Why does the resurrection matter? Or more specifically, why do the resurrection appearances matter?
This morning, we hear about yet another resurrection appearance; this time from Luke’s gospel. AT the Easter Vigil, we heard the story from John’s gospel of Mary Magdalene seeing, touching, and talking to Jesus in the garden. She went back to tell the others, but they didn’t believe her.
Last week we heard about two more times Jesus appeared in John. He came to the upper room where the disciples were staying – and this is still that first day. Then he went back again a week later so he could see Thomas, too.
This morning, we come in on a similar scene, but this time in the gospel of Luke. It starts out, “While the disciples were telling how they had seen Jesus risen from the dead, Jesus himself stood among them.” What’s that about?
These are the two disciples, Cleopas and his companion who were fleeing Jerusalem, on their way to Emmaus when Jesus joined them, although they didn’t recognize him. Together, they walked and talked along the seven-mile journey until they stopped for the night and shared an evening meal. Then, they recognized Jesus, he vanished, and they raced back to Jerusalem to tell the others. That’s what they’re talking about when Jesus shows up again.
All four gospels have stories about Jesus showing up after the resurrection. He shows them his hands and feet. They touch him. They talk and eat together.
Why are there all these stories about Jesus after the resurrection? Why is it important?
If you were with us on Good Friday, you hear me state that the crucifixion was not God’s plan. Today, I say, the resurrection was God’s plan.
In the crucifixion, we see that God in Christ Jesus never abandons us; never abandons God’s intention for our good, for our well-being. Never.
In the resurrection, we see the vastness of God’s love and grace and forgiveness.
Jesus didn’t have to stay around after he was raised. He could have gone straight to the Father. But he didn’t. He visited the disciples where they were – in the garden, on the road fleeing the dangers of Jerusalem, locked in the room.
Think about it. Of all the people, these eleven are the ones he has the most cause to write off. Who wouldn’t hold a grudge against them?
They had been his closest companions. They knew him better than anyone. They had heard all of his proclamations and teaching, seen all the healings and miracles. He had told them things he didn’t tell anyone else. They had traveled together, eaten together, prayed together. They knew what he was about, why he was here.
But, when push came to shove, they couldn’t even stay awake and pray with him at his most desperate hour. And then they fled. They abandoned him and denied even knowing him. They left him to die alone on the cross.
Then, when Mary and the other women told them that he’d been raised, just like he told them he would!, that they had seen him, even, did they rejoice? Did they go out to try to find him?
No, they dismissed their story and ridiculed them. Even though Jesus had told them three times that exactly this would happen. That he would be given into the hands of sinners, would suffer and die, and on the third day, he would be raised.
So, yeah, he has every reason to write these guys off. But he doesn’t. He makes a point of going to them where they’re staying. He greets them, saying, “Peace be with you.” Yes, it’s a standard greeting, but it is so much more than “hello” or even “good morning.” He’s extending forgiveness and restoring relationship; it’s a wish for their soul to be at peace.
Then he shows them just how real it is. He’s “flesh and bone.” He eats with them and talks with them. They know he forgives them and loves them just as much as ever. Not even his own death can separate them from his love. He never abandons them.
And in that, we see that he never abandons us. Truly nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
That’s why the resurrection appearances matter so much. It’s not just to prove that it’s true; that Jesus was truly raised from the dead. It’s not just that it gives us hope that we, too, will be raised.
In returning to his friends, his disciples before he returns to the Father, Jesus shows us just how deeply and wonderfully God desires to be with us in our everyday lives. He reveals the vastness of God’s grace and love and mercy for all the world.
The crucifixion wasn’t God’s plan, but the resurrection was.
I can’t think of better news than that.