Jesus: “Surprise! I’m back!”

14 Apr, 2024

By Sarah Murphy

Season: Third Sunday of Easter

Readings: Acts 3:12-19 | 1 John 3:1-7 | Luke 24:36b-48

Holy God, by your Spirit
Reveal your radical, surprising love;
Come to us through your holy word,
And let us hear what you are saying. Amen.

Have you ever said, “I’d need to see it to believe it?” This week’s Gospel reading falls into that situation. We know Thomas was a “see-it-to-believe-it guy” because we heard about him last week.  This week Luke gives another perspective on Jesus appearing to the disciples. The two people had just had the encounter with Jesus on the road to Emmaus and were back in Jerusalem bringing the disciples up to speed:

  • They had seen the resurrected Jesus.
  • It really was Jesus, even though they didn’t recognise him at first.
  • He explained the scriptures to them.
  • He ate with them and it was only then they realised who he was!
  • Then he just disappeared.

Just as they are recounting their story, Jesus came and stood amongst them. What would your response be?

I think it is very reasonable that the disciple’s response was to be startled and terrified. They are frightened and doubting. Jesus was dead. His body was gone. Now people were claiming to have seen him. To have him turn up in their midst would give even the strongest amongst us a fright! I hate scary movies. I am jumpy and easily startled so I can only imagine I would have been twitchy and frightened if I had been there.

Jesus’ proclamation and greeting of “Peace be with you” wasn’t having the desired effect. Sometimes just seeing something isn’t enough to make us believe, understand or know what the heck is going on. Jesus seemed to know this because he asked them questions. “Why are you troubled? Why do doubts rise in your mind? It’s me!”

When I phone my parents or my sister I often will say to whoever answers = hi, It’s me! Having known me all my life, they know who this “me” is. It’s a bit of a family thing. My sister also does it. My parents can distinguish between mine and my sisters “its me.” Even years before cell phones announced who was calling.

Jesus reminds his friends “it’s me” and invites them to touch him so they know its him. To see that he isn’t a ghost, but he has a body. Flesh and bones! In response to their doubts, Jesus shows them his hands and his feet. This is the clearest sign that he is in fact Jesus who had been crucified and died.

This revelation and visual explanation prompts a mix of joy, amazement and unbelief! I don’t think this is unbelief is doubt but rather an amazement. Maybe it would be better to say astonishment! How many times have you heard someone get good news and their response is I can’t believe it! I think of videos you see of people surprising a relative by turning up for a birthday. Often the person being surprised is so shocked they shut the door in the person’s face or run away. When a person we are least expecting turns up it can take our brain time to reckon with the situation and figure out what is going on.

We can live under the cloud of “if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.”  The world news and internet feed us a steady diet of doom, gloom and situations which invoke despair. We are conditioned to expect hidden flaws even in the good news. The disciples weren’t much different. They didn’t have many reasons to be hopeful. The person they thought was going to rescue them had just become public enemy number one and they were possibly next on the list. It is hard to be expectant and hopeful when we are surrounded by bad news and disappointment. I think this could be why Jesus goes further than just showing them his wounds. He asks for something to eat.

His eating moves him from being a ghost further back in the real world. Jesus’s resurrected body is a real body. Jesus’ resurrected body hasn’t been stripped of his humanity. He has wounds, he can eat and drink. But he can also appear in a room out of nowhere.

Eating with his disciples has always been a time when he explained things to them. Again, Jesus uses his time over food to explain more to those gathered around. This is what he had been trying to tell them while he was with them and now it has happened. It can be a challenge to figure out new things. I remember when my mum moved from a Nokia phone to an iPhone. It nearly drove her crazy. It was still a phone but so many of the ways it worked weren’t the same. It took lots of practice and patience to figure out how to embrace this new thing. Now she wouldn’t go back but it wasn’t a smooth transition.

Jesus understands that his resurrection is a big new thing. He looks somewhat similar and yet he is quite different. He turns up without coming through the door! He has risen from the dead! Jesus patiently explains to the disciples how his life, death and resurrection have all been in fulfilment of the entire Old Testament. The law of Moses, the prophets and the Psalms symbolise the full scope of the Hebrew Scriptures.

There is a spiritual dynamic to their understanding. Jesus “opens their minds” so they could understand. They needed some help to understand and so do we. I don’t think Jesus has any expectation that we get it the first time. Learning something new takes time and Jesus graciously journeys with his disciples to understanding. The Holy Spirit helps us to understand what God is communicating. I have sat in church and read my bible over the years. Some days I hear it and that’s great. Other days it’s like a light is switched on and that reading or scripture just makes sense or is more meaningful to me on that occasion. We trust that as we gather and read or listen to scripture the Holy Spirit opens our minds and hearts to hear what God is saying to us. This is why we say at the end of our readings “hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church.” We are the Church, we desire ears to hear and minds that can understand what the bible is saying.

Finally, Jesus tells them you are witnesses of all these things. And they will be, that’s the whole book of Acts. The disciple’s journey in the Gospels through watching and learning; and making mistakes and doubting; to in Acts showing confidence and boldness as they tell others about Jesus the Messiah. BUT it was a journey.

My encouragement to us today is that we too can be like the disciples. We can be on the journey of moving from fear and doubt to understanding to confidence in God’s love and mercy. Jesus doesn’t expect us to have blind faith. He revealed, he taught, he explained, and he empowered them.

We can also explore, experience, learn, grow in faith in and encounter with the living and Risen Christ. Amen.

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