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Sunday, April 18, 2021

What is the Truth We Can('t) Handle? Easter 3 April 18, 2021

Luke 24:36b-48

Christ is risen, Alleluia! He is risen indeed, Alleluia! Amen.

            Even if you never saw the movie, “A Few Good Men” you may be familiar with the contents of one, pivotal scene. It is a courtroom scene between a military lawyer played by Tom Cruise, and a tough military officer played by Jack Nicholson. If you know anything about those two actors, you can imagine the intensity of the scene.

            In the climax of a difficult and dramatic cross-examination scene and of the movie, Cruise’s character shouts at the Nicholson the witness, “I WANT THE TRUTH!” to which tough-guy Nicholson shouts in response, “YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH!”

            Without all the shouting but with equal intensity, the gospel today reflects Luke’s report of the events of the evening of t

he resurrection and the disciples’ experiences of that day
. Early that day the women among them had visited the tomb and reported back to the rest what they had found – an empty tomb but for the presence of angels who reminded them that these events were just what Jesus had predicted; then the other disciples went to see for themselves, and saw only the empty tomb; then two of the disciples met Jesus on the road to Emmaus, recognizing him only when we sat and broke bread with them.

            As they sat together sharing the details of all these events and discussing what they might mean, Jesus came and stood among them. As the evangelist John reported in his writing of the events of Easter night, the first words Jesus speaks are, “Peace be with you.”

            In their conversations, the disciples were after the truth, yet it was a truth they, too, could not yet handle. “While in their joy they were still disbelieving and still wondering” what all this could possibly mean, Luke reports.

            Rather than shout at them, THIS IS THE TRUTH YOU CANNOT YET HANDLE” Jesus shows them what they need to see in order to believe their very eyes and the reality that Jesus is indeed risen and he is right here with them.

            In order to dispel the thoughts that might be circling in their minds or later charges that might be tossed their way, Jesus acts to prove that it is truly a resurrected body and not a ghost or a vision that they are experiencing – he invites them to touch him, to see that what stands before them is flesh and bone – not something a ghost can conjure up. Then he eats real physical food, the same kind of meal he has shared with them countless times before – again, physical evidence of a presence that is not simply ghost or spirit, but real.

            Once the disciples can accept who is in their presence and can absorb what he is telling them, Jesus opens their minds to understand what they could not understand before. They want the truth. They want understanding. Previously, they could not handle the truth. They could not accept the reality of what Jesus being Messiah truly meant and what God had done among them to produce faith. “You are witnesses of these things,” Jesus tells the disciples.

            Through the power of Jesus’ revelation to them, the disciples could finally see who Jesus was and appreciate what his presence among them meant. Jesus was equipping them to be witnesses to people in far-flung places and from diverse backgrounds, people who would be filled with fear and longing and doubt.

            The disciples would be able to connect with the people they were being sent to because they themselves had experienced fear and doubt and longing. But because they had seen the Lord, because Jesus had revealed all these truths to them, because Jesus had opened their minds and equipped them for the testimony and teaching, they would be able to testify to the power of God among them, the healing God sends through Jesus, and the divine power present in our Lord and Savior.

            Today we live in a world filled with skepticism. We are people of faith. We know who Jesus is. We believe that God has saved us from the power of sin and death through the incarnation of Jesus and his death on a cross and his resurrection.

            Yet, despite our faith, our trust, and our “knowing,” don’t we sometimes fear and doubt and wonder at the workings of God? If this were not true, there is not a scene we could behold or an experience we would encounter in life in which we would fail to be able to see and witness to the presence and activity of God in our world. Yet, so often the question, “Where have you seen God’s presence this week – month – whenever” is met with the silence of fear, uncertainty, unknowing.

            Doubt is what happens when the brokenness of the world and the finitude of our lives takes hold and challenges us in ways that seem beyond our ability to hold them in tension with God’s presence. When we can’t understand God’s actions, or understand the vulnerability we contend with in life, it is only natural to doubt.

            We are part of a world in which skepticism regard

ing religion, politics, medicine, how to apply biomedical advances, vaccine science, climate science, moral values, ethics, the biology of sexuality and identity, economic equality, basic human rights and more is rampant. As a result, we seek community that helps us believe in something more – something sacred – something meaningful, and lasting, and ultimately truthful.

            In our minds, we too might shout, ”WE WANT THE TRUTH!” The question is, can we handle the truth? Can we hold the tension of uncertainty co-existing with faith deep inside and absorb what Jesus has revealed to be true?

            The Easter season is all about celebrating God’s “something more” – the truth to the ultimate grace and mercy that God has made available to us through Jesus. That truth is—

·         God’s love for us is displayed for the world through Jesus’ victorious resurrection from the dead.

·         Jesus is the glorious first-fruits of God’s promised redemptive acts for the good of the world.

·         The resurrection of Jesus and all the events that followed hold deep relevancy for us, for our lives of faith, and for our salvation.

As vulnerable, mortal human beings, what happened on Easter is the triumph of love in the midst of suffering, and is the reason for hope.

We need the good news that comes to us from the Easter story that is more than story, but is, rather, our Easter truth. This is the truth we struggle to understand, the truth we cling to nonetheless. It is this story that illustrates to us how -

·         God’s love is stronger than death;

·         God’s love has triumphed over sin and the grave;

·         God triumphed in Jesus’ death and resurrection, giving us hope that is real and hope that will not be disappointed;

·         We can believe that God will triumph as well over our sin, our pain, our suffering, our failures, and our death.

God can and will triumph in us.

Christ is risen, alleluia! He is risen indeed, alleluia!

The same God who raised Jesus from the dead will give life to our mortal bodies and sin-broken souls, will equip us for witnessing to his love, his presence, and his activity in the world.

God can and will triumph in us.

This truth – the truth for which we may not have been prepared, the truth that without the advocate working within us we cannot handle – is transformative. It carries us as it carried the disciples from fear and doubt and wonder to realization, faith, and trust.

This transformation moves us from hesitation and reservation to acceptance and embrace; it makes us no longer simply frightened human beings, but rather, joyful witnesses to the love of God in Jesus Christ, and his mercy and grace for which we give thanks today.

The TRUTH is that the resurrection promise comes to us as Jesus himself comes, giving us hope for healing, hope for ultimate peace and joy, hope in the presence of the risen Lord who bears bodily scars and brokenness but transcends the mortality and death we so fear.

Because Jesus lives, because he indeed is present with us as we gather today, because he has breathed on us in baptism and blessed us in communion with one another and with him, we who suffer from pain, disease, struggling minds, diseased bodies, endless grief, and broken spirits immeasurable and deep, we are the glad recipients of  hope the truth gives us, which is life-giving and equally transformative.

It changes everything. Because now there is more to our story and that “more” conquers the mortal reality with the divine.

Perhaps it is understandable that we question the physical resurrection. Even Christians who believe in Jesus as the Son of God wrestle with the reality of the resurrection and prefer to reduce it to a spiritual or psychological experience they can better understand. After all, the resurrection is not logical; it doesn’t make “sense” as the world sees it.

But as W. H. Auden writes in his poem For the Time Being, as the shepherds making their way to Bethlehem declare, “Nothing can save us that is possible. We who are about to die demand a miracle.”

Jesus really is resurrected because God truly intends to redeem, save, and bless us as we are: physical, mortal, limited, and vulnerable. Truly - because God love us, desires us, and has mercy on us just as we are. Truly.

Thanks be to God. Amen.


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