Pastor Joe Britton
St. Michael’s Church
Jesus said, “Peace be with you.” (Luke 24)
I find that trash day is quite the drama in Albuquerque. It all begins the night before, as one hears the thump-thump-thump of plastic trash bins being wheeled down driveways to the street, like battalions of soldiers taking up positions for the next day’s battle, and by morning what had been a clear street is lined with an infantry of blue and black containers waiting pensively for their fate.
Then in the distance, one hears the roar of the approaching garbage truck, engine gunning, then brakes squealing, and the tell-tale thud of a bin being violently grabbed by its mechanical arms, like those of a mighty dragon. The bin is then hurled into the air to be violently upended so that it contents come flying out into the yawning receptacle of the truck.
There is such a brutal finality to it all: items that we have deemed to be of no further use are first discarded into the bins, and then from there they are hurled into the bowels of a truck and quickly carried away, never to be seen again. All that’s left are the scattered, now empty bins lying haphazardly along the edge of the street, like the dead and wounded on a great battlefield.
In the ancient world, crucifixion was similarly a way of discarding something that was no longer wanted, except that in this case it was a human being. A person was hung up to die, discarded, and then unceremoniously thrown into a common grave, like a landfill. So Jesus, having been tried and rejected by his accusers, was similarly hung up on a cross to die at Golgotha (which was itself the trash heap of Jerusalem), with the intent that once he was dead, his body would be thrown out with the rest of the detritus of the city.
Except that … it doesn’t turn out that way, does it? The one who had been “despised and rejected” (as Isaiah foretold) returns to his disciples from the cross, speaking words of peace.
Now, we tend to focus our thoughts about this return on the miraculous and even divine intervention that seems to have taken place in this event.
But today’s gospel wants us to refocus our attention on the human element. Jesus is determined that his disciples realize that it is him—not a ghost, not an apparition, not a mystical vision—but truly him, in flesh and blood. And so by way of simple demonstration he asks them for something to eat, and they give him a piece of fish, which he eats as any ordinary human being would.
And hidden in that gesture, is something of the greatest importance that can easily escape our attention amidst all the trumpets and flowers of Easter. The resurrection is not just about some godlike occurrence that happened to Jesus, but it is an affirmation of the reality and destiny of human nature itself. For when Jesus carries our physical nature with him into death, and then continues to carry it beyond the grave to the other side, he embodies for us the message that we human beings are not bound simply by the constraints and limitations of our physical mortality. We are not a commodity.
Rather, we human beings have a meaning, and a purpose, which is bound up with the inextinguishable life of Jesus. And this life, as John’s epistle puts it this morning, is nothing less than love itself, given to us through Jesus. Our meaning and purpose is to love, to love endlessly, to love until it hurts—and through Jesus we know that love has no bounds, and most certainly not the grave. As one person remarked to me recently, in offering assistance to our immigrant family, “I think the measure of our worth is how we support each other, and everything else is speculation.”
This conviction that our life is given meaning by how we love one another is, of course, precisely what Jesus taught his disciples at the Last Supper, and it is the core of what we commemorate each time we come to this table: the duty and gift of loving one another, of sacrificing for one another, of standing up for one another, of suffering with one another.
And so, this love that we celebrate at this table, is what gives us hope in our struggles, courage in our fears, and perseverance in our challenges. For in the risen Jesus, we know they do not lead to the dead end of death (so to speak), but through his life they are woven into a web of commitment and concern that stretches both backward and forward in time.
It is as if the resurrected Jesus says to us, “There is more to you than you think,” just as there was more to him than his disciples had imagined. And if that is true then it is also true that through us, there is more to the world than we think. Or, to put it more bluntly: the world doesn’t have to be, the way it is now.
As Rowan Williams puts it in his little study of resurrection, The Sign and the Sacrifice:
The way things are is not the way things are destined to be. Under God, with wisdom, discernment and courage, you can find out what changes are possible, because the world can change. God can be known and served: human beings can live differently: the body of Christ shows us there are ways of living together as human beings that are not tribal, violent, exclusive and anxious. (p. 89)
And so, there is a “fundamental fearlessness” that comes from the resurrection gospel, which is a message that we are very much in need of hearing in these days. In himself, Jesus gathers up all our doubts, our fears, our anxieties, even our death—and returns them to us when we least expect it, transformed through a loving embrace and the simple phrase, “Peace be with you.” In those four words, who we are, and who we hope to become, is affirmed, blessed, encouraged and refreshed. So may Christ’s peace be with you all. Amen.