April 15, 2018

Third Sunday of Easter, Pastor Bradley E. Schmeling

Luke 24:36b-48

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

Christ is risen, indeed.  Alleluia!

I spent part of my week at Valparaiso University in Indiana at the Institute of Liturgical Studies.  I try to go most years.  The presentations usually give me something to take home.  Workshops spur my imagination.  And worship feeds my soul.  On Tuesday, I was asked to be a candle bearer for Evening Prayer.  At rehearsal, the twelve of us, like faithful disciples, were instructed to stand around the assembly in a great circle. At the blessing of the light, we were told to move to the center and surround the Easter candle.  As the flame was taken from the candle and passed to us, we were given this last instruction:  All you have to do now is DANCE back to your place.

Wait a minute!  Dance back to your place?

This was probably the most stressful liturgical instruction I’ve ever been given.  In front of 300 people, “just” dance back to your place. I probably don’t need to demonstrate just how it happened.  It would do little to prove that I can dance.  Likely, it looked as awkward as I felt.

We’re two weeks out from Easter.  By the third Sunday of Easter, there’s usually enough spring to nudge us into trusting that life returns.  But here we are today, a foot of snow, with more to come.  Determined not to be the first senior pastor in Gloria Dei history to cancel worship, here we are.

The gospel story is in exactly the same place as Easter morning.  The disciples are not sure.  Jesus has appeared and they only “kind of” recognize him.  They are filled with a mixture of faith and doubt.  They need a sign that he’s actually alive; that it’s really Jesus and not just some apparition, or dream, or wishful thinking. You would think that this is the moment for something dramatic.  How about a thunderbolt?  Or dazzling apparel?  Even a re-do of the water-into-wine trick would be satisfying.

But Jesus says, “Bring me a piece of fish.”  And he eats it.

What a minute?  This has to be the most awkward instruction ever.  All you have to do is bring me a piece of fish?  And Jesus stands there chewing.

THAT’s the sign of the resurrection?  A chewing Jesus?

It’s no wonder that we don’t paint that for the front of our sanctuaries.  No one looks good chewing.  And, more so, doing something that all of us do every single day, usually as just something to keep us alive, hardly seems the proof of Easter.

It’s not out of the question to ask for proof. The disciples do it.  Our confirmation students regularly do it. Certainly, a world steeped in logic and the scientific method, ask for it.

We attempt an answer:  Jesus is alive in the center of our gathering and when we eat.  You want proof of our story, take a look at our Sunday gatherings.  The living Jesus will be there in the people, in water, in bread, in wine.

It’s hardly an answer that make sense.  Only faith can look at a gathering of awkward disciples eating regular food and claim that Jesus is alive. As much as we would like our faith to be something that makes sense, that can be explained and discussed rationally, in the end it takes a leap to look at the people who gather in Jesus name and say, “Look at them.  They are proof that Jesus is alive.  Watch them eat.  You’ll see the risen Jesus.”  We live in a world where being a Christian—seeing the living Christ alive and at work in the world—will seem increasingly weird, especially as fewer and fewer people name themselves as followers of Jesus.  In days gone by, the pressure of society propelled people into church buildings. You almost had to be a member of the church to be viewed as a respectable person.  That’s all changed.  You can do just fine without any faith whatsoever.

Tom Long, a preaching professor, says that the world no longer believes in enchantment.  We no longer expect the earth to dance with divine life.  We imagine that religion is just a shell that was invented to handle our fears or manipulate vulnerable people. And who can argue with that?  It’s done both things. Ancient peoples expected God to be in fish, in bread, in wine, in people.  That’s viewed by most as quaint now, even though there is likely a deep longing to be connected to something bigger than ourselves.

When we gather to celebrate Easter in a blizzard or announce that Jesus is alive on Sunday morning, or splash a few drops of water convinced that it has more power than all the evil in the world, or pray for peace after our nation sends bombers for the sake of compassion, it’s hardly proof that God is at work, or that love wins.

Yet, this is the gospel we proclaim.  Christ is risen. Jesus is alive in real bodies, who eat and drink, who have brains that trust and doubt, who dance and stumble, who follow awkwardly and end up doubting just after Jesus shows up.

The creed says, “I believe in the resurrection of the body.”  Some of us hear that phrase as trust that our bodies will be brought back to life on some future, glorious day.  Maybe that’s true, but it sure is awkward to say.   I hear it as saying, “Christ rises in the bodies we live with every day,” and “Bodies matter because they matter to God.”

And if bodies matter, then taking care of them matters, whether it’s our own personal practices of caring for ourselves, or feeding hungry bodies, or tending to the victims of violence.  Bodies matter when they’re in church.  They matter when they’re on the street.  They matter in refugee camps, at borders, and in neighborhoods across town that we never enter. They matter in public and they matter in closets. Bodies matter when their congruent with our spirits and when they fight with us. Bodies matter when they’re clearing hurdles and when they’re taking their last breath.

Bodies matter because Jesus lives in them.

If we want to see the risen Jesus, it’s probably not helpful to look to heaven first, to some glorious eternal future, but to the bodies that are next to us, or in our mirrors, or in the newspaper, or hidden by our society.  In bodies that have wounds and eat fish.

It’s perhaps the most awkward instruction we have: come to the table. Chew on this bread. Then all you have to do is dance back to your place.  “You are the witnesses to these things,” Jesus tells us.

Christ is alive in our bodies.

As for myself, I can hardly believe it, but I know it’s the single most true thing we can say.

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

Christ is risen, indeed.  Alleluia!