Sermon for Sunday, April 19th, 2015|| Third Sunday of Easter, Year B || Acts 3: 12-19; Psalm 4; I John 3: 1-7; Luke 24: 36b-48 || The rev. Margot D. Critchfield
For us this is the third Sunday of Easter. But for the disciples in this morning’s gospel, it’s still the first day of the resurrection. Still that very first day, filled with tentative hope, doubt and confusion, reports of angels and an empty tomb, and citings of the Risen Jesus here, there and everywhere.
The entire last chapter of Luke’s gospel is devoted to these mysterious resurrection stories, yet no one seems to know exactly what’s going on —and Luke does little if anything to clarify matters the way one might with 20/20 hindsight.
You’ve got to love that about Luke. It’s so reassuring that 2,000 years ago the disciples were as baffled by the whole resurrection thing as many of us are today. The way Luke tells it, even after the women had reported that the tomb was empty and Jesus had risen…even after a disbelieving Peter had seen it for himself… and even after the stars of the Road to Emmaus story had reported breaking bread with the Risen Jesus…
…Even after all of those eye witness accounts and all of that hard evidence in the course of one day, the disciples were still disbelieving and filled with doubts when Jesus showed up right in front of their eyes in living color and invited them to touch and see that he is real.
Now, if they were disbelieving, and they had doubts, who could find fault with those who, two-thousand years and a scientific revolution or two later, still struggle with the reality of the resurrected Jesus? Especially when the powers of death and darkness he is said to have vanquished still seem to have such a terrible grip on our world? How are we to live with such incomprehensible mystery?
To the doubting, disbelieving disciples, Jesus says, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see…”
It’s such a profoundly intimate invitation: Touch me and see.
Whether we take this story as a report of an actual even or interpret it metaphorically, clearly we are meant to understand that the presence of the Risen Jesus was, and is, real. It’s not some abstract theological idea, but a very concrete—if confusing– reality. But a reality nonetheless; a mysterious reality that’s real enough to touch and to see, to actually make contact with, to notice.
Yet how much of our daily life do we spend as oblivious to his presence as the disciples on the Road to Emmaus? And how often are we as startled and disbelieving when we recognize his presence in our lives as the disciples were that first Easter Sunday? Why is it such a surprise?
Touch me and see, says Jesus. Brush against me, wrestle with me, or embrace me; but dare to make contact with me, feel my wounds, hear my words, taste my tears. Connect with me and see how real I am! Experience resurrection life! Touch me and see!
Frank Griswold, former Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, once said that, “So much of our theological enterprise has been an effort to straighten things out, when God has said: ‘Please, leave it alone, it’s in the realm of mystery. You know as much as you need to know, God says. You know I love you, and your life comes to full term in response to my love.’”
Resurrection is indeed in the realm of mystery. But by touching and seeing the risen Jesus, in response to his love for us, our lives come to full term. By paying attention and noticing how connected to our lives Jesus is all the time—and by accepting the mystery of that connectedness rather than trying to explain it–our lives are healed, they are made whole, and come to full term.
Touch me and see. Connect with me and notice my presence. Accept the wonderful mystery of resurrection.
In her book, “Dakota,” Kathleen Norris reflects on a conversation she once had with a Benedictine monk about repentance. To repent, you will remember, is to have a radical change of heart—to do a spiritual 180. Well, according to Norris’s monk, that radical change of heart isn’t so much about a sense of regret for “what we have done and what we have left undone,” but about “a renunciation of narrow and sectarian human views that aren’t large enough for God’s mystery.” It’s about renouncing the need of our secular-bound minds to understand, to be in control and to make sense out of everything. It’s a repentance that’s about touching and seeing, accepting, and leaning into God’s mysteries.
The tragedy is that so many of us want to believe, but fear it’s anti-intellectual or irrational. So many of us want to open our hearts to God’s love in the Risen Christ, but can’t risk letting go of the need to be in control. So many of us want to know that he’s more alive here and now than we can possibly imagine, but refuse to accept what we can’t understand.
So how might we, like Kathleen Norris’ monk-friend suggests, renounce our secular worldview to make room for such incomprehensible mystery? How might we turn away from our stubborn, scientific way of thinking and be hospitable to God’s magnificent, mysterious ways? How might we let go of our attachment to the objective world of provable facts and live into the incomprehensible reality of God? A God who comes to earth as a helpless child, lives a miraculous life, dies a vicious death, then rises from that death transformed— saying it was part of the plan all along; a God who walks beside us on our journey unrecognized—listening, reproving, nudging, teaching; a God who makes himself known in the breaking of the bread and study of scripture; a God who suffers for us and weeps with us, then calls us to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins in his name? How do we live into the mysterious, incomprehensible reality of the living Christ?
We certainly can’t will ourselves into believing. Even the disciples couldn’t believe it until Jesus “opened their minds to understand.” Faith is a gift, a grace, a mystery all its own—not a skill to be mastered by the spiritually ambitious or a prize to be won by the spiritually disciplined. We can’t work for it or earn it; we can’t read for it or study our way into it; we can’t make it ours by the sheer power of our wills.
But what we can do is touch him and see.
Touch him and see, by looking for the Risen Christ in the people and events of your daily life. At the end of each day, ask the Risen Lord to show you how he’s been with you. Ask him for the grace to see with the eyes of your heart. Reflect on each day’s simple pleasures, holy coincidences, and grace-filled encounters. Look for signs of new life in your life and in the lives of those around you.
Touch him and see by joining a Bible study—especially if you’re not a joiner!
The Risen One still loves to show up unexpectedly, just like he did on that first Easter Sunday, to open our minds so we understand the scriptures—especially where two or three are gathered together with his Word. Listen expectantly for Him in the questions and comments of others. Spend time with his Word. Let it break your heart open to his presence.
Touch him and see by inviting this One you’re not sure you believe in to open your heart and mind to the beauty of the mysterious; to help you let go of the need to understand and explain everything. To grace you with humility and acceptance.
Touch him and see by reaching out to others and recognizing his face in theirs. In the grief of the bereaved, the despair of the lonely, the anguish of the mentally ill, and the anxiety of the insecure.
Touch him and see by returning here, week after week, where he makes himself known in the breaking of the bread.
Touch him and see. Brush against him, wrestle with him, or dare to embrace him. Touch him and see that he is real.
The resurrection of the Living Christ is an exquisitely beautiful, incomprehensible mystery. But that doesn’t make it any less of a reality. Our gospel today makes that clear. Because now the Risen Christ, the Living Christ, is speaking to the doubting, disbelieving disciples of today.“Why do doubts arise in your hearts?” he is asking. “Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see…”
Touch him and be healed. Touch him and be made whole. Touch him and come to full term. Then go, and be witnesses of these things to all nations. Amen.