April 14: The Third Sunday of Easter

The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews is the vicar of St. Hilda St. Patrick. The sermon for April 14, 2024 was preached in response to Luke 24:36b-48 based on the manuscript below.

(It’s on page 2 of your bulletin)
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!

On Tuesday as Brandon and I watched
last Sunday’s episode of Last Week Tonight
with John Oliver
I was reminded
of my favorite quote from NT Wright’s
Surprised by Hope.
Oliver spends half an hour
talking about where the chemicals
for lethal injections by the federal government
and some states
come from.
He also talks about
laws that are being passed
that allow the drug dealers
for state-sponsored murder
to stay in the shadows.
As I watched the commentary and news
about how people have been killed in our name
I remember Wright writing
“Death is the last weapon of the tyrant,
and the point of the resurrection,
despite much misunderstanding,
is that death has been defeated.
Resurrection is not the redescription of death;
it is its overthrow and,
with that,
the overthrow of those
whose power depends on it.”

He continues –
with a bit of polemic –
“Despite the sneers and slurs
of some contemporary scholars,
it was those who believed in the bodily resurrection
who were burned at the stake
and thrown to the lions.
Resurrection was never a way of settling down
and becoming respectable;
the Pharisees could have told you that.
It was the Gnostics,
who translated the language of resurrection
into a private spirituality and a dualistic cosmology,
thereby more or less altering its meaning
into its opposite,
who escaped persecution.
Which emperor
would have sleepless nights
worrying that his subjects were reading
the Gospel of Thomas?
Resurrection was always bound to get you into trouble,
and it regularly did.”

Last week Fr. Mark proclaimed John’s version
of what happens the evening
of Jesus’ resurrection.
He appears in the locked room –
two weeks in a row –
and shows the disciples his real body,
letting them touch him
and feel his real wounds.
This morning we hear
Luke’s comparable story.
There’s no locked room,
but Jesus appears.
He’s taken, blessed, broken, and shared bread
with two disciples
who are not part of the eleven.
They don’t recognize him
as he walks with them,
but their eyes are opened
and he disappears.
They run back to Jerusalem
where we encounter them
meeting the eleven.
Almost none of Jesus’ closest male disciples
has seen him yet.
The women have seen the empty tomb
and Jesus has appeared to Simon
sometime off screen.

While the random two
and the eleven are swapping stories
Jesus appears.
“Peace be with you.”
This is like when angels show up
and say “Fear not!”
Things are not normal
and our mortal minds
are going to have trouble with it.
On the road he’s told the two
all about himself by interpreting
Moses and the rest of the scriptures.
Then he breaks bread
and is gone.
In the room with the disciples
he bids them peace
and assures them that he’s not a ghost.
He’s not resurrected
only in their memories
nor only is his spirit of teaching
what’s been resurrected.
Alleluia. Christ is risen.
Christ is risen, indeed. Alleluia.

“‘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’…
‘Have you anything here to eat?’
They gave him a piece of broiled fish,
and he took it and ate in their presence.”
This is a real person
fully human and fully divine
who has been bodily resurrected.
And he’s hungry!
After he eats,
explains to them –
like he did with the two on the road –
everything from Moses and the Scriptures
about himself.

Jesus’ reality,
his bodily resurrection,
is a call for us to remember
a mantra of the historic church:
Matter matters.
We are joined to Jesus and the church
with water and oil.
We are rejoined to Jesus and one another
with salt, flour, water, and yeast,
with grapes that have been crushed and aged.
Our faiths are strengthened,
our sins forgiven,
our relationship to the church,
and our illnesses of mind, body, and spirit healed
with the laying on of hands.
Our commitments are solemnized and blessed
with the binding of hands
and sharing of rings.
We’re called to travel lightly,
but the stuff that makes up the world
matters to God and the church.
It not only matters
it motivates and inspires us
to care for our neighbors and our earth.
Justo Gonzalez writes,
“The one whose life
the church shares in Word and Sacrament
is not a ghost or a disembodied spirit.
He is the risen Lord.
Those who serve him
do not serve a general moral
or religious principle,
nor just the natural spiritual urges
of humankind;
they serve one like themselves,
yet Lord of all.
And, because his resurrection
is not a merely spiritual matter,
they cannot limit their service
to purely spiritual matters.
The Lord who showed his resurrection to his disciples
by eating with them
invites his followers
to show his resurrection to the world
by feeding the hungry.
The Lord who broke the bonds of death
calls his followers to break the bonds
of injustice and oppression.”

Because Jesus’ resurrection
is not a merely spiritual matter,
we cannot limit our service
to purely spiritual matters.
We don’t here!
This is not a passive aggressive
suggestion of course correction!
It brings me back, though
to Wright’s commentary:
“Death is the last weapon of the tyrant,
and the point of the resurrection,
despite much misunderstanding,
is that death has been defeated.
Resurrection is not the redescription of death;
it is its overthrow and,
with that,
the overthrow of those
whose power depends on it.”
Not only is our call
to feed the hungry
but to ask why people are starving.
Death has been defeated,
and we’re called to break –
in Jesus’ name –
the systems that lead to death
rather than thriving.
Alleluia Christ is risen.
Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia.

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