St. Paul’s Lynnfield The Rev. Nancy E. Gossling
Acts 3: 12-19 Luke 24: 36b-48
According to a Gallup poll taken in 1982, one third of Americans, who were questioned at that time, didn’t believe in life after death. In that same year, I probably was one of them. Matter of fact, at that time I was so consumed with life, that I didn’t have time to think about death, let alone life after death. My, how times have changed! Last year a Rasmussen poll indicated that 67% of adult Americans believe in an after-life.
I remember Easter of 1982 quite vividly. Our daughter Megan was 1 ½ years old, and our son Brian had just been born. Life was good. Not unlike this past year’s winter, it snowed considerably on that Easter eve. Paul’s parents had come to visit us, delighted with the birth of their second grandchild, and what they considered to be the one who would carry on the Gossling name. Paul’s father, lovingly called Grandfather, made a huge Easter bunny out of the snow. In the summer, he would make castles in the sand. Like our daughter, Grandfather was a doctor, who mended not just bones, but also people’s lives. He was a man of great faith, who loved life so much that in 2001 he was incredibly angry about losing it.
To be honest, I didn’t think much about God until we moved to Boston in 1980. I was a Christmas and Easter kind of Christian, showing up at church for the holidays. No matter the house, there was always a holiday routine. We would dress up in our Sunday best, go to church, and then celebrate with good food, plenty of wine, and a great deal of laughter.
Fortunately, for Paul and me, having babies wasn’t hard. We decided that it was a good idea, and then it happened. Raising our children, however, was a different matter. As they say, babies don’t come with instruction manuals. It’s on-the-job training with lots of “do-overs” and “I wish I hads or I wish had-nots” mixed in. Of course, Megan and Brian will tell you that raising us was no easy matter either.
Our struggles in life come in many packages, sizes, shapes and forms, don’t they? And we all have them, no matter how young we are, or how happy the holidays may appear. The truth is that these challenges will test our endurance, strengthen our resilience, and cause us to wonder about life, about death, and how to make sense of it all.
I love the Easter stories about the disciples hiding in a room after the crucifixion of Jesus. Last week and this week, the disciples are described as terrified. And wouldn’t you be? If your leader had just been condemned and killed by powerful religious and political authorities, and you were one of his disciples, wouldn’t you fear for your life as well?
And yet, it wasn’t those powers that knocked on the door that day. Instead it was Jesus who miraculously stepped into the room unannounced. There he found his disciples who knew that they had denied, betrayed, and abandoned their leader, most recently in his greatest hour of need. To think that Jesus might hold a few grudges against them, and harbor a little anger and resentment towards them, isn’t a far stretch for anyone’s imagination. Afraid, disbelieving, and feeling guilty, the disciples faced Jesus.
You know how President Trump has special names for certain people? Like “Crooked Hillary” or “Rocket Man” for Kim Jong Un? In a joke I saw recently on FaceBook, (yes, I am still on it!), the cartoonist shows Jesus’ disciple Thomas talking to two other disciples. Thomas didn’t believe that Jesus was for real, and he is angry. “All I’m saying is that we don’t call Peter, “Denying Peter”, or Mark, “Run away naked Mark”, said Thomas, “so why am I saddled with this title, “Doubting Thomas?” Another disciple quickly responds, “I see your point Thomas, but really, it’s time to move on.”
Emotions were running high after Jesus’ death. There was plenty of name calling, blaming, and shaming to go around and plenty of need for forgiveness. Plenty of need to let go of anger and resentment. Plenty of need for peace. And there was plenty of desire to “move on” and forget the whole bloody mess. But Jesus wouldn’t let them. After only three days’ absence, He steps right back into their lives, and meets them right where they are. He shows them his scars. “Touch and see me,” He said, “and believe that I am for real. Then, go be my witnesses.”
