Last week we heard St. John's account of the Risen Jesus appearing to the disciples who were hiding behind locked doors for fear of crucifixion and death. This Sunday, we listen to another account of the Risen Jesus appearing--this time according to St. Luke. If we compare the two accounts, we notice that some aspects are the same, while others are different. The similarities and differences help us to understand more about what the Resurrection means.
In St. Luke's Gospel, the first person to see Jesus full of the Risen life is not Mary Magdalene, but two other disciples walking from Jerusalem to another town. At the beginning of the Gospel reading for this Sunday, these two disciples are telling the others what they have witnessed. We do not hear how the other disciples react to this news because:
While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
Like St. John tells us, Jesus' first words to the group of disciples are, "Peace be with you." We can be fairly certain that these are in fact his first words. What does he mean? Why does he say this? We can also ask, what language does Jesus speak to the disciples? St. Luke and St. John write their gospels in Greek, but the disciples and Jesus probably speak Aramaic and Hebrew. These two languages are similar. In both languages, the word for peace means more than just no more fighting or no more war. It has the meaning of wholeness, or completeness. There is a sense of great calm and stillness, because there is nothing more to want. When Jesus greets the disciples with peace, he brings all of this completeness into their midst.
They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost.
St. John remembers the disciples being afraid because they might be arrested. In St Luke's account, though, the disciples are scared only after Jesus appears. They think he is a ghost. Why does this cause them to be terrified? We have to remember that they have seen Jesus die a horrible death. They did not try to save him; they ran away. Peter denied ever knowing him. The disciples know deep in their hearts that sin caused Jesus to die. All the wickedness in the world--all the name calling, all the betrayals, all the lies--all the bad choices, cause Jesus' death. And the disciples know that they are sinners. If Jesus is back from the dead, if this is his ghost, he is going to be mighty angry. If he is back from the dead, then he truly has the power they sensed in him, and he is going to get revenge. No wonder they are terrified.
But Jesus is not a ghost. He does not have revenge on his mind. Instead he 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; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.
Jesus lets them touch him to feel how solid he is. Not a ghost. Fully alive. He is not here for revenge. Why does he get them to look at his hands and feet? They can see the marks of the nails on his body. They know now that this truly is Jesus. The marks of the sin that cause his death are still on him. The Resurrection has not erased them. What does this tell us?
Jesus accepts death on the cross. He gives his whole self to the world. He gives his whole life to us--we who cannot lift ourselves out of our sin. We cannot erase our sin. The Resurrection does not erase sin either. But it redeems it. It pours life into a dreadful situation. Jesus is not angry, and he is also not saying, "it's okay, don't worry about sin." The marks on his body show that sin is not okay and we cannot erase it. We need someone to lift us out of our sin. Who can do this? Only one person. The One who has gone before us. The One who redeems; the One who pours life into us.
While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.
Isn't this great? Jesus has shown them that he is not a ghost seeking revenge, but truly alive, the Redeemer. Where there is brokenness, he brings wholeness, completeness, peace. He is the Parousia person. But he is also hungry. So while they try to digest the fact that we have a great Redeemer who pours life into death, Jesus would like to digest a little food!
Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.
He has told them before, but they did not get it. Now, though, with Jesus Risen, fully alive munching on a bit of fish, they finally understand. One like us has gone before us. He has not turned his back on us who are stuck here in our sin. He extends his hand to us, ready to lift us out of our sin, to pour life into dreadful situations, to redeem. We just have to repent.
The disciples give witness to Redemption. "Our Redeemer lives!" They proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins. The Good News spreads throughout the world, throughout time, to us. What do we do with this Good News now? When situations seem impossible--death, sin, brokenness, despair--can we turn them over to the Redeemer? "We need you now!", we can cry. "Redeem this!" Because we have witnessed this, too. We know what he can do.