April 19, 2015

Easter 3 Year B


The Easter season is a season of dawning awareness. Jesus opens the minds of his disciples in the Gospel today so that they begin to understand, because the resurrected Jesus in their midst was not at all what they had expected. In the same way on the Sundays of Easter, we are drawn by our readings and our liturgy to a deeper understanding as well, because resurrection isn’t just something that happened to Jesus, it is the unleashing of a new creation in which you and I and the whole created order find our hope in the God who loves us. Resurrection has implications for how we live in the present. 

Our life with God is not some future with harps and clouds. Rather, it’s face-to-face meetings and meals together, as in today’s Gospel, with the marks of our history on our bodies, as the wounds of Jesus’ passion are still visible on his risen body. Because what happens to us in our bodies matters to God—every wound and wrinkle, every laughter line and disability, is a mark in our flesh of who are and who we’re becoming. Our bodies tell our stories, they express our identities, and they are the indispensable means of a lifetime’s self-expression. Our bodies are not superfluous, as the Western tradition has too-often thought. God’s life for us is not disembodied, but earthy and concrete.  

The risen Jesus is portrayed in today’s gospel as wonderfully, physically, recognizably, alive, and Jesus’ homecoming to his disciples is as hands on, as full of hugs and back slapping as every proper homecoming should be. 

We Christians aren’t people of ethereal mysticism but, rather, we’re people of sacraments—sacraments that are all about the connection of our bodies and God’s grace, all about eating and washing. To be sure, our physicality comes to an end in this world when we die and as creatures of earth and of history there’s no natural place for us any more. But in death we’re held in God’s love, and the resurrection, revealed in Jesus means that all we were and all God means us to be will one day be restored, revealed, as part of a new creation. The flesh, and the earth, and the whole created cosmos, have a future in the love of God, in the gift given to us at Easter. Resurrection isn’t just our hope for the future, but a reality bearing fruit in the here and now.  

The reading from Acts today, and Peter’s sermon quoted there, shows that resurrection means judgment as well. But not the "torments of the damned" version of judgment. Rather, God’s judgment means first and foremost revealing the truth of things. The wonderful biblical image of a final day of judgment points to a situation in which even the thickest of us, even the most habitually self-deceiving, even the most hurt among us who’ve never been able to face the truth about ourselves, will at last know that truth. One of my favorite Advent hymns sums up the message of today’s Acts reading beautifully: "those who set at naught and sold him, pierced and nailed him to the tree, deeply wailing, deeply wailing, deeply wailing, shall the true messiah see." And that is the wailing that comes when we finally have to acknowledge the truth about ourselves which leads us to God’s grace. 

In particular, what’s revealed about us is the way we and all human beings, all human societies, make victims and scapegoats so we can feel better about ourselves, so we can create order in our societies and communities by identifying an innocent victim who we can gang up on. In the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, however, this universal victim mechanism is judged—that is, it’s revealed for what it is for the first time in history. All the myths of sacrifice in world religions buy into the universal fiction that this scapegoating mechanism works, but in the resurrection of Jesus Christ God says "NO!" to this universal self-deception; in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, God vindicates the innocent victim. Peter is unsparing about this in his sermon today in Acts: "you rejected the Holy and Righteous one and asked to have a murderer given to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. Of this we are witnesses.”  

In the resurrection of Jesus you and I are witnesses of God’s judgment of this universal way of things in our sinful world, and witnesses, too, that in raising Jesus, God has turned the tables. The tragic outsider healed by Peter in the lead up to this sermon in Acts is the first of many who experience this new creation, this new social order, this new physical identity, released by God, as the resurrection of Jesus begins changing lives and liberating communities, letting the truth about things speak at last, spreading outwards through history as ripples spread out on the surface of a pond after the initial splash. 

In case we think this judgment revealed by the resurrection is bad news, we only need to revisit the end of today’s Acts reading, where we discover that God’s judgment is the beginning of reconciliation, and its aim is the restoration of the deluded, of the sinful—it’s all ‘so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord’, as our Acts reading puts it today. 

There’s no reconciliation with God or with each other, nothing deep and lasting anyway, that doesn’t begin with the truth being told and no more delusion, no more deception. Judgment as the end of lies, alone making possible the end of enmity. This is resurrection at work—not just a miracle with Jesus’ body, but the release of a whole new creation, beginning a whole new existence.


So, the Easter hope is hope for all we are, for all we’ve become as people knowing God and others within the weave of physical existence. The God who raises Jesus will at last let the glory of resurrection envelop the whole much-loved cosmos, with you and I called in word and sacrament to be part of this wonderful, mystical reality. In the concrete physicality of our Christian community, as individuals and families, in sacrament and fellowship, we journey together in the ark of the Church toward the fulfillment of God’s whole creation. This is the hope of the resurrection, which is God’s gift to us as Easter people.