Easter 3, 2009
“The Assurance of the Risen Christ”
Today we read from Luke's Gospel how Jesus appeared to his disciples after he rose from the dead. Luke tells us how he walked with 2 disciples on the road to Emmaus, taught them and broke bread with them. And now, Jesus appears to the 12, shows his calling-card wounds, and encourages them to believe.
He knows they are superstitious. Back when he walked out to them on the water – they saw him coming and thought he was a ghost! Now too, Jesus knew his disciples might think it was his ghost appearing to them. That he had “come back to haunt them” or something.
But he says, “Peace to you!”. And he calms their doubts and fears. He even proves he has real flesh and blood by eating in their presence, and letting them touch his flesh.
He has much to teach them, and he opens their minds to the scriptures. Then they begin to see that this was always how it had to be. He had to suffer. He had to die. He had to rise again. Just like the scriptures say. Just like he explained to the disciples on the way to Emmaus.
But his plan isn't done yet. It doesn't end when the disciples see him alive. The road doesn't stop at Emmaus, either. Repentance and forgiveness are to be preached to the ends of the earth. In a way, Easter is just the beginning.
What does all this have to do with you and me? Well, we can certainly identify with the disciples and their doubts and fears. We find it difficult, at times, to believe and trust in Jesus and all he says. If they were struggling when he stood before them in the flesh – how much more can we expect to be plagued by doubts and fears. After all, we are sinners – and like our first parents in the garden, Satan tempts us too... “did God really say...?”
But Jesus assures us too. And he comes to us in a meal, as he did to his disciples. He doesn't eat with us, but he is the host and better, he is the very meal. He gives his body and blood to us to forgive sins, yes, but also to strengthen faith. If you want to be closer to Jesus, if you want to be a stronger Christian, if you want your faith to grow – feed it – with the food he gives. The real presence of his body and blood for you. Take and eat and drink, and live, and believe more deeply.
We are like the disciples in other ways too. We need our minds opened to the scriptures. And while Jesus himself isn't going to teach us personally, he doesn't leave us without the means to know his word.
He gives us the written word. Bibles. What a blessing to have so many and inexpensive Bibles to choose from. At no other time in history has God's word been so accessible to so many people. And by the way, this might be a good time to mention the new Lutheran Study Bible which is coming out in October, and if you want a copy you can sign up after church....
But not only do we have the Bible, we have other Christians to help us learn what it teaches. We have pastors and teachers, we have forefathers in the faith to lean on. We can even gain new insight from our peers in the faith. And while we must carefully discern the true from the false teachers (and they are many). Still, we are not left alone to learn God's word on our own. Each of us as been taught, and is taught, by others God places before us.
Our understanding is often clouded by sin, and by the agenda we bring to God's word. Satan would tempt us to ignore or twist God's very word. He would have us read only those parts that suit his purposes. Or he'll turn God's promises into laws or mix things up in confusion. But God's word has power nonetheless, and never returns to him void. Like his many other good gifts, we pray we will use his word faithfully, for it is a precious gift.
Jesus assures the disciples with his presence at a meal, and with an understanding of the scriptures – and he does the same for us. But he also mentions, “The promise of my Father”. And we might wonder what that is.
To these superstitious men who thought they might be seeing a Ghost, Jesus is promising, the Father is promising, the Holy Spirit. The comforter, the counselor, the one who leads us into all truth. He who works through the word, and in the sacraments. The Lord and Giver of Life. The Holy Spirit was soon to come and clothe this ragtag band with “power from on high”. For they had a charge set before them.
Go and preach the Gospel, and baptize the nations. Teach them to observe all things I have commanded you. As the Father sends me, so I send you. Forgive and retain sins, and they are forgiven or retained. You are my ambassadors.
And again, we identify with those disciples. Jesus feeds them, teaches them, and sends them out to do their work. And so he does for us.
As a church, our calling is to do good to all people, especially to those of the family of the faith. Our calling is to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ crucified for sinners. Our calling is to faithfully administer the sacraments he has given to us.
And each of us has a part in that. Some act publicly. Some support privately. And all of us, in daily life, serve our neighbor and love our neighbor, and we ARE witnesses simply in living out our faith.
A witness simply tells what he sees. When asked, Christians can tell what we see. We see in God's word a power for salvation – the Gospel. That Jesus died for my sins, and the sins of the world. We see in God's word that all have sinned, including me. We see that when we bring those sins before him they are washed away in baptism, and forgiven in the feast. And we show others the love that Christ first showed us, because the comfort of the Gospel overflows in our lives.
In this Easter season, we rejoice with Peter and John, with Mary Magdelene, with Doubting and Believing Thomas, with the Disicples who walked to Emmaus, and with all the other witness of the resurrection – whether they saw him with their eyes, or with the eyes of faith. We take comfort in his meal and in his word and in his Spirit, who clothes us with the power of Jesus death and his life.