April 22, 2007
“The Same but Different”
Two meals. One in the upper room. One on the beach. One in Jerusalem, the other in Galilee. One of bread and wine, the other of bread and fish. Both hosted by the Savior. Both providing just what he means to give.
Much had happened between these two meals… Jesus took them to the garden to pray. Then Judas came with the armed men. Jesus was arrested, tried, mocked and beaten. Peter denied him that night in the courtyard, even calling down curses, “I DO NOT KNOW THE MAN!” Then the rooster crowed.
Early on Friday the trial went to Pilate, then to Herod, then to Pilate again. Finally to Golgotha, and to the cross, where Jesus was hung and where he suffered and died. They took him down, laid him in the tomb, and rested on the Sabbath. Sunday morning, angelic greeters told the good news, “He is not here. He has risen!”
Then he appeared. He appeared to Mary and the women. He appeared to the disciples on the way to Emmaus. He appeared to the disciples in the locked upper room. And a week later to Thomas as well. Jesus had not fled the scene. He was alive, and he showed it.
Now they had gone from Jerusalem, gone back to Galilee. The angel said Jesus would meet them there. So now another promise is fulfilled. As Jesus appears and once again eats with his disciples. He hosts the meal. He provides and prepares the food. He bestows the blessings, just as he did in the upper room, so he does now on the beach. It’s like before, only different.
Something else is like before. The disciples had returned to their previous way of life – fishing. And like one day about three years earlier, they spent the whole night laboring and the fish weren’t biting. And like that day, a strange man gave strange instructions that they should cast the net just one more time. And like that day, a miraculous catch filled their nets. This was all too familiar.
Only this time, it was a little different, too. The last time, the nets started to rip and tear – but not now. The last time, Peter fell on his face in fear in the presence of the Holy One – “Depart from me,” he said then, “I am a sinful man”. This time, he leapt into the water to approach his risen Lord.
Jesus is different too. He’s still the same Jesus. He even has the marks of his wounds to prove it. But he is also different. Now he is taking back his majesty and glory. He will soon be fully exalted to his rightful heavenly throne. Yet in his mercy he appears, makes himself known and recognizable to his beloved, bewildered disciples.
They had gone through a lot between that last supper and this first breakfast after Easter. They had seen the lows of Calvary and the highs of the abandoned grave. They had seen Jesus, heard him, touched him. Now again, they would eat with him, and he would give them blessings.
In a sense, we’ve gone with them. As we have followed these events in the course of our church observances, we too have experienced Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. We too have seen the lows and the highs. And now, for us, things are back to normal again, too. It’s the same as it’s always been. It’s as nothing has changed.
But Easter does change things. It changes things for every Christian.
It may not look like it on the outside. You see the statistics… Christians are just as likely as anyone else to get divorced, to struggle with alcoholism and other social problems. We see our churches divided and squabbling, in the congregations and even on the national level. You look at your own life, and you know full well your sins – that you are no angel.
So much of who we are and what we do is tied up in our sinful human nature – which really is the root of all our problems and struggles. Imperfect people in an imperfect world. So what’s different about Christians? What difference does Easter make? A lot.
It may not always look that way on the outside, but Christians are people of Resurrection. That is, we have been raised to life in Jesus Christ. Just as he died and rose, so our sinful selves were buried with him in baptism, and the new creation, the child of God is raised from those same waters. We are, like Jesus, back from the dead. And though we don’t always see ourselves this way, what’s important is that God does.
And this isn’t to say that Easter makes no visible difference in our lives. It should. It does. Never perfectly, but we do show Christian love and serve our neighbor for Jesus’ sake. The Spirit does move us to good works which exercise our faith. And God accepts this imperfect works of love which are also purified through Jesus Christ.
There’s one more difference that Easter makes. There’s one more resurrection to come. We who have been reborn in the waters will still die. Yet even though we die, yet shall we live. And we who live and believe in him will never die. Oh, our bodies will fail and be buried. But our spirits will rest with the Lord. And then the final resurrection will come, when Christ returns, with sound of trumpet and the dead rise again. When Christ, the firstborn of the dead, welcomes us – resurrected body and soul together – into our eternal home with him.
Easter gives us this hope. And it’s a hope that makes us different. It’s a hope that shapes our lives and gives us direction and purpose. It’s a hope that brings great comfort and peace. It’s a promise that makes all the difference in the world.
And that promise is renewed here today, for us. Where just like usual, we receive the blessings of Christ in a meal. Just like his earliest disciples did, we too gather for a meal, hosted by the risen Christ. We’re not in an upper room, or on a beach, but at a rail around an altar. But we still join in blessed communion with God and with others who share our faith. We still receive all the blessings and promises of God in Jesus Christ. Our sins are forgiven. And that means we get to live – now, and forever.