Acts 3: 12-19
First John 3: 1-7
Luke 24: 36b-48
“While in their joy they were still disbelieving and wondering” – no matter how often the risen Christ comes to the disciples, our understanding and our senses fail. This is the second week in a row our text offers us the seed of the gospel in the fruit of doubt – the second week in a row that our lives and experiences, our own reason and imagination, can only fail the face of God. Disbelief, joy, wonder – human beings are capable of feeling several things at once, it’s no wonder, in their turmoil, Jusus’ first words comfort the disciples – “Peace be with you”.
We know the dead don’t come back. But Jesus is here. We yearn for the ones we love who have died – for some of us, we have holes where their love used to be, holes that may have been bridged over time, but never filled. This appearance of Jesus overfills his loss – he is more present, more alive, more the man they know than before he died. Christ is risen – and so he is more alive, having died, than even we are, or his disciples.
At funerals, when we release the bodies of our loved ones, and commend them into the hands of our Creator, our liturgies offer us a challenge, couched in the form of a prayer. It’s almost a synecdoche of Christ’s appearance as the resurrected one: We pray “Give us faith to see in death the gate to extend life…” In the moments of mourning, this can sometimes repel us and make us crawl up the walls. It is too much – and yet we pray for the presentation and manifestation of God’s power, which, like the fruit of an unknown seed, flowers to life more beautiful than we can imagine. Similarly, in some liturgies, when the service is ending and there is nothing left to do but send the body on its way, we pray “For so did you ordain when you created me saying ‘you are dust, and to dust you shall return’. All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”
This is prayer we can make only in the light of the resurrection, when we see in death the gate to eternal life. And yet, we pray still in this same maelstrom of emotions – fear, bitterness, disappointment, and underneath it all a hope we can’t quite countenance. Perhaps we could even say that a Christian life, or to be a Christian, is to be someone who sings alleluia at the grave. To sing this is to receive the life that is greater than anything here – the life of the Spirit, the life of God, shared with us completely, fully, in the resurrection of Christ, which is life that is more than life.
It’s important to see that the physical appearance of Christ doesn’t lead the disciples to faith. Rather, it was Jesus’ explanation of what he was doing there at all – his demonstration to them that the words he spoke, the law of Moses, the prophets, and the Psalm found the fulfillment of their promises in him. They can believe when they can believe in the purposes of God converging on Jesus.
One of Luke’s favorite scripture passages was Isaiah 49: 6, written to a desolate people, exiled and without hope, scattered and no longer having a future in the world: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nation, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
The plans of God are greater and more wonderful than the depth of our fears, and more sound than the rational basis of them. The Spirit, which has brought the name of Jesus to the end of the earth and raised the faithful in every land is not done – and we, here today, whether we gather in fear or in hope, can rely on the promise of God to make things not only right, but new and greater than we can imagine. The one who has made death the gate to eternal life has made this world the setting of the world to come.
Pastor John Z. Flack