Sermon preached by The Rev’d Nicholas Lang
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, Connecticut
The Third Sunday of Easter – April 26, 2009
May the light of Christ’s presence be with us, the warmth of the Holy Spirit gather round us, and the arms of our Creator God embrace us. Amen.
“Many are saying, ‘Oh, that we might see better times!” You might think that this wishful expression was part of a conversation about the state of affairs in our country right now. Actually, you heard it sung a few minutes ago in sublime Anglican Chant, the words of Psalm 4—ancient words first spoken and prayed by our Hebrew ancestors thousands of years ago.
I would imagine that it was also a sentiment of the disciples who had gathered on that first Easter—some confused by what they had seen at the empty tomb, others questioning those who had seen, but all of them—in the wake of the previous three days— wanting for, yearning for better times.
There was an urgency looming over the group late that day: the doubts of those who had not seen the Resurrected Jesus had to be defused so that this community could go forth and proclaim to the world the glorious and good news with certainty and conviction. Enter Jesus in their midst bringing greetings of peace—the dead now alive and in their midst.
Can you imagine what they were thinking and feeling? What would it be like to have lost someone you love, someone you were with when he died, whose burial rites you participated in, scare the living daylights our of you by appearing in your living room or kitchen?
The Gospel is a story about real people who experienced just such an amazing phenomenon and who tried their best to convey it to the next generation and for generations to come— even to us who are centuries and centuries removed from them. Their confusion and lack of understanding is very real and very present in this text and that is testimony to their humanity. They were startled and terrified by it all. Who wouldn’t be?
So on this evening of the first day of the week Jesus himself appears to his friends who have hunkered down in Jerusalem and gets very “fleshy,” very physical by showing them the wounds he sustained in his hands and feet and side and asking them to feed his human hunger. The message is pointed: Ghosts don’t eat fish. Now time and eternity have met and they are sitting right in the midst of a very thin place.
And having satisfied their skepticism—at least for the moment—Jesus empowered them as witnesses who would go into the world with news of forgiveness and reconciliation and as mediators of new life. These first disciples of Jesus did not experience resurrection as some triumphant single event, but rather in fits and starts, in hours of both uncertainty and elation, during days of numbness and grief, interrupted by moments of holy presence and powerful faith.
Let’s be honest. Resurrection can be very threatening. It would be easier for the disciples—and easier for us—if Jesus never really broke free of the tomb. If Jesus stays dead, they can go back to their families and their businesses and their comfortable routines. If Jesus stays dead, they don’t have to follow him or continue on this risky mission. If Jesus stays dead, neither do we, here and now. Resurrection can be very threatening—and wonderful.
“Many are saying, ‘Oh, that we might see better times! Lift up the light of your countenance upon us, O Lord”—words first prayed thousand of years ago by our Hebrew ancestors in faith and it has been more than two thousand years since that first Easter Day and those scattered, astonishing, even shocking appearances of the risen Jesus and still our violence toward one another has not subsided, a collapsing economy has ushered in a time of us anxiety and trepidation, our institutions, even those that are of religious persuasion, still put forth efforts—some at great expense—to oppress those who have been marginalized and restrict their rights as God’s children, and too often our churches don’t claim their power to be agents of God’s radical welcome and healing reconciliation.
We may believe, as did the first disciples that we are still beyond resurrection’s reach, Then we come here and all of a sudden look up and see the blessed loaf, the staff of life, and hear the words: “Be present, be present to us, Lord Jesus, as you were present to the disciples, and be known to us in the breaking or bread.”
And we come with our belief and we come with our doubts and we come with our joy and we come with our sadness and we come with our confusion and we come with our certainty—yet, we come—and no matter who we are or what we think of ourselves or what others may think of us, we are fed and nourished and comforted by the knowledge that we should be called children of God. And maybe, just maybe we recognize Jesus present with us because we have tasted that holy food.
And there may be times when you have approached this Table and extended your hands to receive that bread when you have all but pronounced hope dead, given up on the possibility that life could be better or richer or fuller, had prepared the spices for burial and were ready to climb into the tomb. Then, the bread is placed in your hands—the Body of Christ the Bread of heaven—and you hear again the proclamation that new life is about to commence in you.
Cynthia Gano Lindner, professor of preaching and pastoral care at the University of Chicago Divinity School, preached it this way: “We make pilgrimage to the tomb of some long-dead dream or desire, only to be surprised by the contractions of resurrection: hope still stirs.
“We glance up from our daily commute and our eyes meet the eyes of a stranger who nods in a moment of holy recognition: the birth pangs of resurrection, once again. We clasp the weathered hand of an aging loved one or playfully count the toes of a toddler; our heats and hands open when we hear that oh-so-human and oh-so-divine request, “Do you have anything to east?” We break bread around cafeteria tables, soup kitchen tables, dining room tables, communion tables—and our minds are opened to understand ourselves and our place in the world yet again.
“We are, all of us, children and heirs of the resurrection—which is God’s affirmation that creation matters, that love and justice matter, that humanity, in all of its ambiguity and complexity, is still fearfully and wonderfully God-made. We are evidence of God’s continuing in-breaking, of the resurrection which was and is and is to come. Better time, oh yes. Thanks be to God! Alleluia!