I’m spending my time following Easter reading slowly through the Gospel accounts of Jesus’s appearances to his disciples.
While I have long loved the story of how he travels with two disciples on the road to Emmaus and makes himself known to them in the breaking of bread, I find myself intrigued at the moment by what follows afterwards when those same disciples return to Jerusalem to share the news of their encounter with the eleven who are still behind closed doors.
As they are recounting this miracle, Jesus appears in their midst – startling and frightening them all.
While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence.
He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”
Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.Luke 24:36-48, New International Version
I wonder how often we, desiring God’s presence, pleading for God’s guidance, are actually upset and disturbed when our prayers are answered and we encounter God in a way so real, so tangible that we would tell friends later, “I came face to face with God.”
Coming face to face with God can be terrifying – especially when it is unexpected, or our lives are in disorder, or we are carrying around within us some secret shame, some “hidden” sin. Think of Peter still labouring under the burden of having denied his association with Christ, or John’s shame at being unable to stay awake in the garden, or Nathanael’s heartache at not having borne witness to the suffering of his Lord and teacher upon the cross.
Jesus comes into their midst without judgement, speaking words of peace, offering the signs necessary to turn their fear and trembling into joy and amazement, and their joy and amazement into certainty and belief.
A central truth of the Christian life that we often neglect is that every encounter with Jesus places us on the verge of change and invites us into newness.
Often we are looking instead for the presence of God to satisfy an emptiness within us, to bring a little comfort and peace into a difficult day, but the God who puts our lives back together does so with the hope and desire that those lives will be lived in a different way.
It is for this reason that Jesus opens the disciples’ minds to the Scriptures: so that they can bear witness – testify – to the new life that the suffering and resurrection of Christ has made possible.
The Good News that we preach and proclaim over Easter does not stop with Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again. The purpose of Jesus’s excruciating suffering is not just that we might claim forgiveness and the assurance of an eternal life in God’s kingdom. We need to fully understand and bear witness to the fact that the resurrected Lord gives us the power and the passion to be different, to turn away from and leave behind those relationships that drain us, those habits that have a hold on us, those mistakes and failures which limit our imagination and rob us of life.
Christ’s resurrection brings us to the brink of change. All things are possible. All ways are open. So, which direction will we choose to walk in? And who do we choose to walk with us?
May the God of the Easter garden bless you in every season of the heart.
May the God of the mountainside bless this time we’ve spent apart.
May the God of the beach bless you whether tides ebb or flow.
May the God of the upper room bless your doubts that all may know
the deep love of God that is stronger than death.