One hundred and fifty-seven years ago on this day in the battle of Puebla,
a small, sad Mexican army defeated the much more powerful occupying French Army, surprising themselves and disrupting the French. It wasn’t enough to overturn the French control for good, but it was enough to boost morale and keep up resistance. In this country, Cinco de Mayo has become synonymous with drinking a lot of beer in celebration of Mexican culture. In Mexico, it is synonymous with surprising hope, the unlikely victory of a Mexican David against a French Goliath. (I don’t know where the Risen Lord was with respect to those particular events, but I thought they were worth mentioning on this day.)
Also on this day, ninety-six years ago, my grandparents’ lives were
severely disrupted by the birth of my father, whose very existence forced them to commit to one another and to a complicated social-political arena about which they were each in their own way ambivalent. My father’s spirit continues to disrupt my own life from time to time, keeping me accountable to his unwavering struggle for justice and integrity.
Fifty years ago this weekend, on May 4, James Forman disrupted worship
at Manhattan’s Riverside Church and read the Black Manifesto, which
demanded that white churches and synagogues organize to pay reparations for Black enslavement and continuing oppression. The debut of the Black Manifesto is always described as a disruption of a Sunday morning church service; it was intended to disrupt our own self-understanding and sense of responsibility for slavery and its consequences. That disruption is still a work in progress.
Our individual and collective histories are filled with encounters that
inform our hopes and shape our mission. This is no less true for us than for Saul (Paul), Ananias, Peter, and the others we read about today.
We see the fingerprints of the Risen Lord on all kinds of disruptions.
Peter is going back to his day job. With the other disciples, I imagine he’s
still confused and afraid, even after the encounter with Jesus in the locked room a week or two earlier. But it’s time to get back in the saddle or, in his case, back on the boat. I remember when my dad died in 2005, I went into the office a few days later and the parish administrator said: “Are you sure you’re up for this? Don’t you want more time?” But what was I going to do? There was work to be done, fish to be caught. Any of you who have returned to “normal” life after an enormous loss or change know what it’s like. You’ve got to do it and in doing it you realize that nothing is the least bit normal. This is Peter after the resurrection. He knows his Lord has risen, but he doesn’t know what it means for him. He’s about to find out.
Meanwhile—in another place and time—Saul is going about his business,
doing what he believes is the work that has been set before him. Like Peter, Paul encounters the Risen Lord, but he doesn’t know what it means for him. He, too, is about to find out.
Ananias also has an encounter with the Risen Christ. He’s a faithful
disciple but perhaps hasn’t been called upon, until this moment, to live into his discipleship according to the disruptive ways of Jesus. He’s about to find out.
It is here, in this unfolding of what it means to encounter the Risen
Christ, that the stories of Paul, Peter, Ananias, and the others intersect with one another, and intersect with our own story.
Saul-becoming-Paul learns that encountering the Risen Christ means
three days in tomb-like darkness with nothing to eat or drink. It means deep
uncertainty. Encountering the Risen Christ means receiving new sight, being filled with the Holy Spirit in baptism, and being God’s instrument. Encountering the Risen Christ means changing his plans.
Ananias learns in his encounter with the Risen Christ that God’s plan for
him is to minister to a known terrorist. He hears the Lord says words to him
that are intended to be reassuring, but I’m guessing Ananias was quaking in his sandals. Encountering Jesus means embracing our enemies, feeding them, and receiving them into the household of God.
Peter learns that what it means to be a disciple, what it means to follow,
is not what he thought. It is easy to say “I love you” to Jesus. But to mean it, in the way that Jesus wants him to mean it, is to feed and tend and protect all those whom Jesus came to serve. It means to express his deep love for his Risen Lord by loving others with that same love. It means to be prepare to suffer. To be not just a faithful friend to Jesus, but a faithful disciple in the world.
For the disciples, their encounter with the Risen Christ means that they
don’t get to return to their day jobs after all. Or rather, they do, but life and work is different in light of the resurrection. It’s not business as usual for the fishermen any more than it is for Paul or Ananias. All of these encounters can be summed up in Jesus’ suggestion to the disciples to cast their nets on the other side. Jesus asks them to step out of their ordinary routine and expectations. The result is surprising abundance. One hundred and fifty-three fish. (If you look up the significance of that number, you’ll probably find one hundred and fifty-three different theories.)
What do we learn, when we encounter the Risen Christ? Are our lives
disrupted? Consider Paul’s call to mission. Consider Peter’s call to love.
Consider our call, in response to the Black Manifesto, to change our place in the world.
This is the feast of the victory of our God. I hope that every week in this
space and at this table we encounter the resurrected Jesus. If we don’t, then a bunch of us are going to great lengths and expense for naught. If we do, we need to prepare to cast our nets where we wouldn’t otherwise. Perhaps we need to keep company with our enemies or learn to love as Jesus would have us love, learn to serve as Jesus would have us serve. Perhaps we need to be disrupted, in the name of our Risen Lord.