History Or Mystery
April 14, 2018
Verse: Luke 24:36–24:49
Christ Lutheran Church
April 15, 2018
by: Rev. Dean Kavouras
History or Mystery
The words of Sacred Scripture that we hear today are not just history, but also mystery.
But we are more attracted to the history part, because it’s something we can comprehend. We understand narrative, story, time and place. But today’s lessons present us with mystery. Mystery that confounds our sense of time, because after the Lord’s resurrection everything changed; for Jesus and for us; and we need to understand how.
Before the resurrection Jesus operated within time and space as we normally understand it, but after the resurrection things take a very different turn. After the resurrection time and eternity are already beginning to blend. And so we know, and we don’t know. We see and we don’t see. We sin and we don’t sin.
After the resurrection the Lord appears out of nowhere, and comes through locked doors to commune with his disciples. He does it twice. Once on Easter evening, then again a week later.
Moreover in John’s Gospel Pentecost takes place, not 50 days later as in St. Luke, but on Easter evening when the Lord breathes on the disciples, imparts the Holy Spirit to them, and empowers them to forgive sins! And to retain sins! That is to say, the Lord gives his disciples the authority to put spiritual cancer into remission for all who repent; but to leave unrepented sins, sadly and fatally, unforgiven.
Said another way he gives his church the exclusive power to grant eternal life to the penitent; and to confirm the fate of the unrepentant in the Lake of Fire. You don’t want to go there! And so come to the church, and have your sins forgiven! There is no charge, but there is great obligation.
In another post-resurrection manifestation Jesus suddenly appears to 2 un-named followers walking on the Road to Emmaus, who didn’t recognize him, and then they did – in the breaking of the Bread, even as Christians do today.
And in today’s gospel we learn what happened when those 2 Emmaus disciples went to tell the 11 that they had seen the Lord. And as they are telling, Jesus again suddenly appears in the midst of them, even as the does on our altar every Sunday in the consecrated bread and cup, promising Peace to us now, as he did to them then.
They were so startled, and sure that they were seeing a ghost, that Jesus shows them his wounds; and invites them to touch his glorified flesh. It’s the same invitation he issues to us each Sunday in the words: take eat, take drink!
But they still couldn’t believe their eyes, and so he asks for a piece of fish, and eats it in their presence, in order to prove that he is no disembodied spirit. But then he confounds them again by speaking of himself in the past tense, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you.” (24:44)
What are we hearing today in God’s house, dear Christians, history or mystery? Both, of course. But it frustrates us even as it did the disciples, because we are spiritually dull. And because we refuse to devote ourselves to learning our religion as we should.
Our problem, in a nutshell, is that we want to understand God on our own terms. It is not surprising. If someone starts rattling off to us in a language we don’t understand we get very frustrated, very quickly. We put up our hands, shake our heads, turn our ears away, and signal for them to stop.
But Scripture doesn’t stop, it keeps speaking to us in ways that confound our tiny brains. But rather than coming down to our level, it elevates us!
And, incidentally, this is why the church chants. Chant is not music as people often think, but elevated speech instead! . Elevated speech that befits elevated subject matter.
It’s why we elevate the gospel book in procession. These are liturgical gestures the church has bequeathed us so that our faith can never remain a mere mental process. But beauty, ritual, movement, and chanting help us glorify the message as it should be glorified - not only with our minds, but with our bodies. For Scripture says, “ … present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God ... " (Romans 12:1)
And, for your religious edification you should know that in Eastern Christianity, 85,000,000 believers strong, everything is chanted, and they would never think of conducting even the simplest religious service in any form other than chant. Elevated speech, for elevated subject matter. It’s something to consider.
Also while we’re at it, if you think the celebrant is a poor chanter it is beside the point because you are hearing the voice of your spiritual father, and that should always be a welcome sound.
Yes, we want to receive the holy Christian religion on our own terms, but Scripture won’t let us. It insists on raising us up, lame beggars that we are, and making us whole in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth so that we can walk, and leap, and praise God from the rising of the sun, till the setting of the same.
Because the miracle we hear in today’s first lesson really did happen. He was a man who was lame from birth, and the only vocation he was fit for was begging – which is a vocation just like any other. Watch the beggars at the end of the freeway ramps, and you will see yourself before God. And you will learn something from them, too. Because they are businessmen with a service to offer: the opportunity for you to fulfill the word of Jesus, “ … Give to the one who begs from you … "! (Matthew 5:42)
And so if you are able, give them something and don’t be stingy, because they suffer from inflation just like you do. But more importantly we are all beggars before God just like they, and like this man whose story we hear today. We are all spiritually lame and morally twisted, but the Son of God appeared to take away our sins by his cross. And so in the words of our epistle:
“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he (Jesus) is pure. (1 John 3:2-3)