Sermon for April 17, 2022

Resurrection of Our Lord/Easter Day, Luke 24:1-12

Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia! This exclamation rolls off our tongues naturally and enthusiastically on this festival day. But the question of the resurrection from the dead is a stumbling block to many when it comes to believing the Christian faith. What exactly happened that made the tomb empty?

In order to begin to respond to such a question, we do well to look carefully at the resurrection stories recorded in the scriptures. Here’s a summary of the salient features and facts of the account included in the passage from Luke’s gospel appointed this year for Easter Day, the Resurrection of Our Lord:

  • The stone to the tomb had been rolled away from the entrance.
  • The body of Jesus was not in the tomb contrary to the expectations of the women who visited there to anoint Jesus’ body with spices.
  • Two mysterious men in dazzling clothes were there who reported that Jesus had been raised from the dead – but this was second-hand information, a report about the resurrection, but not a direct encounter with the risen Lord.
  • The women remembered Jesus’ words about his being resurrected after being put to death, but again that’s just the stuff of recollection of some of Jesus’ words.
  • These circumstances resulted in understandable reactions: perplexity, terror, bowing faces to the ground.
  • The women left the tomb, returned to the other disciples and dutifully reported their experience at the tomb which was dismissed as an idle tale and they did not believe the women’s testimony.
  • To his credit, Peter visited the tomb to see about these things and saw the linen cloths by themselves. He left amazed, but Luke does not indicate that Peter believed.

That’s it. That’s what we’re left with in the story for this our day of celebration.

What’s missing is the direct encounter with the risen Christ. What’s missing also is belief, the faith that leads to the confident confession that Christ is risen indeed, alleluia.

If this is all we had, only indirect, second-hand accounts about the resurrection, we wouldn’t be here to today. If this is all we had to go on, then Paul’s concern expressed in today’s second reading about debates concerning resurrection would ring true about us:

“If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15:19) This life as we know it holds for us only mortality, finitude, sin – in short, human business as usual.

But Paul remains confident in his proclamation: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.” (1 Corinthians 15:20)

What gave Paul the confidence of this confession, his belief and faith that Jesus had been raised from the dead? In short, Paul had an encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus.

Moreover, what gave Peter the confidence to proclaim as he did in today’s first reading from Acts: “We are witnesses to all that [Jesus] did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to al the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.” (Acts 10:39-41) As an eye witness, Peter had direct encounters with Christ that resulted in faith, the faith to proclaim with confidence that Christ is risen.

But let’s get back to Luke’s account. What was read today leaves us short. But the reports of direct, eye witness encounters with Christ are provided in Luke. In fact, what comes next in Luke is the story of the Road to Emmaus. Let me recount for you the basics of the story: two of Jesus’ disciples are walking along the road on their way to Emmaus, talking with each other, despondent over the events that led to Jesus’ death. Jesus appears on the road with them, but they did not recognize that it was their risen Lord until Jesus broke bread with them. Luke writes: “When he was at the table with them, [Jesus] took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized [Jesus]; and he vanished from their sight.” (Luke 24:30-31)

It was this eye-witness, direct encounter with Jesus at the table where Jesus broke the bread that made for recognition of and faith in the risen Lord. Recognizing the living Christ in the breaking of the bread is first true, direct, first-hand resurrection appearance that Luke records.

So, where does this leave us today with only a partial, second-hand reporting in Luke about Jesus’ resurrection from the dead? The story of the Road to Emmaus is not even featured this year among the lectionary readings for the Sundays in Easter.

The good news is that we don’t need to hear the story of the Road to Emmaus because we re-enact that story each and every Sunday when we break bread at this table. Every Sunday is our Road to Emmaus when we have a direct, first-hand, eye witness encounter with the risen Christ in the same manner as those first two disciples on the same day as the resurrection.

Let that sink in for a moment. Our resurrection encounters in recognizing Christ in the breaking of the bread are the same mode of appearance that convinced those first disciples that Jesus did in fact rise from the dead. Wow.

The pattern of encounter that Luke records about the Road to Emmaus is the pattern of what we do here on each and every Lord’s day: we journey together, often despondent about the bad news that’s happening throughout our sorry world; Christ appears in our midst in the reading and proclamation of the word, as Christ “interprets to us the things about himself in all the scripture” (cf. Luke 24:27) as he did with those first two disciples; then we go to the table together where our eyes are likewise opened and we recognize the risen Christ in, with, and under the broken bread and the wine poured among us in churchly community.

The story of the Road to Emmaus ends with the disciples rushing back to the others to let them know how Jesus was made known to them in the breaking of bread. So, too, we leave this place to share similar stories of good news and new life with those who are not here with us.

In other words, Luke’s resurrection account continues in what we do whenever we are assembled by the Spirit on the Lord’s Day. This leaves us with much, much more than this life only as Paul lamented if there is no resurrection. Indeed, because we also know the risen Christ in the breaking of bread, we, like Paul, can offer confident proclamation of Christ’s resurrection.

Amidst the ongoing social isolation of pandemic and political divisiveness, of war, poverty, injustice, and oppression, people hunger for the kind of life-giving encounter in community in person which we enjoy here every week where the ordinary becomes extraordinary in the power of the resurrected Christ, where intellectual stumbling blocks to faith are overcome in living encounters with Christ among us.

So, let’s run with haste to tell others despondent of this life only, inviting them to this place of encounter with the risen Christ. For Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia! Amen.