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.” (Matthew 24:43)
Think of yourself as alive some 2000 years ago. You’re a follower of Jesus, and still in shock that he was killed. You’re gathered with other friends in a room in Jerusalem, an upper room, hiding out, for Jesus was, after all, a revolutionary, killed for what the authorities saw as his crimes. You’re somewhere between despair and hope. You’re thinking that maybe none of what he said is true. And it all seemed so good. He seemed so real, so different, so full of…well, God. He loved you. He promised he wouldn’t abandon you. Or so he said. Your heart is breaking. The emptiness seems overwhelming.
But there are rumors floating around. The women who went to the tomb just this morning—Mary Magdalene and Mary, and the others—found it empty…and supposedly saw two angels saying Jesus had risen from the dead!
You weren’t there. You should have been. But you weren’t. And then those two friends on the road to Emmaus…they say that a man walked with them and then sat down to eat with them…and that it was Jesus! But then he disappeared from sight …they’ve raced back with the news…look over there; they’re talking about it right now.
Yet you are skeptical. It’s too much. Are you there to grieve or to hope? Perhaps both. You do know this. It hurts too much to believe. You slump down against the wall, closing your eyes, in the shadows, in the corner of the room.
Then, a familiar voice. You know that voice. It sounds like Jesus! It can’t be.
“Look, he says, “I’m here. I’m not dead!”
You’re terrified. Who wouldn’t be? It has to be a ghost. An apparition! No one comes back from the dead. This is bordering on creepy. You’re exhausted and full of despair and now this…this…spirit is there, looking happy and smiling…. What’s next? A carnival in the street? Magic tricks?
Jesus spots you, in the corner, in the shadows.
“Look at me,” he says to you. “You know me. I’m not a ghost. Look at the holes in my hands and in my sides and my feet. Here, I’ll prove it to you: Give me something to eat. Ghosts don’t eat. I’m real.”
And as you get him some food and watch him eat it, you realize that you are seeing one of the greatest miracles of all time—the resurrected Jesus. As he will say in the weeks to come, it’s all true. “Everything written about me in the law of Moses, and the prophets, and the psalms is true. It’s all true. I’m for real. And you are my witnesses.”
You are my witnesses.
No longer are fear and trembling and despair and grief in control. Or are they?
Perhaps it is time to come out of the shadows. Perhaps it is time to stand up, to stand among your friends, your fellow believers…for we, you and I, ARE his witnesses. We ARE his beloved people. We are the people of his story—with the truth passed down from generation to generation.
He is for real. He has come back for us, keeping us from a life of despair…if only we believe.
Do we walk toward him, toward the light, out of the shadows? Out of that place of fear and trembling and quiet hauntings—the latter is, after all, a more comfortable place to be, and we know it so well. Or do we step up, step out, claim the joy that is offered, taking our place among the circle of believers?
Do we embrace him, as was Mary Magdalene’s first impulse? Or do we stay low, out of sight, always on the edge? Do we accept the peace which passes all understanding, or do we continue to second guess, to live in constant anxiety about things which we cannot control?
Jesus extends his hand. He reaches for us. Let us not reject him or put him aside—let us put aside our fear and cynicism and despair instead. Let us believe.
Nothing can separate us from the love of God, says St. Paul. Nothing can separate us, indeed. For that we give thanks, leaving the shadow of valley of death behind. Amen.
Sermon: St. David’s, Minnetonka, April 19, 2015
Photo credit: The Rev. Noel Bailey