from Luke 23
April 22, 2012
It had been a tough few days. Jesus had been arrested, humiliated and tortured, and then crucified, these travelers, Cleopas and probably Simon Peter, had been with the others just that morning when some of the women came running into the hide out and told them they had seen Jesus alive. Some of the group had gone back to the tomb and discovered it was empty. But what were they to make of all of that? It just seemed like it was time to go home.
You can imagine their conversation as they walked that seven mile journey. It had been quite a time with Jesus. Was this the end? Had the movement really been so brutally crushed? But what about that empty tomb? And then this stranger joined them, who didn’t seem to have any idea what has just taken place in Jerusalem.
He did talk to them about the Bible, saying that they shouldn’t be surprised at what had happened. They really didn’t get it. But it was late and had been a long day, so they asked him if he would like to join them for supper. When he broke the bread and gave thanks they realized it was Jesus, who immediately disappeared. And when he vanished so did their desire for much needed sleep. They hightailed it the seven miles back to Jerusalem to tell the others what had happene. As they were all talking about all these things, Jesus appeared in their midst and they had a Bible Study.
Every year Mary and I go to the Baptist Peace Fellowship’s Peace Camp. There are lots of good things that happen there including the Bible Studies. And the reason the Bible Studies are so good is that the leaders tend to have the same method Jesus did. “He went on to open their understanding of the Word of God, showing them how to read their Bibles this way.”
One of the things we have learned from folk in the Baptist Peace Fellowship is a better way of reading the Bible. We’ve learned to question assumptions we often bring with us when we study the Bible.
It was that way with the disciples. They weren’t just having trouble trying to wrap their minds around the fact that Jesus, who had just been killed, was standing right there in front of them, eating fish, and talking about the Bible. That’s hard enough for anyone to grab hold of even in pre-scientific times. But there was also the problem with the fact that he had been killed in the first place. Resurrection, in their minds, shouldn’t have even been an issue. Everything they had been taught was that, according to the Bible, the Messiah was going to be a triumphant military leader who would destroy all of Israel’s enemies rather than be literally hung out to dry like Jesus was. Remember what they said to the incognito Jesus as they walked with him to Emmaus. “And we had our hopes up that he was the One, the One about to deliver Israel.”
We live in a country, that for the most part, has a very similar attitude about the Bible that the disciples had before Jesus had this Bible Study with them. We want to believe that the Bible offers us a Messiah who will do the same things people of ancient Israeli times hoped he would do for them. We have just put it off to his second coming. Since he was killed by his enemies the first time, we have been told that the Bible is really telling us we have to wait until his second coming for Jesus to come and destroy his enemies, turning the streets red with their blood. I’m sure glad this is not the way Jesus read the Bible.
John van de Laar suggests that the way we have been taught to read the Bible, the way contrary to the way of Jesus has “historically been one motive behind colonialism, Christian triumphalism, and even Christian violence against people of other faiths. This is tragic and horrifying, since nothing could be further from the Gospel of peace and grace that Jesus lived and taught. Even today, in a mistaken belief that we are somehow “witnessing” to Christ, Christians have engaged in crusades against evolution, climate change, Islam, homosexuality and even social justice.”
I’m so glad that we don’t have to read the Bible that way anymore. What Jesus and folk from the Baptist Peace Fellowship, and so many others have helped us to realize, is that the Bible is much more interested in the powerless and the outcast than the powerful and the insiders. God isn’t looking to confirm the status of the empire, nor to bring it down in violent destruction, but to undermine it with a whole new way of living in this world. Jesus showed us what some of those ways are; peace, forgiveness, mercy, compassion, inclusion and welcome, love, humility, worship, prayer, faithfulness, and commitment to God’s desires for this world.
By reading the Bible the way he did, Jesus was telling his disciples it should be neither a surprise that the religious and political powers colluded to kill him, nor that their ways of death could not overcome the life of God. But they were surprised by the crucifixion and the resurrection. He by neither.
It’s one thing to read the Bible the way Jesus did. It’s another to read it with him a couple of days after he has been killed. That, of course, leads to the whole question of what resurrection is about. If that was tough for people in Jesus’ day, it’s even tougher for us. But here is what we do know according to today’s and other accounts of the resurrection of Jesus.
First of all, it was real. Some people say that the stories of the resurrection of Jesus were really metaphors, ways that the disciples were trying to describe their feelings about the impact Jesus had had on them. He was going to remain alive in them. But you really don’t get that from any of the characters in the stories. All of the stories about their initial disbelief and the change that took place in their lives when they saw Jesus right in front of them, seem to take it out of the realm of metaphor of symbolism. The real question, I think, is whether we believe them.
Secondly, Jesus wasn’t a ghost. He seemed to be able to walk through locked doors, but ate fish with the disciples during that Bible Study. Here is what the book of Acts says. “After his death, he presented himself alive to them in many different settings over a period of forty days. In face-to-face meetings, he talked to them about things concerning the realm of God. They met and ate meals together.”
The third thing is that he, evidently, looked different. Those two followers walked with him for several miles and had no clue as to who he was. Mary mistook him for a gardener. But when he spoke her name, she recognized him, as did the Emmaus travelers when he offered thanks to God and broke the bread.
Kate Huey in her blog she writes for the United Church of Christ says this about the resurrection of Jesus. “For many reasons in the early years of the church and just as much today, people of faith tend to separate the body and the spirit, with the spirit more important than the body. On the other hand, our culture hardly recognizes that the spirit exists and must be fed. And yet we know that we are saved in our whole being, body and soul, and that somehow that salvation gets worked out here, on earth, in our bodies just as much as our souls. As Stephen Cooper puts it, “To insist on the reality of the resurrected body is to demand that we accept our present reality as the place where transformations of ultimate significance take place.” (Feasting on the Word Year B, Vol. 2). And Cynthia Lano Lindner eloquently describes the resurrection as “God’s affirmation that creation matters, that love and justice matter, that humanity, in all its ambiguity and complexity, is still fearfully and wonderfully God-made” (The Christian Century, April 21 2009).
When he gathered with the disciples that same night, Jesus told them they could recognize him by looking at his hands and feet. Were the wounds from the nails still there? John has a similar story where he shows those wounds to Thomas and the others. Luke doesn’t mention the wounds. Maybe the wounds are a given. Or maybe what’s important to Luke is not the wounds but those feet that traveled the length of Israel, the feet shod with the gospel of peace. And those hands that reached out and touched the untouchable, healed the sick, comforted the sorrowing; those hands that offered blessing and were raised in prayer.
It had been quite a three years those disciples from Emmaus and the others had had with Jesus. But after that quick trip to Emmaus and back, they realized the journey was actually just beginning. They would be doing a lot of Bible Study with Jesus for the next few weeks. But Jesus told them to wait in Jerusalem until the Spirit came. Then they would be empowered to be the feet and hands of Jesus, wounds and all, themselves.