It was Monday morning, and I was wading through the piles from being gone last week, catching up on some Session items, investigating the status on this roof project. I was making my list for this week for the second time, and I walked out to get a cup of coffee and a gentlemen buzzed the door, we let him in. He quietly asked to speak with one of the pastors. I was right there, and couldn’t walk away even though I had 34 other things I wanted to be doing, so I invited him in.
I heard a bit of his story, he asked me for some help – but the thing that hasn’t let go of me this week, was how hurt, how broken, he seemed. Everything about him, his tone of voice barely above a whisper, shoulders slumped. Life had been really hard. He was telling me about the job he had started two days before, how it was a start until he could get his feet underneath him and find a room to rent so he didn’t have to go back to sleeping in his car. I took that as an opening to ask him what kind of job he’d like, what dreams he had. He looked down. “I’m trying not to have any dreams. It’s just another place I can be disappointed. I can’t look ahead that far right now.”
“Peace be with you,” Jesus says at the beginning of today’s text. They were startled and terrified, Luke says. A dear friend who you saw put to death in front of you, in all the gruesome brutality of the crucifixion – that hurt stays with you. That fear and grief grips you and makes everything else in life so much harder. I have always been interested in how in all of these resurrection stories by how afraid everyone is. We all have years of the church working toward all the build-up of Easter Sunday. “Christ is Risen,” us pastors say about a dozen times, and you all reply, “Christ is Risen, Indeed!” It is GREAT news! The best we’ve ever heard.
But in the gospels the disciples don’t respond this way. Matthew’s resurrection story, after a dramatic earthquake, has the women leaving the tomb with fear and great joy. Mark’s gospel – this really is my favorite Easter story – has the disciples leaving the tomb resolved to not say anything to anyone, because they were afraid. That is the last line of the entire gospel of Mark. And they said nothing to anyone for they were afraid. Luke’s gospel is filled with uncertainty. At first they don’t believe, then leave the tomb, amazed. In last week’s story, the Road to Emmaus, which the youth handled so extraordinarily well in last week’s worship, the disciples walk along the road. They had been told Jesus was alive, but were blinded by the hurt that still held them. Jesus walked beside them on the road, they still didn’t see. No matter how persistent and patient Jesus was, they were off balance. AGAIN – today is the third and final resurrection appearance in Luke, they were talking together, and Jesus pops up among them.
Even though he comes offering peace, the disciples were startled and terrified, like they were seeing a ghost. I think suffering of all kinds does this to us. It was hard for them to imagine that the Jesus they had seen beaten and bloodied, crying out, “It is finished,” on Good Friday as the clouds darkened, was there, alive. They couldn’t have dreamed it. Like it’s hard to imagine once you or anyone you love has been diagnosed with cancer, even if they have gone into remission, any twitch, any feeling of discomfort, and the fear grips you. Oh, God, is it back? Like it’s hard to imagine trusting again when a relationship has fallen apart. Like once a child has been sick, really sick, it’s hard to imagine them running free. You don’t want to put yourself out there again. That one hurt was enough.
Thinking about what trauma does makes this scene make a little more sense. They were startled and terrified to see him but Jesus asks, Why are you afraid? I don’t think he’s admonishing them for their doubt, I don’t read this as a scolding. Look, Jesus says as he walks toward them, hands outstretched. Jesus is there, not a ghost, not some cleaned up version of himself, but one who has come through the cross, through all the empire had to throw at him. And their response – again, so honest and real – while in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering. The translation is awkward, but it’s some combination of disbelieving, being without faith is the first word. Then joy, delight, chara in the Greek, which is the same root as charis, grace. And they marvel, they wonder, they are astonished. He asks for a snack and eats the fish, proof for them and the early church that this resurrection is “of the body,” as the Creed says. In the fear, in the wondering, in the disbelieving, Jesus shows up.
One of the real gifts of this calling is being out in the community with you. Thursday was one of those days. I shared in an interfaith prayer service sponsored by the YMCA on Thursday, the National Day of Prayer. We prayed that God might be at work in and through all of us, as we seek the beloved community together. I went with some of you to a lunch in Raleigh for the 25th anniversary of CASA, a super organization that provides high quality permanent supportive housing. They manage properties throughout the Triangle, built the Denson Apartments over by Northgate Mall for homeless veterans, named after our own Alex Denson. For 25 years they’ve been providing stability, support, HOME. At the lunch, a gentleman named Jeffrey spoke. He shared a little of his former life – he’s a vet, but was homeless, got sick, lost everything. But found his way back through a collaboration of partners and now lives in the Denson apartments. I didn’t believe it at first, he said. I’ve been there eight months, and I am just now starting to believe it’s really true. Just now. That it’s not a dream. In joy and disbelieving and still wondering, it sounded like to me. Through the hurt of his life, God showed up in partners seeking a better world. A lot of the time it seems like it’s all mixed up. Believing and not believing, being joyful and feeling not at all joyful, wondering, waiting, hoping. Wrestling with it all.
Jesus goes on in this passage – and we’ll spend some time with it and the final verses of Luke’s gospel next Sunday – to reach back, drawing a line back to Moses and the prophets and the psalms, to those who have gone before. He reminds them that he is at the heart of an even bigger story, back to the mothers and fathers of the people with whom God made covenant, through his life and ministry, death and resurrection, to us, that we as a people might proclaim in our living the call to turn away from the fears that grip us, the temptations and distractions, and turn toward the Christ who stands among us, offering peace.
This journey as Easter people is not easy. Sometimes, I must confess, I wonder how much of it’s worth it. I don’t know if preachers are supposed to say that, but I wonder, with so much hurt in front of us, and around the world. We are weary. With our fear and joy and terror and amazement and disbelieving and STILL wondering. Somehow Christ keeps showing up. I take great comfort in this rich language in the gospels, and the fact that the first disciples didn’t really know what to do with it either sometimes. Yet God is faithful still. God is faithful still.
All praise be to God. Amen.