Forgiveness Knowing - thrive UMC Official Blog

Forgiveness Knowing

Luke 24:28-49

Our reading for today continues the story of the resurrection.  It picks up in Luke 24, right where last week’s reading ended, in verse 28.

28 When they came to Emmaus, he acted as if he was going on ahead.29 But they urged him, saying, “Stay with us. It’s nearly evening, and the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 After he took his seat at the table with them, he took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he disappeared from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Weren’t our hearts on fire when he spoke to us along the road and when he explained the scriptures for us?”

33 They got up right then and returned to Jerusalem. They found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying to each other, “The Lord really has risen! He appeared to Simon!” 35 Then the two disciples described what had happened along the road and how Jesus was made known to them as he broke the bread.

36 While they were saying these things, Jesus himself stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 37 They were terrified and afraid. They thought they were seeing a ghost.

38 He said to them, “Why are you startled? Why are doubts arising in your hearts? 39 Look at my hands and my feet. It’s really me! Touch me and see, for a ghost doesn’t have flesh and bones like you see I have.”40 As he said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41 Because they were wondering and questioning in the midst of their happiness, he said to them, “Do you have anything to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of baked fish. 43 Taking it, he ate it in front of them.

44 Jesus said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the Law from Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures. 46 He said to them, “This is what is written: the Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and a change of heart and life for the forgiveness of sins must be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 Look, I’m sending to you what my Father promised, but you are to stay in the city until you have been furnished with heavenly power.”

            In the final chapter of the gospel of Luke, we’re given two stories of resurrection sightings.  In the first, Jesus appears to two disciples on their way to a small town called Emmaus.  For the course of the whole seven mile journey, the risen Jesus walks with these two men as they talk.  But it isn’t until the moment when they stop and Jesus blesses, breaks, and gives the bread that they finally recognized him. For a flash, they see precisely who had been with them the whole time.   And in that very instant, he vanishes.

            Then, in the next story that immediately follows, Jesus appears again to the eleven apostles and shares the words “Peace be with you!”  His presence with them is so startling that they think he’s a ghost, so he invites them to touch his flesh, his hands and feet, and he asks for something to eat.  And right there in front of everyone, it says he eats a piece of baked fish.  Then finally, in five verses, Jesus explains everything he thinks he needs to explain, and in the closing lines of the book, he blesses the disciples and leaves them by being taken up to heaven.

The end.

            Now I hope all of you will take some time in this new season of Easter to spend some time with the resurrection stories we find in Luke (and even compare them to the other gospels).  They are wonderful and bizarre, and so full of questions that I really believe we could spend a whole lifetime wrestling with them. In fact, I think we should!  I mean, we’re actually invited to question and to wonder whether or not Jesus came back as a ghost! And that’s exactly what he sounds like in the first story. He travels along with these two ordinary disciples like a stranger.  And then in the moment of receiving the bread their eyes were opened! And they see –and then he’s just gone.  Vanished. And you can practically feel that moment, where the two of them are there at the dinner table, and they just stop a moment and blink.  And then eventually they look at each other and share a silent glance of shock that  shouts: ‘did that just happen?’  And then one dares to speak: ‘Weren’t our hearts on fire when he spoke to us along the road and when he explained the scriptures for us?’ 

            But then again in the next story, he appears like a ghost, but then the next thing you know, he’s eating fish –and ghosts definitely don’t eat fish!  Do they? And he invites the disciples to look and to touch his hands and his feet –the places where the nails went through.  And it doesn’t say anything about whether the hands and feet had been healed, or whether there were these big gory wounds.  …probably because they’re still wondering if he’s actually there or not!

            I mean, you listen to the whole story, and it sounds like someone who just has to tell you about the dream they had last night.  Have any of you ever listened to someone tell you about the most recent, vivid dream they had?  It’s just like this random sequence of impressions and events strung together –“like it started out in the clouds at this haunted circus, and there was this gangly, furry monster hanging from the ceiling, but he turned to me, and it didn’t look like him at all, but I totally knew it was my dad,  and they   –listen to this, monster-dad told me, “you need to clean up the dishes” and then I woke up, and he was right!  My kitchen was totally a mess.  Can you believe that?’

            And you, as the listener, you might nod and say something like ‘wow, yeah, that sounds pretty crazy there, Brad!’ just to get him to stop telling you about their stupid dream –because absolutely nothing the person told you had made anything that even remotely resembled sense to you.

