THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER
Acts 3:13-15, 17-19
Psalm 4:2, 4, 7-9
1 John 2:1-5a
As important as the empty tomb was for the early church, it was not the most important sign of Christ’s resurrection. Far more important, for the early church and for us, are the personal post-resurrection appearances of Jesus, which proclaim the eternal presence of Jesus with His disciples, and which tangibly manifest the characteristics most associated with being Christian: peace, joy, forgiveness. It is the appearances of Jesus that transform the frightened and cowardly disciples locked behind closed doors into the emboldened evangelists of the Acts of the Apostles. The good news spread, and the Church was established when the doors were unlocked and fear disappeared. The closest confidants of Jesus discovered that their cowardice was forgiven by Jesus, that they were still loved, and that Jesus was relying on them to spread His message to the world.
The appearances of Jesus proclaim the fundamental truth of the incarnation, that God is with us. As Clarence Jordan stated in his book The Substance of Faith and Other Cotton Patch Sermons, Jesus was not “standing on the shore of eternity beckoning us to join him there. He,” as He did for the disciples, “is standing beside us, strengthening us in this life.” The first thing Jesus does after rising from the dead is not to return to the Father, but rather He comes back to us, strengthening us with His presence, assuring us of His love, sharing with us the peace that only He can give, forgiving our indiscretions, and invigorating us with the joy of the gospel. “The proof that God raised Jesus from the dead is not the empty tomb, but the full hearts of his transformed disciples. The crowning evidence that he lives is not a vacant grave, but a spirit-filled fellowship. Not a rolled-away stone, but a carried-away church.”
The power of the resurrection, what we celebrate during this Easter season, is not something we await in a distant future. It is a power that is felt now, in the present. Jesus “gave us not a promise but a presence. Not a hope for the future but power for the present. Not so much the assurance that we shall live someday, but that he is risen today,” and that should enable us to live our lives in the light of the Resurrection.
What Jesus did for the disciples in the days following the Resurrection He does for us. He seeks us out, calms our fears, breaks through the locked doors of our hearts, and assures us of His forgiveness. What does God expect from us? The same that was expected of Peter, and John, and James, and Paul, and all the apostles. He expects us to go out and tell others, by our words and deeds, what it feels like to be redeemed. What was accomplished in Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection is meant to make us the alleluia people we are meant to be, and with hearts overflowing with gratitude we bring the good news to a world that is so very hungry for good news.
We might be prone to wonder when Jesus might appear to us? In truth, it is likely that He has appeared to us often. What is needed is eyes of faith to see Jesus present in the poor and the needy, in the despairing and troubled, in simple acts of kindness, and in the Eucharist that we are privileged to celebrate so often. Like the disciples on the way to Emmaus, we are meant to recognize Jesus in the “breaking of bread.” In the Eucharist Jesus stands in our midst, and asks “Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts?” The Risen Lord wants for us what He wanted for his disciples. Jesus wants us to have peace. We are now the witnesses to the Lord’s Resurrection, and we are entrusted with the task of preaching His name to all the nations. May we live our lives in such a way that all those we come in contact with will experience the peace, joy, and forgiveness of our gracious and loving Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.