The Word this week;third Sunday of Easter

How the disciples’ alarm at the Risen Lord became a joy so great it left them dumbfounded

Third Sunday of Easter: Acts 3:13-15, 17-19; Ps 4; 1 Jn 2:1-5; Lk 24:35-48

By BISHOP DAVID MCGOUGH on Friday, 20 April 2012

“Now you must repent and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out.” This invitation to repentance formed the conclusion of Peter’s address to the people of Jerusalem at Pentecost. It was a call to repentance unlike any that had preceded it, since it flowed from the power and presence of the Risen Lord. The Resurrection transforms the possibilities of repentance.

St Paul, in the seventh chapter of his Letter to the Romans, had despaired of sinful humanity, left to itself, ever finding true repentance. We long to do what is right, but instead we find ourselves committing the very faults that we seek to avoid. The Risen Lord, by his death and Resurrection, became the power by which we not only hear the call to repentance, but are enabled to respond in a new way of life. When we repent in the Risen Lord, we rise to a new life. Faith enables a change of heart whose possibilities are rooted in the power that raised Jesus from the dead.

St John, in his first letter, emphasised the nature of a repentance that creates us anew. “My children, if anyone should sin, we have our advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, who is just; he is the sacrifice who takes our sins away, not only ours, but the whole world’s.”

St Luke’s account of the encounter of the Risen Lord with his disciples emphasises the Resurrection as the renewal of sinful humanity, thus heralding the renewal of all that our humanity was created to become. The first response of the disciples at this encounter was alarm and fright.

They had thought that they were seeing a ghost. In the popular imagination there is an immense gulf between the warmth of a humanity that we can see and touch with our own hands and its pale representation as a ghost. The immediate reaction of the Risen Lord was to reassure his disciples. “Why are these doubts rising in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; yes, it is I indeed. Touch me and see for yourselves; a ghost has no flesh and bones as you can see I have.”

Behind the fear of the disciples was a wider questioning of the nature of the Resurrection that we all share to a certain extent. If, as we believe, the redeemed shall share in the fullness of Christ’s Resurrection, what will be the nature of that sharing? This becomes deeply personal when we begin to think of those we have loved who have gone before us. In the fullness of the Resurrection, what will be our relationship with those we have loved? Shall we know them only as a pale reflection of what they once were?

This encounter of the Risen Jesus with his disciples demonstrated the wonderful continuity between the Jesus that they had known and loved in so many familiar ways, and the Jesus who was now risen from the dead. Their joy was so great that they could not believe it, and they stood dumbfounded.

The final reassurance was the sharing of food. Jesus asked for food and received the grilled fish that he took and ate before their eyes.

Throughout the ministry of Jesus the sharing of food at table had been a powerful sign of reconciliation and communion. The request for food was a reassurance to the disciples that this fellowship with their Lord would not only continue, but would be taken to unimagined possibilities in the Resurrection.

Christ is indeed risen and his Resurrection is the assurance that our relationships, with him and with each other, will never cease to be an expression of the humanity entrusted to us at birth.