Readings: 1 John 3: 1-3 Acts 3:12-19 Luke 24:36b-48
Let us pray: Holy God, in the words of scripture we have heard your word for us – may we understand it in our hearts and live it in our daily lives we pray. Amen.
I was sitting at home on Tuesday night, I think it was, when there was the most enormous clap of thunder right over head – or it felt like it at least. Maybe it had reverberated up from the valley, I’m not sure, but it was unexpected - and terrifying. It took me a few minutes to be sure that it wasn’t some massive explosion and then perversely I hung around in the conservatory waiting for it to happen again – I wanted to see the lightening that preceded such an incredible boom. But it wasn’t to be.
I was reminded of that when I read the Gospel reading from Luke where some of the disciples were startled and terrified beyond belief at the unexpected appearance of the crucified Jesus before them. And yet they waited and stayed – wanting to be convinced – and so they were.
And the people at the temple too from the reading in Acts - when the person who was, and always had been, the incapacitated man seeking alms at the gate suddenly, after a few words spoken, became the person leaping and dancing for joy. They people around were literally gob smacked: as scripture says ‘full of wonder and amazement’. But they too hung around – listening to the words that helped them understand that, in the name of the risen Jesus, incredible things could happen.
The consternation surrounding Jesus’ appearance is understandable – they were fearful still of the authorities coming for them, they had heard all these strange reports of Jesus appearing to others (on the road to Emmaus and to Simon) and they think this is a ghost. Jesus dramatically goes out of his way to reassure them of his presence. First he shares the peace with them and then ‘while in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering’ Jesus both understands and challenges their fears. He meets them where they are and helps them put together a puzzle that they have almost solved but not quite. They are reminded of familiar words of scripture – the law of Moses, the Prophets, the Psalms and the prophecy that they all point to. They begin to realise that death has not had the final word if the presence of Jesus is with them. They start to make sense in some way of the chaos of holy week, and they begin to look forward into the future – to anticipate Pentecost and to make real the commission to witness to all nations the new life that is found in Jesus Christ.
This is the moment of transformation, is it not? The time when the peace of Christ is made known to the world, when the fear no longer keeps us hidden in a locked room, when we trust in the presence of God with us and we stand strong for all that we believe in, for all that our faith demands of us.
Let us relive that process of transformation that the disciples meeting the risen Christ went through again.
They were first of all frightened and alarmed, then there was joy mixed with disbelief and puzzlement and finally open and understanding hearts convicted through scripture and through encounter with the living God.
I wonder how that might connect with our understanding of what it might mean to be a person of faith today. Whether we look at our own personal journey of faith – or that of the church – I am sure we would all have times of frightened and alarmed. Hiding behind doors, hearing the words of hope but not quite connecting with them. Wanting a bit of proof maybe, hedging our bets, or just hunkering down because it was too scary out there. Fearful of what might be asked of us, preferring to stay with the sense of disappointment rather than be open to impossibility. I think of the people in our church community who find it more appealing to gripe at the failure of their church than to stick their head outside the door to see what is going on. I think of those whose fear excluded others who think differently or even those who are just plain pessimistic about the ‘Good News’ in their words and actions. I do think too of those who have been badly hurt by life and are frightened to venture out because they might take another battering.
Joy mixed with puzzlement and disbelief. I can totally relate to this - the number of times in my life when I have sensed an epiphany, a moment of transformation yet my questioning, imaginative brain has offered a myriad of plausible alternatives till I don’t know which way to go. In our churches is it the rigid teaching and unassailable dogma that stifles our pure delight in the presence of Jesus in our lives. The number of times I have seen joy shut down by the need to be right! Or do we prefer to stay in this place of a ‘bob each way’ – can see what could be but don’t quite want to let go of the disbelief in case we should be proved right!
And then there is the place that I hope many of us might have some awareness of. Open and understanding hearts convicted through scripture and encounter with the living God. And do not let that statement drag you back into disbelief because there are some bits you haven’t worked out yet or scripture that you are still puzzling over – so it should be. Open and understanding hearts does not mean simply conforming to 2000 years of written doctrine – remember we are part of the reformed and forever reforming church: so it means growing and questioning and learning and forever open to the Spirit of God in our lives. It means accepting Christ living in this world and his guidance in our lives. Living within the family of the church it means listening and learning from the wisdom and experiences of all who are seeking God in whichever way it is presented. I am currently undergoing a ‘Paul’ transformation engineered by the two avid fans – the two Johns are desirous of expanding my appreciation of this most inspiring and provocative of evangelists.
And…living as Christians grounded in the teachings of Christ does require just that – a foundation that we can convicted of and an openness to the ways in which the transformation that the resurrected Jesus invites us into is expressed in our faith living. About how we proclaim the risen Christ, who lives forgiveness and grace and reconciliation in our time.
And that might take some different ways of doing things. It might take some dancing. It might ask joy of us. It might demand of us a ridiculous optimism that love conquers death in ways we cannot imagine. It might engender trust where we would lean to distrust and it might, it just might lead to the transforming of the world where our greeting to each other is ‘Peace be with you!’ Amen.