"Jesus is Alive!" Sermon on Luke 24: 35-48 by Michelle Ellis - April 18, 2021
I want to begin by telling you a story about earlier this week. It was Monday, our van was having some kind of issue we were trying to get to the bottom of, Joe and I were having rushed conversations trying to make sense of church, family and world problems in between swapping our home and church duties of the day, Ben ended up getting a nasty cut from a rusty nail on the bottom of his foot in his barefoot springtime exhilaration, and on our way home from a last minute trip to the doctor, he threw one of his shoes out the open car window. After supper (which by the way, was not well-received by all at the table and during which a bowl shattered in a thousand pieces on the floor along with the melted ice cream in it), Anna was sitting on my lap and started telling me in a quiet voice about how she talks to God before she goes to sleep at night, and how she talks to him when she is scared and how much she loves God. And suddenly, in the very middle of everything, I found myself being witness to the presence and work of Jesus. Suddenly, I stopped, I listened and I was a witness. I was a witness to the work of God.
I’m not trying to say that God was not present in the felt chaos and running around of the earlier part of the day. But when Anna was describing this to me, I was witness to something unique. I was witness to the work of the Holy Spirit. I was a witness to this unnoticed power that has been ministering to Anna, drawing her into relationship with Jesus, letting her know that she is safe, that she is loved, that she is listened to, that she is known. I was a witness to a power that I cannot control, cannot make come or go, cannot make happen or not. Listening invited me to remember how God filled my own heart with love for him as a very young child, times when I felt filled to overflowing with his real presence with me as a little one. Since then, I remembered times when I had to stop, because without being prepared for it, I realized I was in the presence of Jesus.
Can you remember moments in your own life this? Moments where without being prepared for it, you found yourself in the presence of Jesus? Moments like the couple who were walking on the road to Emmaus, going about your regular tasks of the day when without being prepared for it or expecting it, your heart was burning inside you because of what you saw or heard?
I wonder if this is a bit what it was like for the disciples in our story today. They are reeling from the events of the past few days. They are waking up confused, going through the motions of their day, getting up, eating, drinking, spilling the milk, burning the breakfast, trying to make sense of the death of their friend, feeling disappointed, disillusioned, afraid, lost, all the while doing the regular things that need doing. And right in the middle of all this, without anyone being prepared for him or expecting him, Jesus is there. It’s startling, it’s frightening, it’s hard to believe. But there he is, just the same. He invites them to see the scars on his hands and his feet, to touch his hands, to give him food to eat together with them. It seems that he comes to them in almost an unassuming way, coming to be with them in the room where they were gathered, talking with them and eating with them, just like he did before he died.
Except it’s not just like before. Because just like a rose blooming in the snow in the dead of winter, Jesus’ presence with them alive after his death signals the unexpected breaking in of a new season. Jesus presence with them signals that everything is different. World history shifted. From the point of the resurrection on, we are moving in a spring-ward direction. From the point of the resurrection on, we know the end of the story. God wins. Love wins. The remains of winter may hang on, but we are headed in a summer direction, and we aren’t ever turning back.
I’d like you to notice though, that at this point, you wouldn’t necessarily know it. The disciples are going to spend the rest of their lives living into and learning what it means that Jesus is alive, even though he was put to death. Most of us will, too. I imagine it certainly helped that Jesus was there to explain this and their time, and I sure wish that someone transcribed that teaching for us word for word!
Though his resurrection signals the most important shift in the history of the world, you wouldn’t necessarily know it straight away. Jesus doesn’t make massive public appearances after his resurrection to announce the world history shift. Instead, he shares this in intimacy, mostly with the people who walked with him in his life. He comes to be with the women who came to bring spices to his body, he comes to be with the disciples, gathering together scared in this room. He speaks intimately to them. He shows them he is alive. He invites them to see and to understand what has happened. He seeks out Peter so they can be reconciled after Peter denied him. He pursues Thomas so he can believe. He speaks Mary’s name so she recognizes him. He walks with this couple as they wonder together on the road to Emmaus about all the things that have gone on and speaks to them so that their hearts burn in them. He reveals this history altering moment, in strangely unassuming and intimate ways, in walking down a road with a couple others, in sharing a meal together at a table. He shares what has happened in intimacy with unimportant people.
I’d like you to notice this together, because Jesus still works in this way. Showing he is alive to unimportant people, just like Anna, in the secret places of our hearts. Giving dreams and visions of himself to people who have never heard of him before, He’s shown himself this way to many of us here, causing our hearts to burn within us, speaking to us, giving us dreams, healing our bodies, guiding us, touching us, drawing our hearts to love him, showing us the way through death into life.
I’d like you to notice, too, how Jesus invites the disciples to respond. First Jesus says, “Why do doubts rise in your mind?” If you’ve encountered Jesus, if you have heard him speak to you, if your heart has burned in you, don’t doubt or diminish that experience. Lean further into it. Jesus says, “Don’t doubt, but instead, come and look more closely. Come and touch and see, test whether what you’ve experienced is true.” Ask God about it. Examine it. Share it with other people. Hold onto the words that you heard, or what you saw. Don’t write off or diminish experiences you’ve had of Jesus, especially as distance grows from them. Instead, lean in for a closer look, come closer so that you can touch. Ask him to show you again.
Secondly, Jesus invites his disciples to respond by inviting them to be his witnesses. If you’ve encountered Jesus, you are his witness too, which means that it is your job to convince everyone you know of the resurrection and to explain and make sense of the entire Bible. No! (That’s a joke.) It does not mean that! It means instead that we name what we’ve experienced. It means that we tell stories of what we’ve seen and heard. They can be as simple as what Anna witnessed earlier this week by sharing, “I talk to God when I’m scared.” It could be, “Yesterday I had this experience, I’m not sure what to make of it, but I wonder if God was speaking to me.” It could be, “I saw this person who I know is going through a really hard time, but they are singing and praising God, and I can’t make sense of that—that had to be the work of the Holy Spirit”. Jesus invites us to name together all the ways that we see him and hear him.
Let’s pray together: Jesus, you come to us in ways we don’t anticipate, ways we can’t expect. You seek us out when we’re children, when we’re teenagers and we’re lost, when we’re middle-aged and we don’t expect you anymore, when we’re old and we long for you. Lord, we ask that wherever we are here in this moment today, if we are young or old, innocent or disillusioned, believing or doubting, that you would meet us again. Show us yourself again. Make us wonder out loud to each other, aren’t our hearts burning within us? Open our eyes to your presence. When we doubt, draw us in so we can see for ourselves, touch for ourselves and know your presence. And show us how to name your action to ourselves and to others. Amen.