Sermon by William Bradbury
Easter 3—B, April 15, 2018
Acts 3:12-19, Psalm 4, 1 John 3:1-7, Luke 24:36b-48
Did you see the eclipse this past August? My crew had those special sunglasses, so we could see the partial eclipse here. My sister and nephew, however, drove from Atlanta north in order to see the full eclipse. On their journey through rural Tennessee my nephew took a picture of a church sign at Delray Baptist Church with a message on it that reads: “Choose the Bread of Life or you are toast.”
We all know that we can’t look at the sun with our naked eyes, but we still know the sun is up there because of its effects, that is how it illuminates our world. This is part of what C. S. Lewis is getting at when he writes: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”
I want to suggest this is a helpful way to understand the resurrection of Jesus. Nowhere in the gospels is the exact moment of the resurrection described, which is odd when you remember how the gospels are quite willing to describe the other mystical events in Jesus’ life: The transfiguration describes Jesus glowing as he talks with Moses and Elijah. The ascension describes Jesus being taken up into the clouds.
But the gospels do not tell us what happens at the moment of resurrection—when the women get to the tomb Jesus is no longer in it: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”, the angels say.
We can’t look directly at the resurrection, but we know its reality by its effects. One effect is shown in the story of the empty tomb. Another effect describes the appearances of the Risen Jesus, like in today’s gospel.
Of course, these accounts contain a lot of variety. In some he appears in the upper room with wounds on a physical body, in others he is in Galilee on a mountain or on a beach cooking fish. On the road to Emmaus Jesus appears as a stranger, who is revealed in the breaking of bread and then vanishes. Finally, for St Paul, the Risen Christ is a flash of light and a voice calling him to discipleship.
It has been said these appearance are nothing more than group hallucinations, created by psyches traumatized by the crucifixion.
Yet, the effects of the resurrection also extend beyond these appearances: In Acts today Peter says that the reason they can heal a lame man is not because of their power or piety, but because of the power of God in the risen Jesus working through them.
The church continues to pray directly for healing, because we know the resurrection is still powerful today for those who are hurting. You can come to the Wednesday noon Eucharist every week and receive prayers for healing.
The resurrection penetrates into not only those who see Jesus, but also to those of us who don’t. Notice that all three lessons talk about the powerful effect we call the forgiveness of sins.
1st John says: You know that Jesus was revealed to take away sins….
In Luke the Risen Jesus says: “repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations.”
Peter says in Acts: “Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out.”
This is profoundly good news for all of us who carry around in our psyches the ache and burden of sins that have hurt others and ourselves.
Last week the reading from 1 John said: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” But today 1 John seems to contradict himself by saying: “No one who abides in Jesus sins…N. T. Wright, however, better translates today’s reading, “Everyone who abides in Jesus does not go on sinning.”
When we repent of our sins we are promising to do our best to avoid all kinds of sinning, but failure still comes. This doesn’t mean, however, that there has been no change in us.
Wright uses the metaphor of playing the piano: He says, “We are playing a different piece of music now, and even if our fingers slip sometimes and play some wrong notes, notes that belong to the music we used to play, that doesn’t mean we are going back to play that old music for real once more.” The Early Christian Letters for Everyone, page 151
But the effects of resurrection go deeper still into the creation of communities that practices radical transformation. We see this in his ministry, in which Jesus builds a community that liberates those people the world has given up on.
Think about those who society calls sinners. Being labeled a “sinner” is society’s way of keeping people in their place: for example, sex workers, who sell their body in order to feed their family, are labeled sinners in scripture and therefore excluded from EVER taking part in the life of the religiously-correct society.
But when Jesus pronounces that they are forgiven and welcomes them to feast at his table, he is publically removing the stigma of a label they could never remove themselves. With the label removed these workers, like the woman of the city in Luke 7 who anoints Jesus’s feet with her tears, while he dines in the home of Simon the Pharisee, are liberated from the stain and gravity of their past and enter an unimaginable new future.
Jesus doesn’t erase their past, but creates a new present out of it that is beyond their imagining.
Today, when the church becomes the place where those who have been trapped by the labels of the world—labels like illegal, slut, loser— discover a new future, we are seeing the effects of resurrection!
I’m glad I don’t have to come up with snappy sayings to go on our church sign every week. But if I did, I would change the one my nephew saw to read something like: “You are invited to feast on the Bread of Life–even when your life is toast.”