Jesus stands among his disciples. “Peace,” he says. Except it's anything but peace.
Who is this? What is this? A ghost? They know he's dead. They saw it.
.Jesus appears. He stands in their presence. And it's all confusion and fear. But there he is. And even as he reassures them he shows them. Here are his hands and his feet—the wounds. “It's really me,” he says, “flesh and bone.”
And then, what does this crucified criminal now, beyond all hope, vindicated as the Messiah (the Christ, the KING) by God, raised from the dead and standing in their midst, say?
“Got anything to eat?”
And they give him a piece of fish, and this condemned Messiah raised from the dead, the first fruits of the Resurrection, in his re-newed spiritual body takes this piece of broiled fish into his hands and places it in his mouth and eats it in their presence.
Two weeks ago we began the fifty day celebration, the week of Sundays, that is Easter—the celebration of Resurrection, of New Creation. And this morning in the gospel—in Jesus raised to new life in a re-newed body—we get a sense of what that New Creation looks like. And it’s important for us to pay attention to that, because this story isn’t just about Jesus as New Creation. It’s about us (and through us all of Creation) made new. From the First Letter of John we hear: “What we will be has not 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.” By God’s power, by the power of the Resurrection, we will be changed, and be like him. We will be New Creation, too.
And whatever Resurrection means, it does not mean a ghostly, disembodied presence. We will be like him, and he is flesh and bone. Resurrection touches the ground.
Ok, but if Resurrection, if New Creation, is as real as flesh and bone, as real as sharing a meal, how does it come to life in us? Does it just happen to us as if from the outside? Or do we participate in God making Creation, making ALL THINGS, new?
And what does all this mean for us as a community? As the Church?
Last week we heard in Acts that it meant living in a radically new way, with one heart and soul, no one claiming private ownership of any possessions, sharing all things in common, giving testimony to that Kingdom, being filled with grace, with not a needy person among them. And before we dismiss this as some first generation Church anomaly, remember that monks and nuns and anabaptists and others have lived this way for centuries, practicing Resurrection as a sign of the Kingdom of God already breaking in. It’s still possible.
But this morning I’m interested in how it works spiritually and personally. And for that I think we have clues in today’s reading from Acts. And maybe in a line that’s not obvious.
“Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out.”
This is the last line of the reading from Acts this morning. It’s pretty familiar language to many who have grown up in church, and it’s easy to assume that we know what a line like this means: Feel guilt over what you’ve done, or maybe even shame about who and what you are, and ask God to clear your record.
But is this our Easter hope? That Resurrection—New Creation—just means God says, “Nevermind?” Can’t we hope for more? Is this what this sentence means? Can we only get a pass, or can we be changed like John said in his first letter?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, that early twentieth century German Lutheran theologian, pastor, and martyr, was raised with the idea that the moral teaching of Jesus, like turning the other cheek and loving enemies, was so difficult that it wasn’t realistic. The point of those teachings (in this traditional Protestant way of thinking) was to reveal how impossible it is to be good, and so, how in need of God’s mercy, grace, and forgiveness we sinful humans are.
But while a student at Union Theological Seminary in New York this German Lutheran “realist,” on the Eve of World War II, met a French Catholic pacifist named Jean Lasserre. Lasserre and Bonhoeffer had many conversations about Jesus’ moral teaching, and over time he helped Bonhoeffer see was that that moral teaching wasn’t just there to make us see and feel our sinfulness, but that Jesus actually intended us to live that way. He convinced Bonhoeffer that the Church as a community was to put it into actual practice—here and now.
Not just a pass, but change.
And that got Bonhoeffer started on his path of prayer, of re-imagining monasticism and Christian community, and resistance to Hitler to the point of martyrdom in Flossenburg Concentration camp on April 9, 1945.
“Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out…”
Repent—μετανοήσατε—literally means turn around. It has nothing to do with feeling guilt or shame. Repent isn’t about feeling something at all. It’s about changing something. You’re facing that way, now face this way. You were headed in the wrong direction, so head in the right direction.
And sins—ἁμαρτίας—was an archery term. You missed the mark. You failed to hit the target.
So it might be better to say that sentence something like this:
Turn around and face God, and in facing God your missing will be undone.
That is, turn in the right direction—the direction of God as we know God in Jesus—so that you’ll be less likely to miss the target of what God wants for us—you’ll be more able to live in this new reality in which the dead are raised and the lame are made whole.
The Resurrection life—the life of the Community who lives in the hope and reality of Resurrection—is not a ghostly, disembodied reality. It is a flesh and bone reality as real as eating a piece of fish. Resurrection touches the ground!
And it is not just forgiveness without change. In the various communities of the Church we learn to practice resurrection and be changed—to turn around. It’s not easy. It takes a lifetime of daily work (and, really, most of that work is God working in us).
So let’s practice Resurrection and let God turn us around, adjust our direction, and draw our arrows to Christ as our target, until we learn to hit that target more than we miss.
This day in and day out re-orientation toward Christ in everything, even things as simple as sharing a meal, is at the heart of what it means to be disciples of our Risen Lord Jesus Christ. It is at the heart of what it means to be the Church. And this is how we participate in God making us and the rest of Creation—ALL THINGS—new.