Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. (Read the whole passage)
Today it is the still the day of the Resurrection. Even though this is the third Sunday in the season of Easter, in keeping with the tradition of the church we treat this whole 50 day season as one great day of celebration. And so we go back once again to the day the resurrection, and we hear a similar story to last week’s story of Thomas… yet, this time it is Luke who tells it to us.
It is situation that can be pretty hard to identify with. We may know the Easter story and believe that we encounter the risen Christ here in this place each time we gather for worship, but how many of us have witnessed the death of a close friend and teacher, only to have that person show up in our house a few days later? Don’t answer that…
Jesus’ moment with the disciples today comes as the third such moment where the disciples struggled to understand their encounter with the risen Christ. First it is Peter who runs to check the empty tomb, after the women from their group report back that the tomb is empty. And Jesus walks with other disciples on the road to Emmaus, who cannot see who they are walking with until he breaks bread with them.
And now, with all the disciples in one place, Jesus shows up again.
But of course, the group thinks he a ghost.
And so Jesus goes through elaborate ancient tests to demonstrate that he isn’t a ghost. He shows them his hands and feet, invites the disciples to touch him, to see that he walks on the ground and doesn’t float in the air like a ghost. And he eats a meal with them, because ghosts don’t eat, people do.
Yet, the disciples still don’t understand what is going on.
They are stuck, they are stuck back on Good Friday, back in Holy Week, back in the wildness of Galilee, back on all those dusty roads, small town synagogues, back among the crowds of people clamouring for a piece of Jesus.
It us more than seeing Jesus as a ghost, they are clinging to the past. They still have not moved on from what once was, from the way things were, from the pre-crucifixion Jesus that they knew and loved.
They are holding onto the ghost of what was before because they are afraid to move on. Peter was more than willing to run out into the world when he thought Jesus was dead, but once he found an empty tomb, he and the others are hiding in fear.
They hide because it is easier to hold on to the ghosts of the past then to begin new life with new purpose. And so when Jesus shows up, they would almost rather that Jesus were a ghost than risen from the dead.
The disciples are not much different than we are.
Like the disciples, we too cling to the ghosts of our past.
As our country continues to feel the pain and loss, the grief for the lives lost outside of Tisdale Saskatchewan a week ago Friday, we might have some insight into what it means to be in a mental and emotional state that can’t quite get past what has taken place. Because we know what it is to be driving on rural highways. Because we know what it is to send our kids, our loved ones, out into the world that we know is unsafe, where accidents happen everyday.
And so we we grieve and pray, we wear jerseys and put hockey sticks on porches. We cling to one another searching for hope and peace, much like those disciples after the tragedy that they had encountered.
Yet, ghost our pasts come in many forms not always rooted in grief and loss. They may have to do with church, and with our memories of the past and wanting things to be like they were. To bring the young people back or perhaps really to ourselves the young people that we remember sitting in the pews.
But the ghosts of our past can also be personal. We might cling to relationships that ended long ago, to times in our lives that we wish never ended, to jobs we once held, to youth we once enjoyed, to eras that we once understood.
The ghosts come in many shapes and sizes, and the desire to cling to them is not anything but a normal human response to grief, loss and even change.
Yet, we know that refusing to accept change will not work. Staying stuck in the past, clinging to things as they once were, holding onto the ghosts of what once was, in the end, is impossible.
Because the more stuck and unwilling to move on we become, the more like the ghosts we cling to we become… Like the disciples who found the tomb of Jesus empty, their response was to hide away from the world in a tomb of their own making. A tomb where they could stay at Good Friday, cling to the Jesus they once knew refusing to imagine to new life, the new Jesus that they sense is coming.
And again, Jesus comes into their midst offering peace.
Peace to the troubled hearts of the disciples. Peace to those who are stuck in the tense conflict of holding onto a past that is slipping away.
Peace to our troubled hearts, peace to our grieving world, peace to those unable to let go.
But Jesus doesn’t end with Peace.
Once Jesus shows the disciples that clinging to ghosts is not possible, he takes things a step further.
And all of a sudden the Easter moment, the resurrection moment extends beyond the empty tomb of Jesus and reaches into his hide away of the disciples.
Jesus begins to transform these stuck and hopeless disciples clinging to a ghost of the past.
“Everything you know, everything you believe in” Jesus says, “From Moses, to the prophets, to the psalms” or in other words the whole Hebrew bible, “has been fulfilled.”
And Jesus opens their minds, Jesus begins to transform these disciples giving them a new understanding and a new experience of their world.
Everything that they thought they knew about God, about religion, about meaning and purpose in the world has been changed. The Messiah’s death on a cross and resurrection from an empty tomb changes everything. Everything moment in the story of God’s people that has come before has been leading to this moment… to this Easter moment.
To this moment of the disciples’ Easter, to this moment of our Easter.
“You are witnesses of these things.”
A witness is more than someone who saw something or experienced something.
A witness is someone with a story.
A witness is someone with a story to tell.
Jesus transforms the disciples, transforms the world, transforms us. Jesus brings us into God’s story. Into God’s story of new life, new life given for the sake of the world, new life found in empty tombs where there should only be death.
By making us witnesses of the Messiah, by making us witnesses to this story of God bringing new life into the world… we are given new life, we are given new meaning and purpose.
Everything we thought we knew, everything we thought we understood has been changed by Messiah, by the death and resurrection of Jesus.
And every week, every Sunday, every Easter morning, Jesus reminds us of this again. Jesus reminds us that that ghosts we cling to will not root us in past, and we no longer will be stuck.
Jesus has made us witnesses. People tied inextricably to the story of God. People whose purpose is to tell that story to world.
And Jesus continues to make us witnesses in the word of God that is proclaimed here, in the holy waters that we are washed and claimed in, and in the bread and wine, body and blood of Christ that we share together. Jesus makes us resurrection people, free from the ghosts and the past and given a story to tell.
Today, Jesus says to us,
I have made you witnesses to resurrection and new life.