Sermon for Easter 3, Year B
Based on Lk. 24:36b-48
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Robert Beringer, in the book, 56 Lectionary Stories For Preaching, tells the following story: "Mark Thomas and his wife, Susan, were excited by the opportunity to live in the Middle East for two years while on assignment for Mobil Oil. The only real drawback to their new home was the government restriction on Christians gathering for worship or study. Mark and Sue both missed their church and the experience of sharing Sunday worship together. There was some talk of lifting the restrictions, but no official government action had yet occurred."
"As Easter Sunday approached that first year, Mark and Sue decided to risk inviting some of their Christian friends to gather in a basement room in their home. They soon found a number of other people who were willing to take the chance to gather for prayer and singing, in spite of the real risk they would face if discovered by the police."
"The day arrived, and Mark and Sue's friends began arriving sporadically, so as not to attract attention. It was wonderful to be together, to listen to the story of that first Easter morning, and to sing "Jesus Christ Is Risen Today," even without accompaniment. They were huddled together in a small basement room with no windows, but the joy they felt in their hearts was like being in a great cathedral with crowds of Easter worshipers proclaiming Jesus' resurrection."
"And then came the sound of footsteps and pounding on the door of the room where they were gathered! Suddenly two officers and a detachment of police with guns drawn burst into the room! Quickly, the officers dispersed the group with warnings that if such a gathering occurred again, all present would be expelled from the country. The Christians left, grateful that there had been at least some time to share their Easter faith, and that there had been no arrests."
"Meanwhile, the two officers returned to the police station to file their report of the incident. They quickly discovered that their recollections as to who was the leader of the group and how many persons were actually there differed greatly. The senior officer insisted that Mark was the leader since the group met at his house, but the younger policeman insisted on the leader being a man who had stood in the shadows, who had a radiant look on his face."
"Nor did the two officers agree on the total number of men and women involved in the incident. The senior officer said he had counted a total of nine persons, but the younger officer was just as insistent that he had counted ten people in the room. Unable to agree, the two policemen left the station, with the intention of completing their report the following day."
"That night the younger officer was going over the day's events in his mind when he fell asleep. In his dreams, the man with the radiant countenance whom he remembered as the leader of the Christian group, spoke to him softly saying, "Where two or three gather in my name, there am I in their midst."
This powerful story teaches us at least two lessons about Easter. First of all, we learn from it that nothing in this world is able to stop the power and truth of Easter. No power in this world; no matter how many laws against Christianity; no matter how much persecution and hostility against Christians; none of this is able to stop Easter.
The risen Christ is alive and present in the world today just as much as he was on that first Easter day. His presence is even able to intrude into the lives of people who are not Christians ~ people like that younger police officer in the story. The risen Christ comes to bring light and life where there seems only to be death and darkness. The risen Christ in the world today is a power and presence that protects God's faithful people-like those Christians gathered in Mark and Sue's basement. This is wonderful news! We who are Christians can live with the utmost courage, peace and security because the strongest, most influential power and presence of all is with us and for us. The risen Christ is with us; the message of Easter can never be stopped.
The second lesson that we can learn from this story is also of great comfort and encouragement to us, namely: the risen Christ is always present among the worshipping, gathered community of two or more Christians. Christ is among us in and through the Word and sacrament. Today's gospel reaffirms this truth.
One of the most interesting features of this gospel passage is that the risen Christ comes to his disciples when they are together and going through some pretty heavy grief. According to Luke, the disciples were really out of it. He says they were startled and terrified; frightened with doubts in their hearts; thinking that Christ was a ghost. Christ has to show them that he's not a ghost. He's a real live resurrected person with a physical body that they can touch. He can also eat.
The risen Christ eats with his disciples at least 3 times. Earlier in Luke's Gospel, we are told that he eats with the disciples at Emmaus; he also ate with them at breakfast along the seashore in John's Gospel; and now he eats with them again here in our gospel today.
You'd think that after seeing, hearing, and eating with the risen Christ the first time, the disciples would get it. But, alas, they still seem to be clued out in our passage today. This causes me to ponder whether we're really any better than the disciples. Don't we fail to get it too? Aren't we too clued out sometimes, so that, like the disciples, we also miss the importance of Christ among us?
However, even in this, there's Good News for us, just as there was for the first disciples. It does not ~ we notice ~ depend on the disciples in this passage to learn the importance of what's going on here when the risen Christ visits them. Christ comes to the disciples and reveals himself to them as an act of love and grace on his part ~ NOT THEIRS. It is all Christ's actions and words, which make it possible for the disciples to wake up to the reality that the risen Christ is with them. In other words, God's love and grace is unconditional, unreserved, freely given to the disciples and to us. It is not based on conditions or our worthiness or unworthiness; it is offered to the disciples and to us when we gather around a table for food and friendship.
Many scholars today believe that these 3 meals Christ eats with his disciples after his resurrection may refer, at least indirectly, to the sacrament of Holy Communion. Eating and drinking is one of the clearest ways of experiencing and affirming Jesus' risen presence in the faith community and also of building up our relationships in the church.
There is something about sharing a meal with one another that draws us together as community; while at the same time, drawing us closer to God as well. Look at our ancestors in the faith. For example, Abraham and Sarah entertain angels unawares by sharing a meal. What happens? They are not only blessed with good company and conversation ~ they are also given God's blessing to all Israel and, indeed, to all humanity.
Centuries later, Jesus provides for his church by giving us the sacrament of Holy Communion to feed us with his crucified and risen presence as we journey through this world. This sacrament is a foretaste for us of the Great Messianic Banquet Feast in heaven, which shall have no end. At that meal, all the faithful shall sit down together from all nations and eat with our resurrected Lord.
Until then, as the Body of Christ, we are called to feed everyone who hungers and thirsts around the world. Through sharing the Meal and proclaiming the Word, the first disciples were finally able to recognize the risen Christ among them. The same is true for today as well.
The fourth century bishop of North Africa, Augustine, put it this way in an Easter sermon: " You are the body of Christ. In you and through you the work of the incarnation must go forward. You are to be taken; you are to blessed, broken, and distributed; that you may be the means of grace and the vehicles of the eternal (love)."
May we, like Mark and Sue not be afraid to gather together to worship and serve our risen Christ ~ regardless of any who would try to persecute us or stop us. May we celebrate Christ's risen presence among us ~ even in our most troubled times; knowing that he is always with us in and through his Word and sacraments. May we share his message of the resurrection with the whole world through our words and actions each day.
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