Friday, 4 April 2008

Word and sacrament Luke 24 36-49

The risen Jesus had appeared to the Emmaus disciples on the first day of the week in the exegesis of scripture and the breaking of bread. From that small beginning developed the tradition of making live the risen presence of Jesus in what became the two core elements of Sunday worship, word and sacrament. When they arrived at Jerusalem Jesus appeared again, this time to the eleven. Despite the testimony of the Emmaus pilgrims, and Simon Peter, to whom Jesus had also appeared, his arrival was still greeted with incredulity. They continued to react in the same way to the women at the appearance of dazzling young men at the tomb: with disbelief and fear. This was an encounter with the spirit world they would rather not make. The notion of a bodily resurrection was obviously totally alien to them. Whatever they believed about life after death, and at the time of Jesus it was still a doctrine that divided Jews, despite having witnessed at least a couple of raisings from the dead in the ministry of Jesus, the presence of Jesus in the room with them was a supremely uncomfortable experience.

Jesus’s attempts to reassure them can only have made their discomfort worse. He invites them to reach out and touch him; to put their hands in his crucifixion wounds. It is surely significant that the risen Jesus carries with him the scars of sacrifice. However he lives and reigns, Luke makes clear that he forever remains the crucified. Thus death and resurrection are made inseparable from each other. It is when the death of Jesus is celebrated (in the breaking of bread and pouring out of wine) that his risen presence is encountered. The place of the skull was transformed into paradise, and the wounds that speak of death become the signs, the evidence, of resurrection.

Then he called for food. For those who remembered his last meal with them this was surely deeply significant. Not only was it a device to show he was alive and bodily present in their midst it also announced the arrival of the kingdom. The eleven were now treated to a detailed exegesis of scripture to show how the suffering of the Messiah and his resurrection lay at the heart of God’s salvation from the beginning of time. And they were made witnesses to the gospel. That gospel was forgiveness and repentance. And it was for all nations. Whether Jesus’s word of forgiveness from the cross is in the best attested manuscripts or not its authenticity in terms of mission cannot be doubted. The significance of the death and resurrection of Jesus is that it opens up to all humanity the gracious mercy of God.

By sending his Son God makes himself vulnerable to our hate. But the willingness of Jesus to absorb our violence and not allow his love to be destroyed by it demonstrates the indestructibility of the love of God. This is of course affirmed by the resurrection. Thus the broken body of Jesus reveals the ever beating heart of God’s love. Jesus commands us to carry our cross daily. The kingdom does not come by crucifying – or by any other violent means – or by playing power games; it comes through cross bearing, absorbing suffering into love. It is in this sense that Jesus “bore our griefs and carried our sorrows.” He bore the squalour of death with the nobility of God. Paul tells us that the mind that was in Jesus should be ours too. This mindset did not seek equality with God but accepted slavery, and ultimately death on a cross. The way of the cross is the authentic route by which we all travel. This we embrace willingly through faith, as Christ did.

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