Third Sunday of Easter B
April 18, 2021
Luke 24: 35-48
By Rev. John Tran
Why is it that at least some of the disciples present in the upper room were terrified when Jesus appeared so abruptly in their midst? I mean, the two disciples who encountered Jesus on the road to Emmaus had just finished telling the others about their experience. They had recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread. Everyone there had just heard about this; and yet when Jesus wished them ‘peace,’ “...they were startled and terrified and thought they were seeing a ghost.” Jesus asks them, “Why are you troubled?” Why, indeed.
They are alarmed with fright because they saw Jesus as a manifestation of death: He is a ghost, they thought. They have to learn that Jesus is a manifestation of life. Remember, this is the day of the Resurrection itself. It has been only three days since Jesus died and was buried. It will take many more weeks to realize that Jesus is a manifestation of life, and everlasting life at that.
There is a true story in Ripley’s Believe It or Not about a judge in Yugoslavia who had an unfortunate accident. He was “electrocuted” when he reached up to turn on the light while standing in the bathtub. His wife found his body sprawled on the bathroom floor. She called for help. Friends and neighbors, police–everyone showed up. He was pronounced dead and taken to the funeral home. The local radio picked up the story and broadcast it all over the air. In the middle of the night, the judge regained consciousness. When he realized where he was, he rushed over to alert the night watchman, who promptly ran off, terrified. The first thought of the judge was to phone his wife and reassure her, using the funeral home phone. But he got no further than, “Hello darling, it’s me,” when she screamed and fainted. He tried calling a couple of the neighbors, but they all thought it was some sort of a sick prank. He even went so far as to go to the homes of several friends, but they were all sure he was a ghost and slammed the door in his face. Finally, he was able to call a friend in the next town who hadn’t heard of his death. This friend was able to convince his family and other friends that he really was alive. — Today’s Gospel tells us that Jesus had to convince the disciples that he wasn’t a ghost. He had to dispel their doubts and their fears. He showed them his hands and his feet. He invited them to touch him and see that he was real. And he even ate a piece of cooked fish with them — all to prove that he was alive and not a ghost or spirit. He stood there before them, as real and alive as he had been over the past three years.
Because Jesus died on the cross as an act of love, he was not conquered by death. In fact, he has conquered death. Now, the living Jesus asks the disciples to touch him, and even to eat with him. He was really alive. And, for those who were in contact with the risen Jesus, just like at Emmaus, this contact is through eating the Eucharist where Jesus is present; in doing this, we share his resurrection.
The risen Christ appears to us not only in the Eucharist, but also in the wounded, the hungry, in all those who need us. In both cases we can fail to recognize him. The church uses as its symbol the cross, but it is easy for us to see it as a sign of death, just as the disciples did. Just as Jesus conquered death through the cross because it is an act of love, so it is through death as an act of love that we know real life.
In the same way, the poor, the hungry, the oppressed are easy to see as a sign of death, for they are. They are like the church, like the cross, a threat to life as we know it, to the world we have built. It would be easy to shun them and forget them simply as a sign of failure, a sign of death -- just like a ghost.
The problem is if we do that, then we become ghosts ourselves, just shadows of a risen Christ, mere shadows of love as Jesus knew it. Isn’t it strange, that it is through recognizing Christ in Eucharist and the wounded, that we belong to the life of the risen Christ and share in his conquest of death? Just as Jesus stood there before the disciples as real and alive, so we must stand in our community as real and alive members of Christ, and not simply as ghostly reflections of him.