Sermon Sunday April 18, 2021
The entire Easter event is a mysterious and unfathomable experience in the life of the church. The gospel reading shows that the risen Lord is mysterious but real. That tiny church clearly “pondered” and was terrified by his presence, but it didn’t try to “explain it.” Rather, it was enough to bear “witness,” to simply tell the story of what happened. Yet, out of that strange, recurring encounter, the early church became a community that witnessed (by word and by its very life) that there is a real opportunity for a new life. New life for individuals and new life for the church.
This passage needs to be seen through the background of the appearance to the disciples on the road to Emmaus. You remember the story, don’t you? On the afternoon/evening of the resurrection, two disciples are walking back from Jerusalem to Emmaus, discussing the astounding events of the day. Although unrecognized, Jesus comes alongside them and asks them what they are discussing. The two are shocked that this stranger seems to have no knowledge of the day’s events. So, they explain to him all that had happened. But at this point, all they know is that the body of Jesus is missing and that the angels had told some of the women that he was alive.
Then Jesus begins to teach them about himself from the OT Scriptures. Evidently, the two were fascinated by his explanation of Scripture. Still not yet recognizing who Jesus is, they invite him into their home because it was almost evening. Then, amazingly, during the meal, “Jesus took bread, blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.” And immediately, Jesus “vanished from their sight.”
The two cannot wait to make the seven mile-trip back to Jerusalem to tell the eleven disciples what they have witnessed. When they arrived, they were greeted with the news that the Lord had indeed risen and had appeared to Peter. Then the two shared with the others how Jesus had accompanied them on the road and how he had revealed himself to them in the breaking of the bread.
It is in this very scene that our gospel text begins. While all of them were talking about the day’s events, Jesus appears among them, saying “Peace be with you.” V.37 says, “They were startled and terrified, and thought they were seeing a ghost.” Jesus then offers his nail-scarred hands and feet for them to see and touch saying, “a ghost doesn’t have flesh and bones like me.” As a further proof that it is him, Jesus asks them for something to eat. They gave him a piece of broiled fish and he ate it in their presence. Surely ghosts do not eat fish!
“Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures.” This is a reminder for us that the message of the Scriptures is not self-evident. One’s mind must be opened to them by the Spirit. We should also utilize the best of biblical commentary and scholarship to understand them. And according to Jesus’ own words, the scriptures are rightly understood only in the light of his death and resurrection. All the events of Easter should be understood as fulfilling scripture – the record of God’s redemptive acts.
The preaching of the gospel of repentance and forgiveness of sins does not rest on fiction or fantasy, but on the experience of the apostles. Something changed the disciples and sustained them through the trials they experienced. The experience of the presence of the risen Lord led them to see that he had been raised, and the experience of individual believers and the church is still the foundation of our faith.
Where the Lord’s physical hands and feet are no longer present, the ministry of the hands of countless Christians engaged in simple and sincere ministries continue to bear witness to the Lord’s living presence. Even though he probably will not appear in our midst to eat broiled fish, his presence is unmistakable in soup kitchens, around the kitchen table, and around the communion table. We too “see him in the breaking of the bread.” As in the first century, so now, the most convincing proof of the resurrection is the daily testimony of the faithful that the Christ still lives, and the work of his kingdom continues. Thanks be to God. Amen.