We use lovely metaphors to explain the resurrection. We talk about flowers pushing through softened soil or melting snow, how caterpillars become butterflies after a long and necessary struggle, and how memories of our loved ones will remain in our hearts forever. At least until we too are dead, or lose our memories, or become consumed with life as we know it. According to our scripture stories “hundreds of people saw the risen Jesus” after his crucifixion, and lives were changed and transformed. And so, as St. Paul said in his letter to the Corinthians, “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”
There is a common expression that is used these days when some good news isn’t quite believable. “You’ve won the lottery,” the ticket number proclaims, and we say, with blinking eyes, as if we’ve just come out of the tomb, “For real?” Was Jesus raised from the dead, we ask, “For real?” Are the scripture stories that we hear “for real”? Or are they just lovely bedtime stories that take away our fears of ghosts, and things that go bump in the night? Are these stories about Jesus just more stories that that we like to read to our children and grandchildren? Is Jesus for real, or is He no less real than the Easter bunny?
Long ago, when I was first ordained as a priest in Connecticut, Bishop Jim Curry came to our parish for his episcopal visitation. It was his custom to bring a Jesus doll with him for his children’s sermon, and then leave it there for their Sunday school classes. Children were invited to sign up and take Jesus home for a week, if they promised to bring him back the following Sunday. I asked if I might be the first child to take Jesus home.
Initially, I treated Jesus with a great deal of respect. I buckled him into his seatbelt, in the passenger seat of my car, and chatted with him as I drove home. I placed him on a chair at the kitchen table and then during grace, I thanked him for sharing his meal with me. Lovingly, I would tuck him into bed at night, kiss him on the cheek, and pray, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul and my body to take.” My husband never had it so good!
Well, you know how real life can intrude on our best laid plans, right? How our Lenten promises to amend our lives, and to forgive others as we have been forgiven, are hard to keep for 50 days of Lent, let alone a lifetime? How, like Peter, we promise never to deny, abandon or betray those we love. Parish life is busy, and by the end of my week with Jesus, I was throwing Him into the back seat of my car along with my communion kit, my briefcase, and my coat. Once home, and hastening to get dinner on the table, I would unceremoniously drop him face down on the countertop along with that day’s mail. As for tucking him into bed at night, well, let’s get real.
Peter brings me great comfort. He discovered once again that Jesus was for real, in life and after death. In today’s passage from the Acts of the Apostles, he reminds the Israelites, saying “I know you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers.” You killed an innocent man, but God raised him from the dead and “by faith in his name” miracles do happen. Blind see. Lame walk. The oppressed are set free, and to this we are all witnesses. It’s not our power but God’s power that saves us. In his fear, in his shame, and in his disbelief, Peter met the risen Jesus in that room, and his life was changed forever. So too were the disciples who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus and Damascus. On the beaches of Galilee. And in the garden with Mary.
“We need witnesses,” the Presiding Bishop has said. We need witnesses to the life-giving, liberating, love of God that is revealed to us in the person of Jesus. To be a witness is to be an evangelist, to share the good news of Easter, and to be on God’s mission wherever you go, and whatever you do.
In www.d365.org Andrew Garnett wrote, “Resurrection is a supernatural mystery by which God raises one already dead. When we truly grasp the meaning of the resurrection, we are motivated to change both our hearts and our lives. Are you able to encounter the world without fear because fear has been defeated? Can you live with boldness because you are being raised to new life? Does the resurrection give you an extra dose of joy or love or peace to share with your world?”
When Grandfather made that Easter bunny 36 years ago, I did not believe in the Resurrection. I was too young, too human, and too consumed with human life. All good things, to be sure! Today, I believe in the Resurrection of the Body and the dead, and of the life of the world to come. I believe that one day I shall sit down again with Grandfather for good food, plenty of wine, and lots of laughter. If you have not yet met the risen Christ, my advice to you today is to talk to Jesus. Go into your room and lock the door and talk to Jesus; for I have discovered that sometimes, when He’s not listening to me, Jesus will even talk back. For real.