Sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter
April 15, 2018
Jesus In the Flesh
Today is the Third Sunday of Easter. That means it is still Easter. The Ester season, like Christmas, follows the day of Easter and extends for a season. While the world has celebrated their egg hunts and chocolate feasts, the Church continues her joyous celebration of the resurrection during these “Great 50 Days” of Easter – that is, right up to the day of Pentecost. So, it should not be surprising then that we have our third account of Easter day in as many weeks. On Easter we read from Mark’s account of the women going to the tomb and finding it empty. Last week we read from John and his recording of the disciples locked away on the night of first Easter and also the Sunday following when Thomas had joined them. Today, we read from Luke and the events that he relates concerning that first Easter evening.
While each of the evangelists record some similarities and some unique details, all record that it was Sunday, the day of the resurrection and all record that the Jesus who was crucified in the flesh is now risen in the flesh. The reading from Mark focused on the fact that Jesus was no longer in the tomb while the readings from John and Luke have verification in the appearance of Jesus and the display of His wounds as well as the implication of His resurrection for the Church that is its result. From John we have the clear bestowal of the Office of the Keys, that the Church has authority to forgive sins. From Luke this fledgling Church receives the commission to be witnesses to His death and resurrection as well as the Scriptures prophecies that it was necessarily so. The Apostles received a promise that they would be emboldened for this ministry by the Holy Spirit.
We come on the scene with our first verse as the disciples that walked to Emmaus with Jesus and broke bread with Him were relaying the story of how He had explained to them from the Scriptures why the Christ must suffer and rise. They came immediately to the locked room to share what had happened to them and how Jesus revealed Himself to them in the breaking of the bread. As Jesus had opened their eyes to see and the Scriptures for their understanding, they became the first witnesses in Luke’s account and they immediately go to share the Good News.
As they share this Good News, Jesus stands among their number and declares to them “Peace.” It is a greeting that is familiar to you both in its Hebrew form of Shalom and in its liturgical use in the Divine Service. Imagine the Lord of Life coming back from His defeat of death to stand in your presence. He who defeated sin and temptation and crushed Satan’s head. “Woe to me for I am undone,” (Is 66:5) is the natural cry. But He comes in peace, not in judgment. He comes as friend not as foe. He comes declaring the reconciliation of God to man. And so it is as we gather here to see for ourselves with the eyes of faith, the risen Lord Jesus come into our midst, bringing peace, not as the world gives but only as God can give (Jn 14:27). It is much more than a simple hello or even a wish for peace. It is a bestowal of exactly what is declared, for the word of Christ is fulfilled in its hearing. What He says happens and what He declares is received. Faith understands and grabs hold of the promise in such words. As peace is declared to you, you are to believe the truth in the words, embrace it as your own, and receive in those words the very thing they declare: peace even as the angels declared to the shepherds. Peace has come to earth and God’s good will is declared to all upon whom He shows favor; all who believe and receive such peace by repentance and the forgiveness of their sins.
Even with such a greeting the disciples were startled and fear set in at the sight of Him. In their minds they could think of no logical explanation. He had died. They knew it to be fact. And besides, here they were behind closed doors. No man, at least not any normal man, could just appear among them. Of course, He had to be a spirit. What other explanation could there be? And if the dead were visiting them there would be real reason for dread. But Jesus calms them at His voice and settles them with the physical reality of His resurrected body. He is no phantom but stands there in the flesh. They touch Him and realize that He is the same Jesus whom they have known; even the same Jesus whom He has declared Himself to be from the beginning. “It is I myself,” Jesus says as He produces His hands and His feet for their prodding. I AM, Jesus says, the One who is and was and is to come, Immanuel, the One who was before Abraham and the One through whom all must come to the Father. He is the author of life and the destroyer of death. At this they disbelieve for joy and marvel. It should be our reaction as well. How can this be? I cannot fully understand its meaning, that the Lord should come under my roof. Yet, through faith we understand and comprehend enough that it sparks joy and we are caught in our marveling. If we can comprehend Him and His presence in the Psalm that we sing responsively. If we reach out in faith to prod Him in the readings from Scripture. If we listen and hear Him as He speaks to us there, we will be joyed and will marvel that He deigns to come even to us. He does not stay in a heavenly throne room as a royal not to be approached by His people. He still, in all His glory, comes to us in His Word spoken and sung to calm our troubles and belay our doubts that we might hold steadfast to Him who is risen and stands among us.
The eating of a broiled fish seems an odd thing to record, even more, an odd thing for Jesus to do. He who fasted for 40 days as He was tempted, surely could manage without eating on this special day. His eating is not for nourishment. It is an extension of the peace that He brings and extends to His disciples and to all the Church. It is an act of fellowship. In sharing their meal, He continues His message of peace. In understanding His words and that He is I AM, that is, God in the flesh, His sharing a meal with them is a declaration of fellowship or communion. It is a sharing together of more than a piece of fish. Such communion is the sharing together in all things: their sins and His righteousness; their flesh and His divinity. He has not and He does not hold back. He shares in all our humanity that He might bear our sin and we might receive His righteousness. He takes to Himself our creaturely nature that, in turn, He would share with us His divine nature. This He does in the Holy Meal that He has given us. In the Holy Communion, we share in the peace that He gave to the disciples. It is a peace with God that is ours as well. Sitting at table with God and sharing in His feast is the expression of fellowship and communion with Him. It is the expression of His acceptance of us. It is something that required the death of our sin and the raising of us to new life; something that could be accomplished only in His Son..
It is this divine necessity, that the Son of Man must suffer and die and on the third day rise according to the Scriptures, that reconciles God and man and makes possible such peace. It is more than a feeling of peace or knowing a temporal calm. It is the existence of peace where once warfare existed. It is more than just the defeat of your enemies but it is the death of you – your sinful nature. For while we were enemies of God, He sent His Son that we would become His children and enjoy all the privileges it brings, such as sitting at His table. This is what He opened their minds to see and what has been given to you to see. It is not obvious to the casual observer. It is an understanding that comes from outside ourselves and is given to us as a gift as we confess in the explanation to the Third Article of the Creed, “That I cannot by my own reason or strength believe…but the Holy Spirit…enlightened..me.”
Jesus instructed those disciples. He catechized them and then commissioned them to do the same. They would proclaim these things and be His witnesses to all nations beginning in Jerusalem. The comparisons between us and them don’t stop here. We too have been given the same Spirit of power and the same powerful Gospel (Ro 1:16) that brings salvation to all who believe. It is not given to all to preach, but this ministry of reconciliation is something that we share in as part of the Church catholic. Jesus gives us Himself that we might know peace, but in that peace, He also promises us the Spirit of power that we may be emboldened in our own callings as Children of God, that is Christians.
Now, that peace which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.