Rev. Teri Peterson
An Open Book
April 26 2009, Easter 3B
While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said 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 when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.
Then he said to them, ‘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.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”
Can’t you practically see the disciples’ eyes bugging out as they watch to see whether Jesus really eats, whether they can see the fish going through his system like a ghost, whether this solid matter has a strange interaction with a misty incorporeal form? But nope, it’s just Jesus, hungry after a lot of walking, enjoying the fruit of his fishermen friends’ labors. Not a ghost, even in the visible Harry-Potter-type-way, not a hallucination, though they must have all felt crazy…just Jesus, their friend, alive again when he was dead just yesterday.
They’d been gathered in the room, listening to the stories from the walk to Emmaus, hearing about hearts on fire, broken bread, opened eyes. But when their own eyes beheld something impossible, still their minds could not take it in. Our human minds are always just a little bit smaller than the greatness of God, aren’t they? And we’re always trying to fit everything into our logical boxes, but with Jesus that’s no longer possible. He has very decisively burst out of the boxes, out of the rational mind, out of the tomb.
Jesus’ response to this problem, to the evident terror mingled with joy mingled with wonder—the classic “I can’t believe it!!!” response—is not just to show the disciples his hands, and is not just to have a snack, but to follow that up with a gift: a story, told to minds newly opened to the possibilities of a changed world. Jesus tells his own story, yet again, beginning with Moses and coming down through the ages. He opens the book and tells the story, complete with living pictures, and the disbelieving joy turns to wonder at the love God has for the world, and has always had for the world, that the story should go like this.
We sometimes use the word “story” as a way to blow things off—it’s “just a story.” Underneath, we mean, stories aren’t real life, they aren’t worth much, they aren’t “true.” But that’s not quite right, is it? All of life is a story, from the beginning of time until now, through us and beyond. Our lives are made up of stories, and taken together they make up a bigger story. God is telling the story of a beloved creation, through the mouths of a beloved people—a story that started before we can imagine and goes on farther than our minds can stretch. Moses and the prophets and the kings were a part of the story, Jesus on earth and Jesus alive again are part of the story, the disciples were part of the story. Just because it’s a good story doesn’t mean it’s not true—in fact, the gift Jesus gives the disciples gathered in that upper room is the understanding that the story may be the only thing that is true.
It’s unbelievable, of course. The story doesn’t make any sense. No one who was dead comes back to life. Love does not lead to pain and death. Only by the gift of the Holy Spirit can the disciples’ minds be opened to understand. But once their minds are opened, nothing can ever be the same.
I know, I said the same thing last week, and the same thing the week before, but I really do believe it’s true: the message of Easter, the terrifying, unbelievable, outrageous message of Easter is that nothing can ever be the same. The story has taken an unexpected turn, a crazy plot twist, and cannot go back to the way it was before. God has come to earth, has taken on flesh and blood, has experienced life and love and sorrow and pain and death, and has come back from all of that to tell us that love will always win.
Of course, the world looks almost nothing like love is winning. We have war, we have poverty, we have violence in our schools and communities, we have grief and loss, we have exclusion and hate. We sometimes have eyes and ears and minds and hearts that are closed against so many things that not even good news can slip through. But Jesus comes to open our minds to understand the scriptures, to hear the story through fresh ears, to see the impossible come true, to know that God’s love is stronger than the big stone at the entrance to the tomb. Where we thought the story had ended, a whole new chapter has begun.
And then Jesus says the thing that makes this story a perpetual page turner: “and you are witnesses of these things.” Witnesses? Well, yes, we saw it happen—years of wandering, teaching, healing, storytelling, eating, sharing, loving. But witnesses do more than just see—they tell. They exhibit. They share.
This is the third gift in the story—first came the greeting of peace, then the opening of minds and hearts, and now the title, the commission, the assignment: witnesses.
In other words, our task is to continue the story. To wander and teach and heal and tell stories and eat and love. To widen the circle of grace until all are drawn in. To hope. To share. What good is a mind and heart opened to understand if we won’t share our understanding? What good is a gift of peace if we don’t make peace wherever we can? What good is a gift of love so great it can conquer death if all we do is hide in an upper room and discuss amongst ourselves? The story needs witnesses, people to continue walking through the pages, passing on the message, seeing where the plot goes, looking for the Spirit’s leading. And those witnesses are the body of Christ—meant to be an open book for the world to read.
I wonder what our book will say? I hope it will be a book about love—a book of friends in Christ, caring for one another, sharing our lives together, being open about who we are and our struggles and our joys. I hope it will be a book about grace—a story of acceptance and hope, of traveling life’s road together, telling stories to strangers as well as friends. I hope it will be a book that witnesses to the mystery of a God who makes the world different—who bursts out of the tomb, full of life and light and love, changing everything.
Christ is risen, and nothing will ever be the same, yet the story goes on. May we be witnesses to these things.