Jesus stood among them and said to them: Peace be with you, and they were startled and terrified.
Today we come to Luke’s telling of what happens on Easter night. It’s not that different from John’s account, which we read last week, except Thomas doesn’t get any special mention, and there are a few extra folks present. Luke also has some different parts of the story of what happens from the morning until this point on that first Easter day, so, let me fill in a couple gaps for you.
Luke tells us that, after the women report that the tomb is empty, a disciple named Cleopas and another unnamed disciple head off to Emmaus where, apparently, they live. As they’re going, Jesus appears alongside of them on the road, but they don’t recognize him. They engage in some introductory talk about what’s happened to Jesus over the past few days and they tell this stranger that they don’t know what to make of all of it. Then Jesus calls them foolish and slow of heart to believe, and he tells them that everything about Jesus has already been revealed in the Scriptures. And beginning with Moses, and then using the writings of the prophets, he explains everything that’s happened.
By this point, they’ve reached Emmaus, and Jesus pretends to be going on further, but Cleopas and his friend stop him, and convince him that it’s too late to continue on his journey. So he agrees to stay the night with them. And at dinner, Jesus takes bread, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to them. And they recognize him, finally, at which point he disappears! So they jump up, and run all the way back to Jerusalem to tell the others that they’ve seen the risen Lord! And as they’re telling their story, Jesus appears to them all, and he greets them with peace…
I touched on this last week a bit, but to be honest, peace is not my default position after someone does me wrong. And it’s not the way people throughout human history, in most human cultures throughout history, have envisioned their gods. Most people would expect, if they had betrayed their god, that when or if that god returned, there would be punishment and retribution. But Jesus returns bringing peace, wholeness, restoration, forgiveness. It’s not at all what we’d expect, but it’s what happens. Jesus greets them with peace, and then he shows them his scars…
You know, it’s hard to show your scars. It’s hard to trust someone enough to reveal your weaknesses and frailties. It makes you vulnerable. And, of course, vulnerability comes with risks. When you’re vulnerable, you’re that much more open to further hurt. Revealing your scars means revealing your weaknesses and trusting that the one you’re opening up to isn’t going to turn around and take advantage of that vulnerability.
And perhaps, the most valuable thing that we have to offer as people of faith, and specifically as Lutheran Christians, in such situations is what Luther teaches us in the Small Catechism, in his explanation of the 8th commandment: You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. Luther tells us that this means, not only that we’re not supposed to tell lies about our neighbor, or betray or slander them, but that we’re to come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light. And, look, if we could make that our default position – if we could just always think the best of one another – what a difference it could make in all of our flesh and bone interactions, don’t you think?…
Jesus comes proclaiming peace, and showing his scars, and he opens their hearts and minds to understand what was written about him in the Scriptures.
People do all kinds of things with holy writings. Some use them to justify horrible acts of terror and violence. Some use them to excuse their own bigotries and prejudices. Some use them exclude or ignore whole segments of society, or worse yet, to subjugate and abuse others. We, of course, have all of these in our past. In the Crusades the Christian Church carried out horrific acts of terrorism. In slavery and the continued systemic racism in our own country, often defended using portions of Scripture, it has continued. In paying women less than men for the same work and in the Church’s continued failure to fully welcome all people regardless of things such as their sexual orientation, we must all stand guilty of misusing God’s word in harmful ways.
Jesus often found himself in opposition to the religious leaders of his day, because he didn’t use the Scriptures in these sorts of ways. Jesus, who is, himself, the perfect revelation of who his Abba is, read the Scriptures in ways that brought life, and light, and understanding of God’s gracious love for the whole world. So, when he opened the hearts of his friends to understand the Scriptures, it wasn’t in some abstract sense, but specifically to understand how he was revealed in and through them, and how, in that revelation, peace, wholeness, restoration, and forgiveness are found…
At this point Jesus says: You are witnesses of these things. And we are to hear and to receive those words as a call. That call is not just given to those in the room that first Easter night, but to each and every one of us who experience Jesus as he continues to come to us here and now.
Today that call comes through water and the Word in Holy Baptism to Raelyn. Today she is named and claimed in God’s love, her sins are forgiven, and she is made a child of God and a member of the Body of Christ. And as such, she becomes part of this missional community – a community of all believers in every time and every place, a community that has always been about being witnesses, sharing the great good news of Christ Jesus’ death and resurrection.
This is the part we play in our common mission: We are witnesses. We are those who go and tell the story – who go and tell our stories, of how Jesus still comes to us
- In reading
- In hearing
- In speaking grace-filled words of forgiveness and love
- In the water and the Word of Holy Baptism
- In the bread of life and the cup of salvation that we share
This is our common mission as witnesses: to go out from here sharing the story of how God’s love alone has the power to change and save lives, and how God’s done so for each of us in our own lives, giving thanks all along, and raising our voices in shouts of Easter joy proclaiming: Alleluia! Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!
We are witnesses of these things. Amen.