Week of April 7: Christ is risen, and continues to be with us
By Dr. Hal Brady
For week of April 7
Scripture: Luke 24:36-53
When I was 7 years of age, my parents decided to move our family into a large 100-year-old house that had not been lived in for some time. They had plans to remodel. I will never forget the night I saw that house for the first time. It was a cold, dark, stormy night and there was no electricity. When my dad unlocked the front door and opened it there was an eerie creaking sound. The continual lightning flashes revealed numerous cobwebs inside and a number of run-down dusty rooms. As a small boy, I didn’t want to live there. To me, the house seemed haunted and I feared that I might see a ghost.
Even though the gathered disciples have heard the testimony of the women regarding the empty tomb on Easter morning and have experienced the excitement of the Emmaus road followers that Christ is alive, when Jesus appears and pronounces “peace,” the disciples are filled with fear. Rather than seeing a resurrection embodiment, they think they are seeing a ghost. The disciples’ “The Lord Has Risen Indeed” momentarily dissolves in a fog of disembodied confusion as they think they are seeing a ghost.
Jesus quickly brings them back to the startling truth of resurrection. There is a body! Immediately Jesus encourages the disciples to use their senses of sight and touch. When they still are unconvinced, He asks for something to eat. The meal indicates that Jesus is not a phantom, but has real being. Once more we see that Jesus reveals himself around a meal at the tables’ fellowship.
Resurrection faith then is not theories of immaterial spirits floating about. Resurrection faith possesses a physical element and is about hope embodied. As the scholars point out, Luke’s Easter appearances assert that faith is not a separate “spiritual” category apart from the rest of who we are and what we do. Consequently, one of the subtexts of Luke’s resurrection appearance stories has to be that faith requires embodiment.
God does not love in general. God loves particular persons and people. And so must we.
Another significant notation is that Jesus’ physical appearance in this scripture lesson battles down any Gnostic-like idea that Jesus merely appeared to have a raised body. There was a group in New Testament times and later called the “Docetists” who argued that Jesus only “seemed” to die, since they believed that the Christ was a spiritual being who was neither incarnate nor capable of suffering, much less dying. But Jesus’ eating of the fish points out still a further Judean emphasis upon Jesus’ risen humanity.
As a believer, it is precisely because Jesus was a person like us that his triumph over sin and pain and death takes hold of our hearts. We need for our Savior not one who merely tells us how we ought to feel and what we ought to be, but one who actually lived the victorious life for which we long.
Luke reminds us that twice in the appearance stories, Jesus interprets the scripture (24:27, 44-46) concerning his Messianic identity and vocation. Scholars tell us that these details make the same point as Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17). The point is that Jesus did not come to institute a rival faith to Judaism, but to fulfill Judaism’s teachings and hopes for God’s Messiah.
The fact that many Jews then, as well as today, did not and do not perceive of the Messiah come in the person of Jesus does not mean that we defame Judaism. The upshot of that ought to be one of respect, dialogue and learning from one another. R. Kirby Godsey in his book, “Is God a Christian?” states it like this, “For Christians, being a disciple means believing that Jesus unveils the character of God. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, indeed, his complete life, become the Christian’s primary reference for understanding the meaning of his or her own life.”
The Body of Christ
Now, Luke’s resurrection appearances do not end by simply pointing out who Jesus is. Rather, Luke concludes with the urgency of who the church is called to be.
Jesus states, “Repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed” (Luke 24:47). The church is called to be Christ’s witness, but that witness is not to be a witness in general or of words alone, but a witness of faith embodied. The church is given the responsibility of actually being the Body of Christ, proclaiming and ministering in tangible ways to the needs of humankind.
Robert Stearns, President of World Vision U.S., shares that God has called us to go out, to proclaim the “good news” – to be the “good news” –and to “change the world.”
We can be thankful, however, that Jesus promises that such a mission is not left to disciples (us) alone. The promise of the Father was and is that we will be “clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49).
So Luke’s gospel closes with Jesus taking the disciples out to Bethany, lifting up his hands, blessing them, and departing into heaven. What is here known as the ascension is sort of a changing of the guard in terms of responsibility. Jesus is now entrusting the church with the sacred responsibility of being his emissary of God’s love, grace and justice in the world—of being His embodiment—the Body of Christ. Christ will continue to be with us, only in a different way. Let us joyfully praise God for his presence and trust.
1. Ask the class why it is so important to recognize that Jesus is not a “ghost” but rather appears in a body that is capable even of eating?
2. Discuss with the class how Jesus’ ascension relates to the founding of the church.
Dr. Hal Brady is a retired pastor who continues his ministry through Hal Brady Ministries (www.halbradyministries.com). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.