Seeing Jesus – a sermon

You can listen to the sermon here, or read it below.

I’ve always loved a good optical illusion.  The classics are my favorite.

longer line

Is the top line or bottom line longer?

chalice

Do you see a vase or two faces?

the dress

Is this dress white and gold or black and blue?

The Dress that Broke the Internet brought the human eye into sharp focus for about a week earlier this year.  The whole world became obsessed with how the eye works, and we all realized, yet again, that you can’t always believe what you see.  Of course, this is nothing new.  In fact, the Gospel lessons over the last two weeks have been a reminder that for the disciples, even seeing wasn’t believing.

Last week it was John’s account of that first Easter Day.  Ten of the eleven remaining disciples were huddled together in the upper room, locked away from the outside world for fear of the Jews.  Out of thin air, Jesus appeared in their midst. He offered them his peace.  He tried to give them the Holy Spirit.  The disciples were quick to tell Thomas about their encounter with Jesus, but as Keith reminded us in his sermon last week, the fact that the disciples saw Jesus certainly didn’t mean that they believed what he told them.  A week later there they were, still frozen in fear, closed up in that upper room.  This week we have what seems like the same story.  This time we get Luke’s version of the first Easter.  Our story begins at evening, but it has been a very full day.

It began at sunrise when the women found the stone rolled away and the tomb empty.  Two men appeared and said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?  He is not here, but has risen.”  The women ran to tell the others what they had seen with their eyes and heard with their ears, that Jesus had rose from the dead, but the men did not believe them.  Luke tells us they thought it “an idle tale,” a polite way of saying they thought the women were full of bull… Bologna.  Something in the story of the women gnawed at Peter, however, and eventually he got up and ran to the tomb to see for himself.  He found the stone rolled away, and all he saw inside were his friend’s burial clothes lying by themselves.  Even after seeing the empty tomb, Peter was still confused, and he went home wondering about what he had seen.

Meanwhile, others found it all too much to handle.  Two of the disciples, Cleopas and a companion, set off for their hometown of Emmaus feeling totally lost and confused at what had transpired over the last seventy-two hours.  As they approached the end of their seven mile journey, a stranger joined them and asked them about their sad conversation.  As it was late, they invited the stranger to dinner.  He took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them and immediately their eyes were opened and they recognized the stranger as none other than Jesus, their Lord, their Rabbi, and their friend, risen from the grave.  Jesus disappeared, and the two disciples took off running, seven miles back to Jerusalem, to tell the others what they had seen.

The room was buzzing with excitement over everything that had happened that day when Jesus appeared right in front of them.  With all they had seen and heard that day, you’d think they’d be overjoyed at his appearance, but their reaction isn’t one of joy and gladness, but of terror and fright.  With all they had heard and all they had seen, they still couldn’t believe their eyes; they thought they were seeing a ghost.  I love Jesus’ reaction at this point.  It’s late, and I’m sure he’s pretty tired, what with having been dead when the day started, and so he says to them, “What is there to be scared of?!?  Why do you doubt that it is me?!?  Look at me!  I’ve got holes in my hands and my feet for crying out loud!  Who else would it be?  Go ahead, touch me if you have to, but when you’re done, give me a piece of fish; I’m starving to death over here.”  So they touch him, and they give him some fish, and they are filled with joy, and doubt, and wonder, unable to fully believe what was happening right in front of them.

Yet, even in their disbelief, Jesus has work for them to do.  They are to go and to proclaim what they have seen, for they are witnesses.  Even as their eyes fail them, even as their brains doubt, even as their hearts question what is really happening, they are witnesses to the resurrected Christ called to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom of God: release to the captives, the recovery of sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed, the year of the Lord’s favor to the poor, the outcast, and the afraid, and that through repentance comes the forgiveness of sins for the whole world.

You might think that I’m making too much of the disciples inability to really see what was happening, but I think it is because of their bad eyesight that we too have the opportunity to be witnesses of the risen Christ.  The fact that they couldn’t even see what was right in front of their faces means that we, who don’t have the chance to see for ourselves, can be witnesses as well.  We may not be able to see Jesus standing in our midst.  We may not be able to touch his hands and feet or put our hands in his side.  We may not be able to share a piece of broiled fish with him, but we can still be witnesses to the risen Christ through the ongoing work of God in the world around us.

John’s Gospel has the disciples still stuck in that upper room a week later.  Luke’s second book, the Acts of the Apostles, has them there for fifty days.  There they are, still huddled in Jerusalem waiting, unsure of what to do next.  Jesus commissions them as witnesses called to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom of God, and 50 days later, it has yet to come to fruition.  Even having seen and heard and touched Jesus, come Pentecost Day, the disciples are still filled with a mix of joy and fear and doubt when the Holy Spirit comes with power and might, bursting forth from that safe room and running wild in the world.  From there the Good News spread like wildfire to the ends of earth.

We are inheritors of the story.  We know what the disciples saw, but just reading these old stories in a book doesn’t make us witnesses.  Our eyes are opened to see God’s hand at work in the world around us because we are inheritors of the very same Spirit of God that propelled the disciples out into the world.  The Spirit opens our eyes so that we too can be witnesses to the ongoing work of re-creation and restoration that takes place through the Church, the Body of Christ, to this day.  We are able to proclaim not only what the disciples saw, but with God’s help we can proclaim what we see as well; God’s redeeming love at work all around us.

Seeing isn’t always believing, whether it is the length of a line, the color of a dress, or the risen savior eating a piece of fish right in front of you.  Still, we are all called to be witnesses, to open our eyes and really see what God is doing in the world around us.  Through the breaking of the bread here on Sunday, through your prayers, through the reading of Scripture, and through works of compassion and mercy, every one of us has the potential, with God’s help, to be witnesses to the risen Christ as God continues to reveal his plan of salvation for the whole world.  And so we pray [and we sing] “Open our eyes Lord, we want to see Jesus.”  Amen.

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