The Aftershocks of Easter
From Wellington Cathedral of St Paul
The Aftershocks of Easter: 22nd April 2012: The Revd Dr Raymond Pelly
- Ps 4
- Acts 3:12-19
- I John 3:1-7
- Luke 24:36b-48
Like the aftershocks of an earthquake, the resurrection of Jesus happened to many different people, in many different ways, in many different places – and these shocks could be as powerful as the original quake! In the Sundays after Easter we look at these aftershocks, the resurrection appearances that kept on happening over a period of time. Each tells us something distinctive about Jesus, who he is and what it means for him to be alive – now!
Today’s Gospel relates one such appearance.
Notice how it begins. Jesus is standing – how easily we skate over vital details like this! ‘To stand’ here means that he is very much alive. If, for example, he had been lying down, that would signal he was dead or at best asleep! This risen, standing Jesus is not however a stand alone figure. He stands with people. He stood among the disciples and spoke with them. ‘Jesus himself stood among them and said, “Peace be with you”’. The fact that he speaks is part of what it means for him to be alive; and, as the text insists, it is Jesus himself who speaks, not an illusion or someone masquerading as Jesus.
Let’s look at this in a bit more depth.
A person who is standing in resurrection mode is standing for something. What Jesus stands for here is peace. ‘Peace be with you’ – he is the ‘Tama ngakau marie’ – the son with the heart of peace; peace itself, and the one able to impart peace to others. To understand ‘peace’ on the lips of Jesus, we have to look at earlier incidents in the Gospel. There is the penitent forgiven woman who washed his feet with her tears (7:36-50). To her Jesus said, ‘Your faith has saved you. Go in peace’ – a whole life restored and healed. Or, we should recall the Jesus weeping over the strife-torn city of Jerusalem, ‘If only you could recognize the things that make for peace’ (19:42). The risen Jesus speaks peace; and in this way we can see what he is standing for.
As we look at what he is standing for, we are offered a vision of his true standing or mana. We talk of people of ‘standing’ in the community, people of integrity who have earned the respect of others. Jesus’ standing is, according to the Gospel, both grounded in God and evident from his track record. God gave him life throughout his earthly living; and raised him to life in death. This God-given life, in life as in death, is visibly inscribed or etched on his body – like a lined, loving, wise and experienced face of a person we love and admire. ‘Look at my hands and my feet … It is I myself. Touch me and see’. The marks of the Passion, in other words, are still evident on his risen body. They are the signs of his true mana or standing with God.
But this touching was not as easy as it sounds. Jesus died as a criminal – crucifixion being the punishment for a rebellious slave. The people who crucified him - the Roman occupying power and the Temple authorities - continued their vendetta against him after his death. Even to touch the mutilated body of Jesus meant to be associated with him and what he stood for. It was an act fraught with danger. Touching therefore doesn’t just mean satisfying curiosity. Rather, for the disciples it meant the challenge to declare or give public witness to where they stood, what they stood for, whether they stood with Jesus. To be in touch with Jesus in this way was both dangerous and, at the same time, the joyful discovery of where all the life was – and is!
No less remarkable is the way Jesus stands with the disciples. Not a very promising bunch; or, to be charitable, confused! In our Gospel they come over as startled, terrified, spooked, frightened, full of doubts – here comes us! But at the same time, joyful – though still disbelieving, wondering; yet also, able to offer hospitality, ready to have their minds opened. This last is particularly interesting. ‘Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures’. What’s all that about? Two things: first, ‘the scriptures’ here means the record of how God acts in history – like the Exodus where God ‘comes down’ to deliver a people oppressed and in pain (Exodus 3:7) – the implication being that something similar but greater is happening now before your very eyes: a new Exodus in which Jesus, oppressed and in pain, is being liberated into life – for himself and for everybody.
But lest we get too carried away by this and turn it into a triumphalism, we are reminded of the kind of Messiah that Jesus in fact was and, in his messianic people, remains: the one who suffered himself and who stands for ever after with all those who suffer. This is a ‘God’s eye’ view of the world: not airbrushed and cosmetic, but deeply insightful, one that sees and is touched by wounds, by suffering, by damaged and ruined lives – by all we are all too painfully aware of in what is going on around us and in our world.
People like us, who are standing, who dare to stand with Jesus, are thus also the ones who are remembering or calling to mind the true nature of God and therefore the true mana or standing of Jesus.
There is, however, one further bit of what our Gospel tells us. If we dare to stand with Jesus, the one who stands uncompromisingly for life, we will inevitably have to withstand evil, all that would compromise or reduce God’s wonderful overflowing gift of life. Or, to put it another way, there is the uncomfortable question of what exactly our actual way of living communicates to others. Communicating – perhaps that’s the key word here. Now Jesus, the risen one, the one who is standing with God and with us, comes right down to earth. ‘Repentance and forgiveness is to be proclaimed in my name to all nations’. To any who would identify as a believer, there is the searching question of whether we in fact stand with Jesus radically on the side of life. Or whether, as our liturgy reminds us, we so often choose death: in not daring to be ourselves, in what we do to other people, in thoughtless exploitation of the environment - and in many other ways. A kind of creeping death rather than an on-going explosion and flourishing of life.
Repentance and forgiveness – this is what it takes to for us to be set free, for our broken relationships to be healed, for us to be put right with our world and with God. To get a handle on this we might simply say – instead of repentance and forgiveness – to make an apology or to accept someone else’s apology. We all know what this means and how costly yet liberating it can be. ‘I sincerely apologize and ask you to accept my apology’ – an exchange that can open up a whole new situation. This – word of the risen, standing Christ - is how we withstand evil and communicate life.
It’s time to wrap this up; and what better way to do it than with George Herbert’s wonderful words about repentance and forgiveness:
But thou wilt sinne and grief destroy; That so the broken bones may joy, And tune together in a well-set song,
Full of his praises, Who dead men raises.
Fractures well cur’d make us more strong.
If our task is to mend the world, then the fact that ‘in Christ’ things or people that are broken can become stronger than before is surely grounds for hope - real hope in the real world.