Preached on Sunday, 5 May 2019 at Church of the Ascension in Seattle, Washington
The Third Sunday of Easter, Year C
Jesus sightings. That seems to be the theme of the gospel readings in the Easter season – Jesus sightings; encounters with the risen Christ. But have you ever noticed that in most of these “Jesus sightings” not even his closest friends recognize him, at least not at first?
Now these Jesus sightings are not like celebrity sightings in Hollywood or even at the mall. Not like saying, “Was that Bill Gates?” or “I saw Russell Wilson buying candy at the concession stand last night!” It’s not even like not recognizing your high school sweetheart at your 30-year reunion.
No, it’s more like not recognizing your best friend that you had lunch with just a few days ago.
Remember these stories?
Mary Magdalene, weeping at the entrance of the tomb on that first Easter morning, thinks that Jesus is the gardener.
Along the road to Emmaus, the Disciples wonder at this “stranger” walking with them, who doesn’t even know the news that EVERYBODY in Jerusalem is talking about. And yet this stranger knows all about its meaning. They spend the whole day in deep discussion with him, but don’t recognize him until he breaks bread at dinner.
In the story we heard last Sunday, Thomas doesn’t recognize Jesus until he touches his wounds.
In today’s gospel, the disciples are out fishing and when Jesus calls to them from the shore, at first, they don’t know him, but they do as he says. Then, when the beloved disciple says, “It’s the Lord!” Peter, in true Peter fashion, jumps in the water and swims to shore. But even on the beach, it says that they were afraid to ask “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord.
Now why would it say that? It’s the third time they’ve seen Jesus since he was raised and they spent years traveling with him in his ministry. Of COURSE they would know him, but for some reason that wasn’t assumed by our gospel-writer.
And then, of course there’s Saul. Ironically, Saul doesn’t recognize Jesus until he’s blinded.
Is it any wonder that we have such a hard time “seeing” Jesus when even those who knew him intimately couldn’t recognize him? And yet, it is our deep desire to see Jesus. We pray it, we sing it. It is even in our baptismal vows.
In fact, isn’t that what resurrection is all about – seeing Jesus? Listen to what Clarence Jordan (a noted New Testament scholar and the inspiration for the Habitat for Humanity organization) has to say about resurrection. He writes:
The resurrection of Jesus was simply God’s unwillingness to take our ‘no’ for an answer. He raised Jesus, not as an invitation to us to come to heaven when we die, but as a declaration that he himself has now established permanent, eternal residence here on earth. He is standing beside us, strengthening us in this life. The good news of the resurrection of Jesus is not that we shall die and go home to be with him, but that he has risen and comes home with us, bringing all his hungry, naked, thirsty, sick prisoner brothers with him.
I want you to think about that. I’ll read it again.
Maybe that’s a clue as to where we should look for Jesus. Remember how the angels ask those who come to the tomb, “Why are you looking for him here among the dead? He is alive.” They’re looking in the wrong place. And even when he appears, he’s not what they expect and so they don’t recognize him. So, where do we look for Jesus? And how do we recognize him?
Now the church teaches us to look for him in our worship; that Jesus is present in the proclamation of the Gospel – that’s why we stand. That Jesus is present in the bread and wine of communion. That Jesus is present in the body gathered – all of you. We recognize Jesus, not with the eyes and ears of our brain, but with the eyes and ears of our heart; the eyes and ears of our soul.
So let’s start there. When you greet each other at the Peace, take the time to reverently listen for Jesus with the ears of your heart, to see Jesus with the eyes of your soul.
See if you encounter Jesus as you receive the bread in your hand, the wine in your mouth, as you receive Jesus into your body and soul.
Of course, Jesus is not confined within these walls. Clarence Jordan said, “Jesus has risen and comes home with us, bringing all his hungry, naked, thirsty, sick prisoner brothers [and sisters] with him.” Jesus will be found among the least, the lost, the rejects of society. Maybe we miss seeing Jesus because we look away too quickly. We look in the wrong places. He isn’t the way we expect him to be.
In our baptism, we promise to seek and serve Christ in all persons; All Persons. Maybe we miss seeing Jesus because we don’t expect to find him in certain people, or maybe even in most people. And so, we only see them with the eyes of our brain.
Now, I want you to listen carefully, because this is important.
Remember that just as you seek Christ in others, others find Christ in you.
Just as you seek Christ in others, others find Christ in you.
Hold that awareness gently with love, with care, with reverence.
For it is truly Holy.