Sunday 15th April 2018

Third Sunday of Easter

Luke 24:36b-48

The Rev’d Jenny Wilson


In the name of God, creating, redeeming, sanctifying, … Amen.

Jesus himself stands among the disciples and says to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ It is understandable that they are frightened. They wonder if he is a ghost. He says to them, ‘Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’ And he shows them his hands and his feet.* As the disciples experience a mixture of joy and disbelief, he says to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ They give him a piece of broiled fish, and he takes it and eats as they look on. Jesus is making it clear that he is physically present. So many of the resurrection accounts are this way. Jesus making it clear that it is definitely him. He is risen, indeed.

Then Jesus returns to his role as their teacher: ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ And he speaks with them about the scriptures, and that he, the Messiah,* was to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day. And then he speaks of forgiveness. This is all about repentance and forgiveness. Repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. He says.

It is sin, our failure to let God be God in our lives, that gets in the way of each one of us, and all creation thriving as God intended us to thrive. The story that illustrates this so well is found early in the Book of Genesis. It tells of God walking in the Garden of Eden at the time of the evening breeze looking for Adam and Eve to chat to at the end of the day. God is quite simply looking for company for that is what God loves more than anything. A chat at the end of the day. A bit like we might say our prayers or sit reflecting on our day at the end of that day. But Adam and Even are hiding at the time of the evening breeze when God is looking for them because they are ashamed. They are ashamed because they have done what God told them not to do. This story has so much insight. We are made for relationship – with God and with one another. And when we do wrong things, when we make mistakes, and those mistakes are not reflected upon, not confessed in some way, and we do not hear and know God’s words of forgiveness, we are like Adam and Eve hiding in the garden–our friendships with God and with one another are damaged. Our view of ourselves is damaged.

The risen Jesus, the one who looked at the men who nailed him to the cross and spoke the words, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing,” … this Jesus is standing with his disciples, with the marks of the nails in his hands and his feet – that is why he showed them his hands and his feet, isn’t it? – this Jesus speaks of forgiveness. Scholars tell us that the Greek for “Father forgive them” is not about a single event. Not about a one off forgiveness of these particular men. Michael Mayne, former Dean of Westminster Abbey writes, “As the Greek words make clear, he doesn’t just say it once, he keeps on saying it. ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.’ He knows that in God’s terms there is no alternative to endlessly repeated forgiveness.”[1]

In the resurrection accounts with which we are spending time in this season of Easter, we see Jesus interrupting the lives of the mourning and desolate disciples with his physical presence and his pronouncements of peace and forgiveness. They think he is dead. He is alive. They believe their hopes in him and the kingdom he proclaimed are destroyed; he barges in on them showing them his hands and his feet and announcing his forgiveness, a forgiveness that will go to all the nations and he names them witnesses of these things.

Walter Brueggemann, who guided our cathedral Lent Study, wrote about such an interruption in his reflection for Holy Saturday, a day that he describes as “an in-between day of stillness and doubt and despair when times stands still in lethal flatness. The old Saturday was about abandonment and despair at the far edge of crucifixion.” Brueggemann goes on: “In the midst of that desperate stillness, the church listens yet again to another narrative that interrupts and intrudes and summons and haunts. [A narrative about] the first day of the new world, and for those who engage, the first day of new life in the world.”[2]

Listening for a narrative that interrupts stillness and doubt and despair when time stands still in lethal flatness. A narrative of life and peace and forgiveness. How can we hear this narrative, in our time and place, in our places of doubt and despair, in our places of sin we doubt can ever be forgiven?

What image will help God reach us with this resurrection story, with this interruption?

Michael Mayne quotes another theologian, Austin Farrar, who gives a beautiful image of God’s forgiveness:

“God forgives me with the compassion of his eyes, but my back is turned to him. I have been told that he forgives me but I will not turn and have the forgiveness, not though I feel the eyes on my back. God forgives me, for he takes my head between his hands and turns my face to his to make me smile at him. And though I struggle and hurt those hands, for they are human, though divine – human and scarred with nails – though I hurt them, they do not let go until he has smiled me into smiling; and that is the forgiveness of God.”[3]

Where is death for us? Where is the place of stillness and doubt and despair at the edge of crucifixion? As we witness the United States, the United Kingdom and France take part in strikes on targets associated with chemical weapons in the wake of gas attack on civilians in Douma in Syria, do we despair at a world that cannot seem to find its way to peace? Or is our place of struggle in a nursing home with a beloved relative or friend? Is our place of death some aspect of the way we see things or the way we behave that we simply cannot seem to shift, cannot seem to change? Or an illness from which we fear we will never emerge? A sin we simply do not believe God can forgive, certainly we cannot forgive? What are our graveyards? Where is death for us?

Is it possible, do these resurrections narratives cause us to wonder if it is not just possible that he is here, trudging through our graveyards, opening the stories of faith, pondering the scriptures, cooking fish, for God’s sake, looking at us with love and saying “It is me, I’m here, you are not alone in this. Peace be with you dear one. Don’t you get it? Death and all the little deaths are redeemed because I stood in death for you, before you, so you’ll never be alone in it.”

Do we have the courage to wait for him in our places of death? Or with the sins we cannot seem to believe might be forgiven? Can we listen? Listen for his voice? Listen for his footsteps coming when we never thought we would hear them again. Listen for the whispers of hope when we thought we had found ourselves in a place like the disciples’ place where hope was gone.  Can we listen and allow him to interrupt our stories with his story, the story of life breaking in, peace and forgiveness being pronounced? Can we wait until he turns us and forgiving us with the compassion of his eyes and smiles into your crying faces, and, as Austin Farrar says, smiles us into smiling?




[1] Michael Mayne Dust that Dreams of Glory p63.

[2] Walter Brueggemann A Way Other Than Our Own pp92-3.

[3] Michael Mayne Dust that Dreams of Glory p35.