            Now that doesn’t mean there wasn’t something to their dream –that it didn’t mean something, that it wasn’t real.  They just had an experience that you can’t relate to, because you weren’t there.  The dream didn’t happen to you.

            And to a certain extent, witnessing the resurrection is like that –it sounds like a crazy, unbelievable, illogical thing until you see it.  And in fact, that’s what the stories themselves show us: unless you see it, and recognize and know, it’s just nonsense.  Hearsay.

            But what I do want you to notice is the invitation that’s present in all of this craziness.  The invitation here is something that I think we can all access and understand, because it’s simple and familiar. Just stay a bit, and remember. 

            Most of us don’t often think of this, but remembering isn’t just calling back memories to consciousness, but it is an active process of assembly.  To re-member is to put the parts of the body back together again. To re-member, or to recollect, you have to put the pieces back together.  And that’s why, whenever Jesus appears, he has to open the minds of the disciples to the scriptures.  He has to show them how he fits into God’s grander story.  Because at the moment, they’re still just shocked and bewildered.  Their lives have been like this crazy, random string of events that don’t make any sense at all, and they just can’t see what God is doing even right there in their midst.  Until –and notice this!- until they slow down and eat. 

            This is why our grandest moment together –our only repeatable sacrament- is communion: the sharing of bread and wine. Because sometimes you’ve got to stop the songs and the sermon and the friendly chatter to simply sit and notice the tactile and life-giving moment of eating together around a shared table. 

            Indeed, the cadence of the way Jesus blesses, breaks, and gives the bread draws us back to the moment of that last Passover meal with the disciples.  It calls us to look again at Luke 22 where it says Jesus lifts the bread and announces: “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.  I tell you, I won’t eat it until it is fulfilled in God’s kingdom.”  Then Jesus took the bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it, saying, “this is my body, which is given for you.  Do this in remembrance of me.”  And that story also takes us back to the story in Exodus where the Hebrew slaves are called to freedom.  The Passover celebration is a celebration of life, and freedom from slavery.  So Jesus is saying he’s the freedom bread.  And if you ever get the chance to that eat freedom bread, then you’re reminded of the miracle that death and judgment have passed you over.  There, with the bread on your tongue, in that holy moment, you’re invited to remember that God has deemed you worthy of life and redemption. 

            “Do this is remembrance of me,” Jesus tells us.  Put the pieces back together.  And by the way, that’s not just talking about pieces of information or stories from the Bible: it’s talking about the pieces of our shattered humanity too!  It’s talking about us, the people!  We need to get together and share the things of life –bread and wine- to make peace and find a way to share this crazy world together.  We need to find a way to live with our neighbors so we’ll stop shaming and killing each other.  We need to share our bread and the fruit of the vine so that peace can reign and God’s Kingdom can be present here on earth, and in our hearts.  Communion isn’t  -and cannot be- a solitary act, but it is, always, a bold, communal proclamation that shows the world what it looks like to be together and experience peace. 

            And inscribed in the very heart of the event is the means for approaching peace:  receive; give thanks; break; give. 

            Remember: none of this is all for you, but we all share of the one loaf.  It’s not our loaf –but it’s given to us.  The only proper response is to give thanks to God, and to break it up so that everyone gets a piece.  And our church body is like the bread: we are one in this moment –a part of the global body of the risen Christ; but we must be broken up into little individual pieces so that we can share ourselves with others.  So that they too might be remembered into the body.  That’s the image we have for the salvation of the world: not that everyone believes some kind of particular theological ideas, but that we receive God’s grace and share in a way that peace can reign. 

            Before we close today, I want to make sure we don’t miss the final act that the resurrected Christ performs for his disciples.  At the end of our reading today, it says Jesus “opened their minds to understand the scriptures” and then he said to them, “’This is what is written: the Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and a change of heart and life for the forgiveness of sins must be preached in his name to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem.’”   

            Did you hear that? That weird Greek word I keep talking about has popped up again: ‘metanoio’ –change your heart and lives.  Come to a new knowing.

            That’s our call as disciples and apostles of Christ.  Proclaim a new knowing –but make sure you don’t miss this part: proclaim a new knowing for the forgiveness of sins!  That’s the whole thing.  That’s what it’s all about.  The opening of minds, the changes of hearts and lives, the bread and the wine, the witnessing, the dying and the rising it’s all for the forgiveness of sins. The new revelation given in Christ –the basis of the new covenant between humanity and God- is to preach forgiveness. 

            May this be the focus of our reflection and transformational sacrament: Lord God, make us bearers of forgiveness.

            Let’s pray.