Third Sunday of Easter, Year B, 2015 – Acts 3:12-19; Psalm 4; 1 John 3:1-7; Luke 24:36b-48
“Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is,” (1 John 3:2).
We will be like him—and what is he like?
Our gospel reading this morning follows on the heels of the Emmaus road scene. There, the Risen One comes alongside two of his disciples as they walk. They are sad and dejected for their friend Jesus, whom they hoped would be the one to redeem Israel, had been condemned to death and crucified. And yet, here is Jesus, the risen Jesus, walking beside them, talking with them, veiled from their eyes somehow. Then Jesus opens to them the Scriptures, that is, the Old Testament, and shows how it all points to himself. And then he took break, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them: “Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.” And immediately, “he vanished from their sight.” No sooner had they recognized the Risen One and he was gone from their sight. They then returned to Jerusalem and told the rest of the twelve “what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”
There they are, mid conversation, when suddenly the risen Jesus himself is standing in their midst: “Peace be with you.” They were frightened—was this a ghost? Jesus offers them his hands and his feet: “see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And then he asked for some food, and they gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he ate it in their presence. An Easter question: What sort of body did Jesus have? Just what sort of body are we talking about?
On the one hand, it was the same body that they had known: “It is I myself.” That the risen Jesus is the crucified Jesus, and has flesh and bones, hands and feet, and ate fish is important because it means that resurrection isn’t simply about “life after death,” for the risen Jesus wasn’t a mere spirit. Nor is resurrection about “going to heaven,” for here is the risen Jesus on earth in the upper room with them. Rather, resurrection speaks of a new and embodied life in God’s new world. It is to speak of life after “life after death”, if you will.
Yet his resurrected body was different somehow, able to appear and disappear apparently at will. His very physical and human body had been transformed, perfected. It wasn’t subject to death. To use Paul’s language, the perishable had been made imperishable. The corruptible put on incorruptibility.
It was not enough, though, that the resurrection of Jesus from the dead should have happened. It was an event with meaning and until that meaning is grasped the purpose of it is not fully accomplished. And just what is the meaning of the resurrection of the crucified Christ? The Apostle Paul writes, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died,” (1 Corinthians 15:20). First fruits are that which are offered, at the beginning of the harvest, as a sign that there is much more to come. So it is with the risen Christ, when he comes again all those who belong to him will be raised from the dead, just as Christ was. As we confess in the last lines of the Creed, “We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” In raising the dead to life at the end of time, Christ will once and for all put all of his enemies under his feet, including death which will be vanquished. And then, writes Paul, “When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who put all things in subjection under him, so that God may be all in all.” The resurrection of Christ from the dead points towards our own resurrection from the dead when the risen Christ comes.
The raising of the dead—it is a strange thing to try to comprehend, I confess. Some will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” (1 Corinthians 15:35). Are we talking zombies here? To this Paul’s response is that our current bodies will be transformed so that they are no longer merely earthly bodies but heavenly ones: “What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power.” Our current earthly bodies bear the image of the man of dust, that is Adam. But our risen bodies will bear the image of the man of heaven, that is the crucified and risen Christ (1 Corinthians 15:48-49). When we are raised, we will be changed. Christ will cloth our perishable body with imperishability, and our mortal body will put on immortality, and then, finally, death will be swallowed up and God will be all in all. This is a mystery.
This is the meaning of the resurrection of Jesus—it is a sign of God’s plan for the whole world, which John the Revelator tells us will ultimately bring about the marriage of heaven and earth. In the end, we will be like him because he became like us, and all things will be made new.
That’s all well and good, but isn’t it a bit pie-in-the-sky? This is an important question: Is the resurrection merely about a glorious future? Is it not also about a meaningful present? Indeed, it is, for we live between these two events—the resurrection of the crucified Messiah and the resurrection of the dead at the end. He has gone on ahead and we are following him. Thus, when the risen Jesus appears to the twelve in the upper room he gives them a task—he reminds them of his words and charges them with carrying the good news, of repentance and forgiveness of sins, to all nations. Paul also, at the end of his lengthy chapter about the resurrection of the dead, exhorts his hearers to what, bunker down and be patient? No, he exhorts them, “be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labour is not in vain,” (1 Corinthians 15:58). And so too the risen Jesus, our brother, enlists us in what we might call his resurrection project, “his task of bringing his sovereign and saving rule to bear on the whole world,” (N.T. Wright).
This is why the Church takes the physical stuff of the world and blesses it—the bread and the wine of the Eucharist; the waters of baptism; man and woman in marriage—because Christ in his own flesh has done no less than this. Has he not taken the world and blessed it and brought it to his heavenly Father? Has God in Christ not entered the world, owned it, suffered it, and reconciled it to himself? For now, admittedly, we have only a glimpse of this reality—the taste of wine on our tongues; the dampness of our baptism; the beauty and struggle of loving ones spouse through time and, if God gives, raising children. All of these things point us to the mystery of Christ, his death and resurrection on the third day, in accordance with the Scriptures, for the forgiveness of sins. And it is in these ways that Christ gives himself to us and takes us to himself, as he did his disciples, forming us in his own image and likeness.
“What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.” And yet even now we see him as he is, because he has given himself to us as he gave himself to his friends in the upper room: “Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” Is this not true for us also, despite all appearances to the contrary? Did Jesus not say elsewhere, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them,” (Matthew 19:20)? Indeed, and so we trust that by his mercy this same thing happens for us—he is in our midst as often as we come together and gather in his name, breaking bread, reading the Scriptures that speak of him, and remembering his words. This is amazing and, really, beyond our comprehension. Yet, as a very real expression of the presence of the risen Lord, these things are able to change and recreate human hearts.
Last Sunday morning those of us who were gathered here witnessed something fairly ordinary, yet simply astounding—the baptisms of Beatrice and Caspar. And as we gathered there around the font Ephraim explained to the children what was going to happen along the way. “What happens in this is very special,” he said. “What’s going to happen to Beatrice and Caspar when we do this is they’re going to be made, by adoption, brothers and sisters to Jesus. And therefore they will become a son and a daughter to God in a very special way. We’re not going to see all of this happening except in the water and oil but it’s really happening.”
“Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.”
It’s really happening. This is an awesome thing, indeed, totally and utterly unique. Here in the water of baptism by the power of the Holy Spirit God gives us something, works in us something new, takes our lives and joins them to the life of his crucified and risen Son. In a very real way both Beatrice and Caspar are like, and will be made like, Christ. The same is true for all of us here who have been baptized—God has done something, objectively, that has changed us. This is the start of something very wonderful, indeed. And I do mean the start, for the empty tomb isn’t just any old hole in the ground; it is more like a doorway into another world (Oliver O’Donovan). Another world which we enter by virtue of Christ’s resurrection. A new world, where we who have been made sons and daughters of God and are invited to live as God’s children. “What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.” Amen.