Weekly Preaching: April 18, 2021

April 14th, 2021

How do we get Easter to feel like a season, not just a day? We can invite our people to live into the church's earliest days, the confusion, then inspiration and buzz of missional activity in the wake of this shock of all shocks. But it's not a smooth road, is it? Acts 3:12-19, one of those bizarre "Old Testament" readings the lectionary strays into, has dreadful anti-Semitic overtones: "You Israelites killed Jesus." Daniel Silva's most recent novel, The Order, is terrific with how the New Testament has fed and still feeds negative sentiment toward Jews. Yom HaShoah, the annual Holocaust remembrance day, was just one week ago. Early, post-Easter Christianity thrived because of the exchange and circulation of letters. 1 John 3:1-7 is so lovely. A preacher could ruminate on various aspects of it for weeks. "See what love." We forget that God's love isn't a heavenly mood beaming down on us. It's historical, real, something visible. "See": not just glance at, but look, peruse, survey, study. "What love": the Greek potapos expresses both quantity and quality, so how much love, but also what amazing love, agape love.

"What we will be has not yet been revealed." It has been revealed, but not really, not entirely. Resurrected life for us won't be a pleasant continuation of all we've dug on earth, golf with regular holes-in-one or, as Tammy Faye Bakker fantasized, heaven as a shopping mall where you have a credit card with no limit. There, "we will be like him." What was Jesus like? That's ultimate humanity--your truest self, what you'll be like ---but then John adds, "For we will see him as he is." I can't explain that sentence well enough. I think in my sermon, I'll repeat it, slowly, two or three times, and let it linger. For. Seeing him will… make us like him? 

Maybe the beauty of Jesus, the reality of his compelling self, will capture our attention, and other interests will melt away, as we've come upon this pearl of great price. This must have been what happened to those fishermen whose family business, Zebedee & Sons, fell apart when they saw Jesus, whom they'd never seen before, and dropped everything to traipse off after him, to go… well, where? They had no idea.

Luke 24:36b-48 feels like some scribe, fond of John's Gospel and a tad disappointed by Luke's version, spliced in a periscope so much like John 20! Suddenly Jesus appears in a room (not that much unlike his behavior at Emmaus!). They aren't comforted, but startled, terrified. He invites them to look at and touch his hands and feet. I love Sarah Ruden's new translation: "Look at my hands and feet, and you'll know it's me, in person. Feel me over and see, because a spirit doesn't have flesh and bones, as you can observe that I have." 

It's the scars. Robert Barron, commenting in the lovely new The Word on Fire Bible: "A woundless Christ is embraced much more readily by his executioners, since he doesn't remind them of their crime." So the scars remind of the forgiveness they need (and that he gives). Barron goes on to point out the plot of history and the world: "Order, destroyed thru violence, is restored through greater violence." (Think Rambo, Dirty Harry). Jesus undermines all of this. The scars remind he's not returning greater violence for ours.

Last week's blog explored the scars in John 20: Every time I work at this text, I go to Rachel Hollis, TV personality and author of Girl, Wash Your Face, who posted an Instagram photo of herself that went viral with this caption: "I have stretch marks, and I wear a bikini… because I'm proud of this body and every mark on it… They aren't scars, ladies, they're stripes, and you've earned them." Earned scars, earned through the enfleshing of love. I'm fond too of the insight Graham Greene shared in The End of the Affair. A woman notices what used to be a wound on her lover's shoulder and contemplates the advancing wrinkles in his face: "I thought of lines life had put on his face, as personal as a line of writing – I thought of a scar on his shoulder that wouldn't have been there if once he hadn't tried to protect another man from a falling wall. The scar was part of his character, and I knew I wanted that scar to exist through all eternity."

The scars in Jesus' hands and side, earned when he gave life to all of us, were not blotted out by the resurrection (John 20:27). Caravaggio painted it graphically. I love that Jesus shows up, not as powerful but as the wounded one. The wounds are his glory. What do we sing in "Crown Him with Many Crowns"? Behold his hands and side. Those wounds, yet visible above, in beauty glorified.   His wounds - glorified. Beauty.

Jesus showed his scars. St. Francis of Assisi, who prayed to be like Christ so seriously that God answered his prayer by wounding his hands, feet, and side, hid his wounds out of humility! The humility of the risen Christ? He's hungry – and they give him a piece of broiled fish. Eat some broiled fish in preparation to preach. Report on what it tasted like and what that might have been like for Jesus and the astonished disciples. Who could have anticipated that over time the Greek word for fish, ichthus, would become a widespread acronym for Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior? I might play with this in my sermon. Jonah and the fish. God creating the fish. Jesus retrieving a coin from a fish's mouth. St. Anthony of Padua, following St. Francis's example of preaching to birds, preaching to fish, encouraging them to be grateful to God for water, gills, food, that they survived the flood in huge numbers, and found their way onto the boat of the disciples just after they saw Jesus – in John again!

This post originally appeared at James Howell's Weekly Preaching Notions. Reprinted with permission.

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