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Third Sunday of Easter — April 14, 2024

Resurrection is happening all around us, all the time, writes Ellen Williams Hensle.

Luke 24:36-48
Year B

“You guys, it’s really me! I’m not a ghost, I promise!” says Jesus, after walking through a wall or somehow otherwise miraculously appearing before his disciples. Of course, they are startled and terrified. Corporeal beings are not known for entering rooms without using the door — nor for rising from the dead, for that matter. But Jesus is eager to show the eleven and their companions that he is present with them in his body.

The gathered disciples have just heard from Cleopas and his fellow traveler how Jesus appeared to them on the road to Emmaus. Then suddenly Jesus himself is there, right in front of them. They think he must be a ghost, but Jesus quickly dispels their fears. He shows them his hands and feet. He encourages them to touch him, to see and feel his flesh and bones. And then, in case they are still unconvinced, he asks for something to eat. Ghosts don’t need dinner. It really is Jesus! He is risen. His body is not quite his old body, but it is still a real body, one that they can touch. He can share a meal with them, as he has countless times before.

The disciples have a mixed reaction to all of this. Jesus asks them for something to eat “while in their joy, they were disbelieving and still wondering.” The disciples take joy in Christ’s presence, in recognizing that their Lord is risen and with them in body. I imagine they felt a sense of surprise and excitement while also feeling comforted; Jesus was back at the center of their fellowship. But Luke tells us that their joy is mingled with disbelief and wonderment. They do not yet understand how it could be that their Lord is risen from the dead. And they do not yet understand what this means for their lives. They would not be returning to the way things were during Jesus’ life. Instead, they were about to be commissioned by Jesus to witness his resurrection to all nations.

2,000 or so years later, on the third Sunday of Easter, we find ourselves with similarly mixed emotions. We are still calling and responding that the Lord is risen — he is risen indeed! We are still singing Easter hymns and giving thanks for the resurrection. We have Easter joy, but we are also disbelieving and still wondering. We have many questions about how Jesus could appear in a real body and eat real food, but mysteriously appear and disappear from the view of his disciples. We have doubts about Jesus’s resurrection and ascension — Did those things really happen? And if so, why is the world still such a mess? And we wonder what it means that we are called, along with the disciples, to proclaim the gospel of repentance and forgiveness.

Our joy is mingled with doubts and questions. And in this time of great turmoil, death and destruction, war and famine, and division and fear, we long for a sign of the resurrection. We long for assurance that Jesus really is alive, working to make all things new.

The good news is that Jesus continues to show up in our midst, even when our doors are locked.

The good news is that Jesus continues to show up in our midst, even when our doors are locked. He shows us his body, encourages us to touch him, proves his humanity by having something to eat; he opens our minds to understand the Scriptures and to make sense of his suffering; he calls us again and again to live his gospel of forgiveness, of healing, of peace.

Recently a dear friend and I enjoyed a drink on a sunny afternoon. In the warm light of the springtime sunshine, we reflected on the Texas winter storm of 2021, which left millions of people across the state without power for the better part of a week. The icy roads were nearly impassable, and fear of catching COVID meant that many people waited out the storm in unheated homes when they might otherwise have tried to get to a warmer place. At the time, my friend worked as an emergency department social worker in our local children’s hospital. She ended up stuck inside the hospital for 72 hours during the storm, working long hours caring for sick kids and then attempting to rest in makeshift sleeping quarters on the premises.

By the time she was finally able to leave the hospital, she was physically and emotionally exhausted. Her friend Max, who lived nearby and whose house still had power, invited her to come to his place instead of making the longer drive back to her own cold and dark house. “I came in and he gave me food; he gave me wine,” she recalled. “I felt so deprived. But Max grabbed me and suddenly I was ok. My mom was texting me from California, asking me if I was alright. I answered her, ‘I’m home, I’m ok, Jesus is here.’” Jesus is here – the risen Lord was embodied in a simple yet deep, and deeply needed, act of hospitality.

Resurrection is happening all around us, all the time.

Resurrection is happening all around us, all the time. May the Spirit open our hearts to see it and give us courage to believe it. And may we live as signs of resurrection hope for others in a world that so desperately needs to be renewed.

Questions for reflection

  1. What doubts or questions trouble your congregation? How could you name these in a way that provides comfort and creates community?
  2. What signs of resurrection do you see happening in your congregation or community? Where do you see new life being offered, forgiveness extended or peace cultivated?
  3. What does it look like to hold joy and doubt in productive tension with one another? How can we help each other respond to Christ’s call while also creating space for questions?

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