Sermon for Sunday, April 15, 2018 || Easter 3B || LUKE 24:36b-48
There’s a great scene near the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, where a tank drives off a cliff with Indy aboard. Henry Jones, Marcus Brody, and Sallah race to the cliff’s edge and watch in horror as the tank tumbles to a stop below. In the meantime, Indiana Jones is clambering up a vine nearby. He staggers to his feet and comes up behind them. Sean Connery, who plays Indy’s father, does a fantastic double take and then grabs Harrison Ford in a frantic embrace. “I thought I lost you, boy,” he says, and the hug extends past the point you would expect this stern and professorial father to embrace his child.
I imagine a similar scene taking place in the upper room when the Risen Christ appears in the midst of his disciples. They think he’s a ghost, but he assures them he’s real: “Touch me and see!” Certainly, some of them grabbed him in the same frantic embrace that Indy and his father share. “I thought I lost you, Lord.” Others are still skeptical, so Jesus eats a piece of fish in front of them to prove he really does have internal organs, especially an esophagus, stomach, and intestines.
He’s not a ghost, of course. He’s really there – a physical being and yet more than a physical being because he’s also a resurrected being. Maybe that’s why they had trouble believing it was really him – because in the Resurrection, Jesus was somehow more than his old self.
Or to put it another way, in the Resurrected Jesus, in the Risen Christ, the disciples could see more clearly just what God had in store for them, and indeed for all creation. No wonder they had trouble deciding if he was really human. He was really human – fully alive in a way no human had ever been before or has been since. In seeing him in the power of the Resurrection, they realized how far they still had to go on the path, how much more they could be, how much more growing God had in store for them.
The Risen Christ is and was fully alive in a way we will not understand until we too find our place in the power of the Resurrection. But that doesn’t mean we can’t access a piece of that life now. When we gather to receive the presence Christ in the Holy Communion, we invite that presence once again to take up residence within us. The presence has been there all along, but God knows that we need to participate in the action of taking Christ in again and again so that we can participate in his risen life growing inside us.
On this side of the Resurrection, what does our participation in it look like? What does being “fully alive” look like?
Perhaps you come home late one night from work and your husband didn’t even think to make dinner and your son decided that his smelly practice clothes were best displayed in the middle of the living room floor and your daughter is having a minor anxiety attack because of all her algebra homework. You and your husband launch into the same old fight about responsibilities; at the same time, you try to tear your son away from the computer so he’ll clean up his mess. Your daughter starts crying because of her homework and hormones and everyone yelling and you tell her to take a few deep breaths: “Everything will be okay, sweetheart.”
And as you say those words to your daughter, you hear another voice saying them to you, a voice that rises up from your gut, from your core, from the center of what makes you, you. And you realize, not for the last time, that life is messy, but there is more to life than mess. You remember that none of you is fully alive yet, not like Jesus, at least. None of you is fully alive, not like you will be one day when God completes God’s work in you. And so you ask the Risen Jesus to live in you during that moment of stress and failed expectations. And for a little while at least you see clearer, love deeper, and shine brighter than you did before.
Perhaps you visit the homeless shelter to serve food and for the first few minutes you put bread on trays but you can’t quite bring yourself to look up at the guests. They are too foreign, too dirty, too sad. Then you hear one of them laugh – a deep bass laugh that rattles the silverware – and you remember how your grandfather laughed. And when you steal a glance at the man, you see Grandpa for a split second. Then you make eye contact and realize that you are related to this man, if not by blood than by the fact that the Christ dwelling within you and the Christ dwelling within him are the same Christ. And the fullness of the life of Jesus rises up from your gut, from your core, from the center of what makes you, you. The bread you hand to this man will be more than bread.
Perhaps you sit in the chair in the hospital room at 2 a.m. and gaze on the sleeping face of your aging father who was fine yesterday – he swore he was – but then the blood in his veins stopped flowing with its normal ease and he collapsed and here he is attached to eleven different machines and dripping IVs and he’s looking ten years older than he did a day ago. The doctors’ visits have been brief, their words evasive, and you know they’re trying to avoid telling you what your heart already knows. The nurses come and go, and their dedicated care for your father, even though he’s most likely not going to wake up, gives you a place to put some gratitude in a situation suddenly rife with despair.
The nurse wets your father’s lips and gives you a comforting squeeze on the shoulder, and you whisper “thank you.” And in those two little words, a ray of hope shines in the room – not hope that your father will live, but that you will live even after he’s gone. Those tiny words of thankfulness rise up from your gut, from your core, from the center of what makes you, you. And the Risen Christ is their in the room, reminding you that physical death cannot stop the radical aliveness of the Resurrection.
When we participate in the radical aliveness of the Risen Christ, we discover our own human capacity to love expand. We might not be as alive as we could be, but the Resurrected Jesus was as alive as possible. When we allow his risen life to permeate ours, then we can reach toward the full aliveness that made him the unique, shining being that he was and is. When we share Holy Communion with one another in a few minutes, we will participate in the act of taking Jesus into ourselves where he resides already. And in that participation, we will become more fully alive than we were before. And the more fully alive we are, the more life we can bring to those around us.