Myers Park Baptist Church
Charlotte, North Carolina
April 29, 2007
FOR JOY: JOURNEY TO EASTER FAITH
Text: Luke 24:36-53
I grew up loving and worshiping Christ before I knew to follow
him. Worship was like breathing and I a natural believer. This is
not true for all. My home and church offered me the grace of
believing and I eagerly drank. Since those young days of believing,
I've discovered that the heart of Christian faith is more:
transformation and discipleship - - never far removed from worship.
Luke ends his Gospel as he began it: with worship in the temple.
Zechariah started it off, he, a priest of Israel, offering incense
in the temple - - with an angel's announcement and his disbelief,
with his being struck dumb and thus unable to offer the priestly
benediction to the people waiting at the temple steps to be blessed.
Luke ends with the risen Christ appearing to his discipleship,
with his gracious forgiveness and new commissioning of them, to use
the words of T.S. Eliot, "With the drawing of this Love and the
voice of this Calling."1
It ends with disciples worshiping the risen Christ, and Christ
lifting his hands and blessing them and with the disciples returning
to Jerusalem, where they "were continually in the temple, praising
and blessing God" - - the last words of the Gospel.
I've loved reading through Luke with you these five months,
December through April, and today we end with the last two scenes
from the Gospel. But these scenes are just a beginning. Again to use
T.S. Eliot's words: "To make an end is to make a beginning."2
In our first scene it is still Easter evening. The two disciples
who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus and recognized him in the
breaking of the bread have rushed to tell the eleven. The eleven
disciples tell them what they've experienced through the day: The
report of the women about the empty tomb and the angel's
announcement, and Christ's appearance to Peter.
Then suddenly, as they were talking, Christ appeared to them and
said, "Peace be with you." They needed the word of peace, for they
were terrified. They thought they were seeing a ghost. You don't
want to see ghosts - - that is, the dead come back as spirits to
haunt us. "I see dead people," said the boy in the movie Sixth
Sense, and chills went up your spine.
Easter is not a scary movie. The risen Jesus is neither a
disembodied ghost nor a resuscitated corpse. He is something new: "A
spiritual body" as Paul called it, or a "transphysical body" as N.T.
Wright calls it, though both phrases point to the inexplicable.3
These resurrection appearances defy our common categories; they
transcend our rationality. They are encounters with the mystery and
beauty of God.
Jesus appears and disappears. He is recognizable and
nonrecognizable. There is something continuous and discontinuous
about him in this new dimension of his being. He is not a bodiless
spirit; he is not a resuscitated corpse. He is something else.
If this were to happen to us, we'd be shaking. So welcome is his
word, "Peace be with you." He is not a ghost come to haunt but the
risen Jesus come to bless.
Then the risen Jesus showed them his hands and feet. We have a
Lord with scars. Scars can be beautiful because they are signs of
healing. You survived the wounds. You're still here. The Risen Lord
is the same as the Crucified Messiah. Our Redeemer has wounds.
When Jesus showed them his hands and feet, the text says they
"disbelieved for joy." I love this phrase. It captures those
extraordinary moments where there's joy and there's disbelief all
mixed up together. Goose bumps and doubts. There's excitement,
there's wondering. It's too good to be true. It's too good not to be
Then Jesus says, "Have anything to eat?" I've always loved the
ordinariness of Jesus' resurrection appearances. Mary thought he was
a gardener. Jesus appeared like a fisherman to the disciples.
"Caught anything, boys?" he yelled from the shore of Galilee. Then
he cooked them breakfast.
"Have anything to eat?" he asked. And they ate fish together. The
risen Jesus eating fish confounds my best understanding. It strains
my credulity, and "I believe everything!" Or try to. There's a great
line in one of Frederick Buechner's Leo Bebb novels. Leo Bebb is a
slightly shady, but lovable, evangelist being investigated by a
skeptical reporter named Antonio Parr. Bebb says to Parr: "Antonio,
I believe everything! You may think this is easy, but it's as
hard as hell."
Here is the best way my mind comprehends these experiences. At
the resurrection God revealed the new creation. This new creation
exists alongside the old creation; the "world to come" impinges upon
and occasionally interrupts the present world. These resurrection
appearance are moments where the new creation suddenly unveils
itself and happens in our midst. They are temporal intersections of
the new creation and the old, time and eternity.
Jesus' appearances had a physicality as well as a spirit-like
character to them. Let me try to explain why I like to believe in
"the resurrection of the body." When I talk about my beliefs I am
not suggesting that this is what you must believe or even ought to
believe. It is a way of holy conversation, where I share what is
most important to me in my faith, and you share what is most
important to you. I'll show you mine if you show me yours. The issue
is not what you have to believe but what you need to
believe: The faith God offers that you need in order to live as God
has made you to live, the faith you need to thrive.
