19 April 2015
Third Sunday of Easter
Easter 3B (RCL)
1 John 3:1-7
This gospel reading bears striking resemblances to some of the resurrection appearances in John’s Gospel. On the first evening, Jesus (in John’s Gospel) shows the disciples his hands and feet, and they rejoice. In the last appearance, Jesus is cooking bread and fish on the shore, while the disciples are out fishing in the boat at night. There must be some early connection between the resurrected Jesus, seeing his hands and feet, and a bread and fish eucharist (the disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke recognize Jesus in the breaking of bread, and then he shows up in Jerusalem to eat fish). We’re probably lucky that eucharist didn’t catch on!
Again, in this reading, it impresses me that the perception of the resurrection of Jesus occurs as a process — it doesn’t happen immediately. At first, the disciples think they are seeing a spirit (ghost is a wrong translation; the word in Greek is pneuma; ghost would be phantasm). They are terrified and startled. Jesus speaks Peace, then shows his hands and his feet. While rejoicing, they are still not convinced. Only when he opens their minds to understand the scriptures do they perceive the resurrection. The resurrection becomes the hermeneutic through which scripture is read, and that opens our minds to perceive God’s plan of salvation. Jesus’ statement, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things,” is, for Luke, the interpretative key to scripture and to the resurrection. It also reveals the role of the Christian community in God’s plan of salvation for the world. This is not something the disciples understood immediately, but was a dawning realization for the Christian community.
It continues to be the interpretative key for the Church today. Reading the Isaianic servant material, the psalms and the whole history of God’s activity is understood by Christians as leading to the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus, and through that to the restoration of the whole world. But this is not just some spiritual, disembodied dream for the future, reality now with flesh and bone. We experience the resurrection in the interpretation of scripture and in the breaking of bread in community. The risen Jesus takes on flesh and bone in the community of the resurrection. If that body is not wounded and cannot be handled, it is not the body of Christ — that is Thomas’ revelation, and Luke clearly shares John’s understanding. The resurrection becomes reality as a real flesh and blood community interprets scripture to find itself as part of God’s plan of salvation, and breaks bread together in fully embodied relationship.
The passage from Acts implies that this interpretative principle will be healing for others as well as for the community that gathers to read scripture and break bread. And 1 John assures us that the process is not yet complete. Our fragile, broken, hopeful communities will be revealed to be like the risen Christ in time to come.