Third Sunday of Easter, rcl yr b
Sunday, April 14th, 2024
ACTS 3:12-19; PSALM 4; 1 JOHN 3:1-7; LUKE 24:36b-48

in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering

This particular resurrection appearance of Jesus is one that has a special place in my imagination. I spent a good number of deeply formative years in camping ministry, and Karen and I spend at least some portion of our summers camping in a tiny trailer, cooking outside, spending time by the lake, and when we can, on a lakeside beach.

As a kid, I remember going on a particularly frustrating weekend fishing trip, catching nothing at all—not a single fish—while hearing stories each night from our slightly inebriated neighbours one campsite over about just how many fish they had caught, while they ate broiled fish.

And so a story that includes eating broiled fish hits me right in the memory, right in the nostalgia. And I can imagine myself there, with those disciples—joyful, disbelieving, and wondering. And eating fish with the Lord.

I’m sure my self-constructed version of this story—built by the memories of a certain sort of Canadian life and childhood—I’m sure my self-constructed version of this story looks very little like what it did that day long ago. I imagine my version of this story is slightly nonsensical in historical perspective, not least because I imagine it all taking place on a beach, even though Luke says nothing of the lakeside; and it all taking place in the first century and in a country I’ve never even visited.

This is no unimportant thing, sometimes to be reminded that these stories took place in a time vastly different than our own. And that, as Luke tells the story, we are not meant to think that this takes place in the imagination of the disciples. We gather from the way Luke tells this story that there was something very real and even substantial about this encounter. That in this encounter between the disciples and Jesus, that there was someone present who was Jesus—Jesus, resurrected in the flesh. Luke wants us to know that this was not a ghost, because you can’t touch and see a ghost, “for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have,” as Jesus puts it to the disciples.

And then, even after Jesus shows the disciples his hands and his feet—the scabby seals of his suffering and the scary emblems of his healing, evidence of both his trauma and of his identity as their friend, their Rabbi, crucified from afar but now here—the disciples still aren’t so sure. If it all sounds a bit ludicrous to you, you are in good company, because even Luke will tell us that the disciples, “in their joy …were disbelieving and still wondering.” And then this crucified yet present Jesus, asks of these joyful, disbelieving, and still wondering disciples for a bit of broiled fish to eat.

Flesh and blood indeed, is this sort of resurrection, says Luke. This is something that happened to some of us, says Luke. They were just cooking fish, and even though he’d clearly been killed Jesus just showed up and shared a meal with them, says Luke. And I don’t know if I understand it either, says Luke. I still wonder at it all. But wouldn’t you be happy to see him, even if you couldn’t quite believe it? I can imagine that, says Luke.

In John’s Gospel—after telling the story of Thomas, the disciple who could only believe in the resurrection of Jesus if he were to be able to put his hands into Jesus’s side—Jesus tells us, “[b]lessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”Which is a possibility that is presented to us, living as we do between the ascension and the second coming. We do not get to see, or embrace, or even give Jesus a bit of a poke. Not the way they could around the table that day.

We do get other ways of encounter—through our imagination perhaps, where Jesus can inhabit and be present to us in our daily life. But there are other ways of encounter too. Jesus is present to us in the poor, though I’m not sure we always get this right, at least when we think of the poor as someone other than ourselves. There are many different sorts of poverty—unemployment and underemployment, living without reliable housing, being undernourished and without enough food, for example.

But there is such a thing as spiritual poverty—and most of us are familiar with that, if we were honest. There’s another sort of poverty in being self-sufficient, or in imagining ourselves as self-sufficient; social and financial independence is really a way of saying that we wish we had no need of others in our lives at all. This is a poverty of relationship, a poverty that doesn’t even allow for the sort of encounter in which we can be the gift of Christ for others; to pursue the extremes of wealth and self-sufficiency

is to refuse to be poor for the sake of someone else.

And Christ is present to us, above all else, in the sacrament— in the bread and the wine that is his body and his blood. This is the sacrament that fires our imagination; this is the sacrament that gives us a thirst and hunger for justice and righteousness. At the altar, we encounter Jesus—crucified, yet strangely present.

Jesus tells us, in John’s Gospel, that “those [of you] who have not seen and yet have come to believe” are blessed. But Luke also tells us in his own way, though, that those of you who joyfully disbelieve, and still wonder, are blessed too. Nobody says anything much at all about the grumpy believers, the obstinate followers, and just plain difficult disciples of Jesus. But you’re blessed too.

We are all blessed because this resurrected Jesus—the one who appeared bodily to the disciples, the one who appears to us in others, the one who is present to us in the breaking of bread, and the one who will come again in glory—regardless of our joyful and still wondering disbelief, regardless of our belief without seeing, regardless even of our grumpy obstinacy, we are all blessed because this resurrected Jesus is now “Of power to make e’en sinful flesh like his,” as John Donne puts it in his poem “Resurrection, Imperfect.”

That is, in Jesus, the fullness of life has now entered the world, and death is overcome; and having reconciled this fleshly world to himself, he reconciles us now to him, and us to one another, overcoming our sin and welcoming each of us by grace, into his suffering and living embrace, each of us now made fully alive in him.

The Revd Cannon Preston Parsons PhD