The belief in "the resurrection of the body" is important to me
because it says that God is invested in what happens to our bodies.
Matter matters, and in the new creation God is not manicuring
heaven; God is transforming this material world by the Spirit. The
kingdom of God is meant for earth, as Jesus taught us to pray. The
transformation God has for us involves minds, bodies, relationships,
communities, nations and Earth itself.
Then Jesus offered the disciples a new calling. He did not
dismiss them for their failures and start all over with a new group.
He started with the same old group, with people like us who
sometimes doubt whether God can do anything with us and
sometimes doubt whether God can do anything with the persons we see
In Luke Jesus' new commission is described this way:
...that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be
proclaimed in his name to all nations.
Repentance, turning to God and the good news of God revealed
in Christ. The Hebrew word is shur, turn and return to God.
The Greek word is metanoia, a turning of the mind, a new way
of thinking, seeing, living. And forgiveness of sins. This is
where new creation begins: In the forgiveness of sins. Here is where
we begin again: "With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this
And now the last scene of Luke's Gospel. Jesus took the disciples
to Bethany, that nearby town where Mary and Martha and Lazarus
lived, that town that seemed to be his home base at Jerusalem, his
place of safety and friendship. Were Mary and Martha there, and
Lazarus still bewildered by his new life after his days in the tomb?
Was Mary Magdalene there? And Cleopas and his wife? And the eleven,
and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James and John? Was his own
mother there? Was his brother James, who would be the leader of the
church at Jerusalem?
When they got to Bethany he lifted up his hands in blessing and
blessed them, and then was carried to the heavenly realm, to the
world to come, to the new creation which impinges and
interpenetrates and is transforming this old creation.
And it says, "They worshiped him." Jesus would not have
countenanced such when he lived - - he always pointed us to God,
whom he called Abba - - but now he is part of the divine realm of
God. He is our way, our truth, our life, our center, the way of
being which is God's way of being for us and the world, the window
open to God's mystery and beauty. So we worship and so we follow.
The road of discipleship and transformation.
People throughout the years have encountered the living Christ,
not as those disciples in those first days of Easter did, but
encountered his Spirit nonetheless: In the breaking of the bread, at
the table together, in the opening of scripture, together on mission
among the least of these, and in a myriad of ways. As Gerard Manley
Hopkins put it:
...For Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs and lovely in eyes not his
...through the features of men's faces.4
St. Francis met him in the body of a leper. Carl Bates found him,
or was found by him, suicidal in a hotel room, when he opened a
Anne Lamott's story is one of my favorites. Christ came to her
while she was recovering from an abortion. He appeared to her in her
room "watching with patience and with love." She turned away from
him and said out loud, "I'd rather die."
The next day she wondered whether it was a hallucination "born of
fear and self-loathing and booze and the loss of blood."5
I didn't experience him so much as the hound of heaven, as
the old description has it, as the alley cat of heaven who
seemed to believe that if it just keeps showing up, mewling
outside your door, you'd eventually open up and give him a bowl
She'd kept resisting him until she returned to her church in a
ghetto of Marin County which had become God's salvation to her.
"That's where I was when I came to," she writes, "and there I came
When she sat in church that Sunday the sermon, she says, was
about as sensible as someone trying to convince her of the existence
of extraterrestrials! (You might have felt the same about my sermon
today.) But the music did it:
The last song was so deep and raw and pure that I could not
escape it. It was as if the people were singing in between the
notes, weeping and joyful at the same time, and I felt like
their voices or something was rocking me in its bosom,
holding me like a scared kid, and I opened up to that feeling -
- and it washed over me.8
She began to cry and left before the benediction. As she raced
home she sensed Christ, like a little cat, running along at her
When she arrived at her houseboat she paused, opened the door and
said to Jesus, "I quit...all right. You can come in." This, she
writes, "was my beautiful moment of conversion."
I've never had anything so dramatic happen to me. But there have
been moments: in worship, in song, at table, at my desk, among the
least of these, when I've felt like "one of worst of these, in the
embrace of a friend, in church, along a mountain trail, in the face
of another, Christ has been near.
And I've felt I could worship forever.
1"Little Gidding" in Four Quartets (New York: A
Harvest Book, 1971), p. 59.
2Ibid., p. 58.
3N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God
(Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), pp. 657-661.
4"As Kingfishers Catch Fire," The Poems of Gerard Manley
Hopkins (Oxford: Oxford University ress, 1970), p. 90.
5Traveling Mercies (New York: Pantheon Books, 1999), p.
6"A Spiritual Chemotherapy," Salon.com, Feb. 1997, p. 3.
7Ibid., p. 4.
8Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies, p. 50.