s Gospel when Jesus appears to the disciples and shows the marks of his suffering, inviting Thomas to not only touch, but to put his hand in the wounds. It is this crucial detail that today’s account omits: his still bearing the signs of suffering and torture.
I believe this is the crux of the matter: it is Jesus’ wounds that help us transition from the sombreness of Lent and Holy Week to the joy of Easter. It is a vital matter of our faith that these wounds remain after the resurrection, because Jesus’ rising from the dead is not merely some magic trick, whereby difficult things just disappear.
Resurrection is not about reversal. It doesn’t come from wiping the slate completely clean, pretending the nastiness never happened, starting again with a perfectly neat blank canvas. If we are to take the resurrection and its implications seriously, then it must speak to our living as well as our dying. The human condition ensures that our slates are never clean, and life is rarely neat and tidy.
Rather, resurrection happens within the messiness of living. Betrayal, guilt, hurt, loss, uncertainty, all those hidden and private wounds we carry: resurrection can spring from all these things. And so our Lord still bears the wounds of his crucifixion for all to see. He invites us, too, to ‘touch and see’; he greets our anguish with signs of his own, reminding us of the reality of his suffering – which is the reality of his unconditional, unceasing love for us.
This is not about ‘happily ever after’, some fairy story ending which would be no real use to us at all, and perhaps what we try so earnestly (and so fruitlessly) to manufacture within ourselves come Easter morning; because we are real people, and when we are hurt our wounds do not just disappear as if they had never happened. To erase Jesus’ scars would be to deny what happened to him, just as our wounds cannot be simply erased as that would be a denial of the truth of our own lives.
No, this resurrection is about real life, and God’s deliberate, unequivocal engagement with the worst humanity can do and be forced to endure. The wounds Jesus suffered for love of us are not erased, but transformed: they become glorious scars, tokens of his sacrifice, examples of what is possible through love that is stronger than death. And so it is through these wounds that our own can be healed and transformed: as Edward Shillito, a poet during the First World War, writes: ‘to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak’.
Jesus said to his disciples in that frightened, closed room, ‘you are witnesses to these things’, and the same is true for each of us here this morning. We are witnesses to the truth of the resurrection, the reality of suffering that has the possibility of being transformed through the patient, unrelenting tenderness of divine love. This is what we’re called to consider, to encounter, not some forced ‘sadness’ or ‘joy’ during particular days or seasons, but as a living reality in our everyday life. Jesus’ wounds give us permission to have mixed feelings, because faith isn’t necessarily seasonal. The circumstances of our lives do not – and need not – fit neatly within the pattern of the Church year; but the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ speaks to the entirety of our life.
And so, despite how we might be feeling, or whatever we might be enduring this Eastertide, we are always Easter people, because the cycle of death and resurrection is an authentic and necessary part of the Christian life. But we are never left alone with suffering, and death; Jesus shows us that before us is always the promise of transformation, and resurrection. God, in Christ, is continually making all things new.
Jesus stands among us here this morning and says ‘Peace be with you’ – wherever and however we find ourselves at the moment – proffering his transformed, wounded body. Let us accept his offer of peace, and ask that his resurrection might become visible in us, by offering him our whole selves, our real selves – conflicted feelings, open wounds, old scars and all – that they might be sanctified and transformed by his love. Alleluia.