The Rev. Jay Lawlor
“Witnesses of God’s Love”
3rd Sunday of Easter – Year B (RCL) – April 15, 2018
St. David’s Episcopal Church – Bean Blossom, IN
Last Sunday we had the Risen Jesus’ appearance to the disciples as told in the Gospel According to John. It included, as it has become known, the story of “Doubting Thomas.” I mentioned last week that I believe Thomas has received unfair treatment, a bit of a bad rap, by history.
This week’s account of the Risen Jesus appearing to the disciples from the Gospel According to Luke supports what we had read in John: the disciples were afraid because of their doubt. Remember from John that Jesus “showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.” (John 20:20) It was only after Jesus showed them his hands and his side that the disciples rejoiced. In other words, they finally believed what the women had already told them: The tomb was empty. Jesus was alive! He had risen from the dead.
In our account from Luke: Jesus himself stood among the disciples and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? (Luke 24:36-39 ) Notice the disciples are at first terrified – they think they are seeing a ghost. They are terrified, as Jesus alludes to in response to their reaction, because they have . . . doubt. Even as Jesus shows them his hands and his side, the disciples are filled with both joy and uncertainty: Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering […] (Luke 34:39-41)
The disciples are having a hard time believing what they are seeing with their own eyes. As if their minds are playing tricks on them. They see Jesus, yet still they wonder.
It seems the wounds from the cross were not enough. So Jesus asks for something to eat. The disciples give him a broiled fish and Jesus eats the fish in their presence. This proves to them that Jesus is flesh and bone. Jesus is risen. The disciples’ fear is replaced with rejoicing. Their doubt is replaced with belief.
But let’s go back to when Jesus first stood among them. Like in John’s account, Jesus greets the disciples with “Peace be with you.” A greeting for communal well-being. This peace is to live without fear. That God’s peace rests upon them, is among them, and goes with them. It is, as our Prayer Book reminds us, the “peace of God which passes all understanding.”
Peace and life are the theme of Easter over and against fear and death. Peace and life are the theme of the post-Easter Church. This is what the Acts of the Apostles emphasizes. In the Gospel According to Luke, Jesus’ peace counters the disciples’ fear. It is now up to the disciples to be witnesses of Christ’s peace to the world. And this peace is found in the love of God in Jesus for the whole world.
Walter Brueggemann, in his book The Prophetic Imagination, comments that Jesus’ resurrection is to propel Christians forward in proclaiming this love to the world. Brueggemann writes:
The resurrection of Jesus is the ultimate energizing for the new future. The wrenching of Friday had left only the despair of Saturday, and the disciples had no reason to expect Sunday after that Friday. The resurrection cannot be explained on the basis of the previously existing reality. The resurrection can only be received and affirmed and celebrated as the new action of God, whose province is to create new futures for people and to let them be amazed in the midst of despair.1
Jesus comes to the disciples in the midst of their despair and he amazes them. The Risen Jesus greets them with the peace of God and creates a new future for them. It is no longer a future based on the death of Good Friday but, rather, on the life of Easter Sunday. The disciples no longer need to live in fear and doubt. And Jesus tells them “You are witnesses”. (Luke 24:48)
The disciples are witnesses to the love of God in Christ. A love which God gives for the whole world. It is God’s love which makes possible for people to create new futures in the midst of despair. “You are witnesses” says Jesus. Not just to his first disciples. “You are witnesses” said Jesus to the followers of a movement that spread throughout the Roman world. Jesus says:
“You are witnesses,”
“You are witnesses,”
“You are witnesses,” Jesus says to each and every one of us.
On U2’s new album, Songs of Experience, is the song “Love is Bigger than Anything in its Way.” Two of the lines are:
When you think you’re done, you’ve just begun
Love is bigger than anything in its way.
On Good Friday all seemed done. But Easter Sunday proved it was only the beginning. Through Jesus’ resurrection we know love is bigger than anything in its way, and God’s love gave us all a new future. So, my friends, remember we are witnesses to God’s love in the world and the new future of peace, justice, and reconciliation born of Jesus’ resurrection. Amen.
1 Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001), p. 112.