April 18 Easter 3 Psalm 4; Luke 24:36-48 “Destroying the Crosses”
1Answer me when I call, O God of my right! You gave me room then I was in distress.
Be gracious to me, and hear my prayer.
2 God asks: “How long, you people, shall my honor suffer shame?
How long will you love vain words, and seek after lies?”
3 But know that the LORD has set apart the faithful for himself;
the LORD hears when I call to her.
4 When you are disturbed, do not sin; ponder it on your beds, and be silent.
5 Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the LORD.
6 There are many who say, “O that we might see some good!
Let the light of your face shine on us, O LORD!”
7 You have put gladness in my heart,
more than when the grain and wine abound.
8 I will both lie down and sleep in peace;
for you alone, O LORD, make me lie down in safety.
36 While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”[l] 37 They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 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.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate in their presence.
44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.
In August of 1955, on a beautiful summer day in Mississippi, Emmett Till, a 14-year old African American boy was beaten beyond recognition, shot, and dumped in a river by two white men who alleged that Emmett had flirted with a white woman. The men who killed him were not convicted of any crime. At Emmett’s funeral, his mother chose to have his casket open so that people could read the story of racial hatred and trauma that was written on his body, as it had been written on many black bodies before.
Emmett’s mother felt that in order for her son’s death not to be in vain, she needed to use this moment to illuminate all of the dark corners of America and help push this nation toward what we now call the Civil Rights Movement. And this mother’s choice to show her son’s dead, broken body did what she hoped it would. People gathered together, in anger, grief, strength and hope to say: “No More. No More.” Sixty-six years later, progress has been made to dismantle systemic racism, but we don’t have to look very far to see that we still have a long way to go.
I stopped short of putting a picture of Emmett’s brutalized body on the bulletin this week. It’s troubling enough to simply imagine what it would have been like to see him lying beaten and lifeless in his casket. On this the third week of the Easter season, Jesus appears again to his stunned disciples, much as he did last week in John’s gospel, showing them his wounded, mutilated, resurrected body. Obviously, the fact that Jesus is alive presents a far different picture from that of Emmett’s very traumatized, dead body. But Jesus’ torn flesh reminds the disciples of the brutality of the religious, political and social realms they are part.
Jesus’ body tells a both/and story. Societies crucify the innocent. Injustices kill. Fear retaliates and takes lives. Human beings perpetrate trauma, pain, and suffering. Our own family members and friends can wound, shame, expel. School playgrounds and social media can become sites for bullying and beating up. Jesus body tells this kind of story. And, because Jesus is resurrected in a body that still bears his wounds, his flesh also tells the story that in the person of Jesus, hatred, brutality, and trauma are being overcome by God.
God raised Jesus up. This is God’s vengeance. New life is God’s retaliation. The evil powers and principalities that injure and kill do not get the last word over human existence. Jesus, God’s Messiah, walks into the lives of his disciples, speaking peace and forgiveness—announcing with his physical presence that God’s new creation has begun, in him. God is turning the world round right. As the picture on the bulletin shows, Jesus, the crucified one is risen and returns to destroy his cross and every cross—to transform lynching trees into picnic groves, and to call the human race to turn our assault weapons, and bombs, and electric chairs, into plows, and hoes, and pruning shears.
Clearly, Jesus’ resurrected body is of a physical type that we do not know. He suddenly appears in locked rooms, and walks with disciples on a country road in a guise they do not recognize. When they do recognize him as he breaks the bread that symbolizes his broken body, Jesus disappears, then appears again with his stomach growling, asking if they’ve got any food in the house. Happily, they’ve just cooked some fish, and Jesus has a mouth, and teeth and tastebuds with which to devour it with delight.
Despite its difference from the kind of bodies we know, Jesus’ resurrected body still includes the story of his crucifixion, his trauma, suffering and shame. His open wounds become THE most recognizable markers of his identity. They are on display as the truest summary of who Jesus was, is, and always will be. He is the One who willingly becomes the sacrificial scapegoat of the human thirst for blood. He is the One who speaks forgiveness to those who nail him to the cross. The One who dies as he lived, in utter, complete, self-giving love.
The New Testament affirms again and again—-the story we read on Jesus’ risen, brutalized body is that he understands us completely. He shares in and knows our suffering, our traumas, our wounds, our betrayals, our hurts, our fears, our alienations. And since we confess that Jesus is God, in the flesh; this story claims that God, Creator of the Cosmos, submits to the contingencies, uncertainties and fragilities of being human. We are invited to trust that in the person of Jesus, God meets us right here in the havoc, the ache, the longing we experience.
Poet Chris Wiman, who several years ago, at a young age, was diagnosed with an incurable and unpredictable cancer that tore his world wide open writes that in his own uncertainty and suffering what he found “most moving and durable about Jesus” were the moments of pure anguish, and helplessness, when in his flesh and bone suffering he cried out, “My God, my God, where are you? My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
So I like that on this third Sunday of the Easter season, mixed in with our “Alleluias” and our hope and our joy, the Psalmist cries out “Answer me when I call, O God of my right! You gave me room then I was in distress. Be gracious to me now, and hear my prayer!” Psalm 4 is just another version of the Psalmist’s repeated, “How long, O God, will you forget me? How long will you stay far away? How long will you let evil triumph over good? O God, hear my prayer!”
When Jesus cries out from the cross in utter despair, he borrows the anguished words of the Psalmist. With the Psalmist, Jesus speaks the reality that in our human being, in our contingency and finitude, in our suffering and shattering we feel God’s absence, God’s distance, God’s non-intervention. And this crying out to God is an act of faith, a participation in relationship, a reaching for connection, just as surely as the Psalmist’s final words also express faith in God: “I will both lie down and sleep in peace; for you alone, O LORD, make me lie down in safety.” Sometimes our human faith cries out to God in anguish, and sometimes it whispers in trust, saying with Jesus his final words from the cross, “Into your hands, gracious God, I commend my life.”
Jesus’ resurrection is the little bang of a new creation unfolding in the middle of the old creation. It is the beginning of God’s project, not to snatch people away from earth into some heaven light years away, but to bring God’s heaven, to establish God’s reign of love on this earth. What God gives us in the physical resurrection of Jesus is the promise that although death is real—trauma, suffering, anguish, crosses and lynching trees are real—none of these have the final word over our lives, not now, and not in the future. Jesus walks in on wounded feet and says to those first disciples and to us—you are now witnesses to all that you have seen and heard. The only way we can truly be witnesses to the resurrection, then, is to embrace wounded and traumatized bodies and join the resistance to destroy the crosses, to work for healing and justice.
The Spirit of Jesus the Christ calls us into communities of new life so that we can share in doing the hard, joyful work of God’s new creation, with and for each other and our neighbors. When we do the work of God’s new creation—when we walk and weep with each other through the dark valleys; when we engage in projects to feed, clothe, and shelter; when we touch and speak and heal broken bodies and shattered spirits; when we march together saying black lives matter, gay and trans lives matter, Muslim lives matter, abused bodies matter; when we eat together and sing and pray and worship together – we are moving and working with the Spirit in the realm of new creation that opens in Jesus’ resurrection. We are giving witness to the great good news that God does not abandon what God creates, but loves the whole wide world, and loves each of us back to life again.