Mother Katherine’s sermon preached on April 18, 2021

Posted by on Sun, Apr 18, 2021 in Easter, Sermons

The Third Sunday of Easter

April 18, 2021

Open the eyes of our hearts, and lift up the light of your countenance upon us, O Lord. Amen.

This sounds much like last week’s gospel and yet, in Luke’s way of telling, it’s got a different feel and emphasis. There’s no mention of Thomas and his need to see his doubts answered, and no mention of the Holy Spirit. Last week John or a narrator tells the reader these things are written so that we “may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God…” Today it is Jesus himself who speaks, explaining, “You are witnesses of these things.” 

After the physical prominence of “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.” They are still unsure of what has happened and what the empty tomb, found only hours ago, really means. Jesus is determined that they know he is real and living! “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.” A mirage or ghost does not eat and one cannot touch his flesh and bones. The point isn’t to make something magical happen, not to prove a miracle to unbelievers, it is to remind and reassure them what he promised has come about, what he taught is still what they need follow, that the world is in need of repentance and forgiveness. These are not in question because “You are witnesses of these things.” Witnesses of the real and living God in Christ, now risen.

Try as I might, it’s hard to fully imagine being there; seeing, hearing, touching, what was impossibly in front of them. I imagine it as both very real and also somehow otherworldly or mystical — and like you, I would love to have been there! If we kept reading a few more lines, they witness his ascension to heaven. Who they had just known was real, whose flesh they had touched, whom they had eaten with and listened to in person, is now out of ordinary sight. Reality does not preclude the mystical. Now instead of being startled or terrified, disbelieving or doubting, as they were when he came to them that first Easter, they worship him with great joy. As Jesus said, now they are witnesses. As are we! Witnesses to all we have learned and seen for ourselves of Christ’s presence. In the first letter of John we heard, “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.” We are children of God and witnesses to Christ’s love, travelers of his Way. We might express it differently, but it is one Lord, one faith. Look at the image below.

The Joy of the Resurrection
Jens-Uwe Friedrich

I chose the painting, The Joy of the Resurrection, as a portrayal of what Jesus is about in today’s gospel. I hope if you printed it out it is clear enough to see some detail, otherwise look at it online later. The artist, Jens-Uwe Friedrich, depicts the open and empty tomb, we can tell he loves “painting, seeing colors, opening biblical words with pictures” and for today’s gospel reading it is particularly apt. This is Friedrich’s way of touching, seeing, hearing the risen Christ, eating with him, loving him. (I wonder what your way of doing so is?) Notice that while there’s uncommon light in the empty tomb, the really glorious brightness is outside of the tomb, turning the blue sky seen at the periphery to a golden white light. In the middle of it is a figure I take to be Christ Jesus, with the light radiating more from him than from the tomb, as well it should; light from living Light, not from an empty tomb of death. Light that comes out to show itself, not waiting for someone to come into the tomb to find it. 

Just above him to the left you see a word in white (a bit hard to see) made of two Hebrew letters. In iconography we say it is not finished until the one portrayed is named, and it is written on the icon. The artist chose this word to name the risen Christ: חי  This Hebrew word חי (Chai) is just visible in the painting, a bit hard to see, it is white in the gold light radiating from Christ. The word is made up of two letters of the Hebrew alphabet; Chet (ח) and Yod (י), forming the word chai חי which means alive, or living. You’ve probably heard the Jewish toast; l’chaim! meaning ‘to life!’ And ‘Chai’ is at the center. 

Historically and in long held spiritual use, חי Chai stands for being alive before God or we might say, alive in God—as opposed to being spiritually (or otherwise) dead. It appears throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, from Genesis on, and the word as symbol of God is said to reference Deuteronomy (30:19-20) where the heavens and the earth are depicted as witness to the fact that there is life and death, blessing and curse, and that you therefore should choose Life (God), in order to live.

The artist ‘named’ the risen Christ as Holy חי Chai or Holy Life—surrounded by divine light, recognizable by the light. There are days we’re too overwhelmed with our own dark times or the world’s darkness to even perceive a glimpse that light. Surely our country having forty-five mass shootings in one month is such a darkness! The rampant disregard for the future generations of our planet, or assigning all ills and evils to someone else’s political party, are also such darkness. We are all witness to it and sometimes even part of it. We can understand the words of 1 John, “The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now…” Just as we have been witness to those tragedies, we are also witnesses to the Light of Christ, light we can carry with us into every dark crevice and radiate into every cruel scene we encounter, or share with one who does not yet know or feel themselves as “Beloved” and as a child of God. 

We are not people who pray only for the victims and shove the shooters back into the metaphorical tomb, or pray for only those we agree with, figuring the enemy will deservedly fall in their own darkness. The resurrection happened for us all. Today we heard Jesus tell them fulfillment of the scriptures heralding the Messiah means “repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem”—beginning from home. And indeed, “You are  witnesses of these things.” Psalm 4  is so  prescient here; “Answer me when I call, O God, defender of my cause; you set me free when I am hard-pressed; have mercy on me and hear my prayer.” It’s like the psalmist foretold our thoughts; “Many are saying, ‘Oh, that we might see better times!’ Lift up the light of your countenance upon us, O Lord…” and then reminds us that it is God who puts love in our hearts, and that gift is even greater than when all earthly things go well or increase. Yes, even when we are the best Christ-light-bearers we can be, it is God who puts ‘gladness in our hearts.’ Not self-earned because we’re accomplishing so much or fixing it all. Then psalmist speaks what I pray can be true for us, “I lie down in peace; at once I fall asleep; for only you, Lord, make me dwell in safety.”

We come full circle. Jesus came into the gathered presence of his dearest friends, and his first words to those men and women were, “Peace be with you.” It took time for them to come to that peace, to trust that Christ was really there, really with them. In a sense they had to leave their own ‘tombs’ of fear, disbelief, shame, and even the certainty that they knew he was dead, so that they—and we—could be witnesses and bearers of the Light of the risen Christ. 

Amen.

© 2021 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved.