Sunday 19 April 2015

Easter 3B: See me! Touch me! Witness to me!

“Moses said to YHWH, “But, never in my life have I been a man of eloquence,
either before or since you have spoken to your servant.” Ex 4:10

Easter 3B: See me! Touch me! Witness to me!

 Fantastic! Outstanding! Incredible! Thanks to blockbuster movies, and ad campaigns, we have come to expect that if life isn't “sensational,” something must be wrong. If we are not careful, we can apply those expectations to our spiritual journey and fail to see the hand of God in the ordinary events of life. Even more tragic, we might fail to recognise God's loving care for us in the midst of trials. Let’s face it, life typically isn't fantastic. Usually, life is ordinary and sometimes painful. But that is when we do the most learning and growing. That is when we have the greatest opportunity to encounter the risen Jesus, if we have eyes to see. In Luke's gospel (24:35-48) we encounter two disciples who had been on their way to Emmaus. They were leaving Jerusalem, their hopes shattered after Jesus' death. Then they meet the risen Lord. They do not recognise him at first, but they did after he opened the Scriptures for them and broke bread with them. After their encounter they returned to the community in Jerusalem with the news of what had happened. While they were still speaking to the community, Jesus stands in their midst. The community in Jerusalem may be together, but they are not a true community. They are fragmented by fear, with shattered hopes and now possibly in danger. We possibly can identify with the pain of the two despondent disciples on the road to Emmaus and the fear-filled disciples in Jerusalem. We, too, are pilgrims on a journey through life. We, too, can despair of life’s circumstances from time to time and lose heart when our expectations come to a tragic end. But remember, every trial is an opportunity to discover what God wants us to see. Luke tells us they returned to the community to share their 'good news' that they had me the risen Christ. Despite the witness of those who had seen the risen Lord, the disciples in Jerusalem find it hard to believe. What helps them is that Jesus comes and says, "Peace be with you" encouraging them not to be afraid. Then he invites them to touch him. Still more, he asks for food and eats in their presence. The resurrected Christ is very physically present, very much as he was when they travelled and ate together. Jesus reminds them that he is the same, yet there is something very different about him. The one they knew is with them, he has proven that by establishing his physical presence.

Yet, the disciples need more in order to accept his new presence with them. What he did for the two disciples on the road to Emmaus he does again for the disciples in Jerusalem. He "opened their minds to understand the scriptures' (a desperate need in the church today) so they can understand him in the context of the fulfillment of the promises God made to their ancestors. Can they understand what God can do for us in bringing new life after death? Jesus doesn't choose just certain Scriptures as proof texts. He tells them, "everything written about me in the law of Moses, and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled." After opening their minds to understand the Scriptures, Jesus says to them and us; "You are witnesses of these things." Having the Scriptures opened is not a Bible class, or a historical look-back. Once the disciples and we experience the risen Christ, we are reminded we must "witness" to all we have heard and seen. In the New Testament "witness" means "martyr." That's what is asked of us by the risen Christ. We must give (live) our lives as witnesses to him. Each one of us must show concretely our belief in the resurrection.

Jerusalem may be the location of today's passage, but it is just the starting point. The Holy Spirit, would drive those newly anointed out of the upper room to be witnesses to the whole world. Many of those first "witnesses" shed their blood because of their faith. The experience of martyrdom for the faith continues to this day in many places in the world. When we gather for Eucharist as like-minded people, we could be tempted to stay safe and cosy. However, we are to be witnesses to Christ, bearers of the risen Lord to the world. We share the Eucharistic meal together, the same meal Jesus gave the disciples on the road to Emmaus. The Scriptures are opened for us and we break bread together. It's a good reminder that our Eucharist isn't a meal just for our needs. It is also a nourishment for us all disciples who have a long road ahead. As we travel that road we will have to be "witnesses" of our faith, even if it costs everything. Being Christian in the world asks a lot from us. We need help and we get it from our God who opens our minds "to understand the Scriptures" and feeds us with the body and blood of our risen Christ at the Eucharist.