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A Welcoming Church

In each gospel, we get different accounts of Our Lord appearing to various people after his resurrection. They are called the resurrection appearances. They have much in common, and still are quite different.

In Matthew (28:9-10), Jesus suddenly appears to Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James near the empty tomb. “They came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him.”

Then also in Matthew (28:16-20), he appears to the eleven remaining disciples, who have gone all the way back to a mountain in Galilee. He tells them to go and make disciples of all nations. “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

In Luke, the Risen Lord appears twice, once (24:13-35) to two travelers on the 8-hour walk west from Jerusalem to Emmaus. At first, “their eyes were kept from recognizing him,” but later, when they were at table and he broke bread with them, “their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.”

Then also in Luke, we get today’s account. Back in Jerusalem, Jesus stood among the eleven and said, “Peace be with you.”  The disciples thought they were seeing a ghost until he showed them his hands and feet. While they were still wondering, Jesus asked if they had anything there to eat.

In John’s gospel (20:14-18), Jesus appears first to Mary Magdalene outside the empty tomb. She did not know that it was Jesus – she thought he might be the gardener, until Jesus said to her, “Mary!”

That evening (20:19-29), Jesus came and stood among ten of his disciples in their house with the doors locked and said, “Peace be with you.” They rejoiced when he showed them his hands and his side. A week later, he appeared to them again in the same house, this time with Thomas present. Again Jesus came and stood among them, saying, “Peace be with you.”

Finally in John (21:1-14), Jesus appears to seven disciples who had gone back home up in Galilee by the Sea of Tiberias, a 100 mile walk from Jerusalem. They were out in the boat fishing until daybreak, not catching anything. Jesus stood on the beach.

The disciples did not know that it was Jesus until he told them to cast their net on the other side of the boat, and they caught so many fish they could not haul the net in. John said to Peter, “It is the Lord.” Jesus had built a fire on shore and said to them, “Come and have breakfast.”

These accounts taken together are rich with messages and recurring themes. For example, sharing a meal. It is in breaking bread together that we are most fully in touch, with each other and with our common humanity, which Our Lord understood and honored. At Holy Communion, which he instituted at the Last Supper, we receive his body and blood.

Also, Our Lord appears first to women. It is the women who go and tell the men what they have seen; it is the men who are doubtful until they have the proof. We know from his whole life and ministry that Our Lord was profoundly feminist, and must today be greatly saddened to see how his church has promoted misogyny.

For example by slandering, beginning in the late 6th century, one of Jesus’ closest, most beloved followers. What we know from the gospels is that Mary Magdalene was there at the start; she helped bankroll the ministry; she was there at the end. Mary stayed at the foot of the Cross; got to the tomb early and ran to get others. Mary was first to see her risen Lord.

Another theme from the resurrection appearances is people not recognizing their Lord when they see him. They are looking right at him and not recognizing the person they just spent three years with. That is the case with the two travelers going to Emmaus; Mary Magdalene outside the empty tomb; the seven disciples on the sea fishing.

It seems that recognizing Our Lord can sometimes be a challenge; something can keep us from seeing clearly who He is. We do not want to misidentify Jesus, especially in these times. A movement or group calling itself Christian, when they are anything but, is blasphemy. Inciting our basest instincts in His name violates the Third Commandment.

True Christians ask themselves humbly, what would He say if he appeared among us. True Christians know that when we see one of the least among us, we are looking at Jesus. We are seeing a resurrection appearance.

Finally, we have the central message of all the resurrection appearances. The two travelers on the road, and Mary Magdalene at the tomb, and the eleven disciples on the mountain, and the disciples back in the house in Jerusalem with the doors locked, and the seven on the sea in the boat: – they all had something in common.

That is, they were all in the same place emotionally and spiritually when Jesus appeared among them. Their lives had been shattered. They were lost and confused and afraid. They were trying to figure out how to go on with their lives, when they had put so much of themselves into something that was now gone.

That is when Our Lord comes to be with us. Jesus appears for us when we are at bottom, weighed down with loss and grief and suffering and anger and fear and frustration.

We are all traveling our own roads to Emmaus. Along the way are defeat and discouragement and doubt. The resurrection appearances tell us that Our Lord comes to walk beside us. We don’t know when that will happen, but we know that the living God will meet us on the road.

God be praised. Love your neighbor. Amen.