Over 500 witness the resurrected Jesus
Mary Copping, 15 April 2018
Acts 3: 12–19; Luke 24: 36b–48
On Wednesday evening I watched a film at the Richardsons’ called Risen. It had been highly recommended to me and it didn’t disappoint. The film is about a Roman military tribune who is asked to investigate the mystery of what happened to Jesus following the crucifixion. He tries to disprove rumours of a risen Messiah, but in the process his own beliefs and spirituality are challenged and he comes to believe. As the film unfolds, we see the tribune and disciples witnessing the risen Christ in many situations. Often they’re fearful, not understanding, but oh what joy when the disciples realise their master has returned to them, and that what he told them before he died has happened! He has risen. Such a moving account.
In our gospel reading we’re told of one of those appearances to the disciples. Just before this the two men had met Jesus on the Emmaus road, and he’d opened the scriptures to them and broken bread, which was when their ‘eyes were opened’. They’d then run to the others to tell them, and as they met and discussed all these things, the risen Jesus came among them.
At the beginning of many of these appearances – especially when he appears to the disciples – Jesus says, ‘Peace be with you’. He realises that they’re still fearful, ‘slow of heart to understand’ what he’d been saying to them. News before this had been scant; those from the Emmaus road had told them something, and they had heard that two men in shining white raiment had appeared to the women. So here they thought they were seeing a ghost. They hadn’t managed to connect what Jesus had told them before he died to what was happening now. Jesus was gracious enough to want to help them to understand and to wish them peace. Jesus brought them the peace that the world cannot give, the peace that is there for us as well, in all our difficult and fearful situations.
Jesus brought them the peace that is there for us as well, in all our difficult and fearful situations.
In the film Risen, we see Jesus appearing in the upper room to Thomas, and Jesus showing him the terrible wounds in his hands and side; it was very moving to watch this. And in our passage Jesus shows them his hands and his feet, to prove that it is he, the risen Lord Jesus, in his resurrected body, but still bearing the marks of crucifixion. These are the marks of his suffering – marks that show us how he bore the pain of the world then, and bears the pain of the world now. They give us the assurance that he bears our pain too. Jesus again opens the scriptures to them, explaining that this is what was spoken about: that he was to suffer and die, but rise again.
Jesus appeared to many, many people in his resurrection body before his ascension. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians says, ‘Then he [Jesus] appeared to more than 500 brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive’. So there were very many witnesses to this apart from the disciples. He also appeared to Mary Magdalene and to the two women coming from the tomb. We’re told nothing in the gospels about Jesus appearing to his mother, but did that happen? The last time Mary, his mother, had seen Jesus, her beloved son, was at the foot of the cross, in great sorrow, when he gave her into the care of John, and gave John into the care of his mother. Of course, there is no record of such a meeting in the Bible; it might have been intimate and secret, with no-one else present. But perhaps Jesus, out of love and gratitude to his mother, would have gone to her, shown her that all was well and thanked her for all that she went through for him.
As witnesses of these things, Jesus then commissions the disciples to go and tell the nations about him. Again, in the film, we see the disciples, who’d been such a close-knit group, disbanding and going their different ways, to the different corners of the world, to tell people what they had witnessed. We know from the Acts of the Apostles that they did this in the most amazing ways. In Acts, we’re told of many things they did in the light of Christ’s resurrection. Jesus – his life, death and resurrection – had brought transformation to them.
In our reading from Acts, we’re told of Peter preaching a powerful sermon about Jesus as Messiah and boldly calling the people to repent. Just after this sermon, later in the chapter, we’re told that the Jewish authorities were not happy with Peter (and John) proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus, and they were put in custody. But from there we read, ‘Many of those who heard the word believed; and they numbered about 5,000’ (Acts 4: 4). These men, who were simple fishermen, proclaimed boldly about all that they had seen and experienced of Jesus, and people turned to Christ from hearing their powerful preaching.
This new life that Jesus gave to the disciples through his death, resurrection and ascension, he promises for all those who believe in him – for us.
All the witnesses experienced the reality of Jesus in flesh and blood, not a ghostly apparition. And, as Jesus said to Thomas, ‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe’. We are blessed to be living in the light of the cross of Christ, to be able to live as Christians and to know Jesus for ourselves.
I wonder how Jesus appears to us. The disciples had much misunderstanding, much fear, lack of recognition of Jesus. For us in our own lives this is perhaps how we experience Christ – sometimes that lack of recognition that he is with us. As we gaze on a beautiful sunset and sense a wonder inside … here we are meeting with Christ. As we hear words from the Bible, or from a hymn, that really speak deep into our hearts, trigger something meaningful … here we meet the risen Christ. People who show us love, kindness, care … here is the risen Christ.
It is worth considering how Jesus is real and alive in our world today. How do our eyes need to be opened to see Jesus? Where do we touch the hands and feet of Jesus? How can we serve the world to make Jesus’ reality felt by others?
How do our eyes need to be opened to see Jesus? Where do we touch the hands and feet of Jesus?
As Christ’s followers, with him in our lives, we are told to bear witness to him who embodies perfect love and forgiveness, and to take this out into our dark and troubled world. As we see the world in such turmoil – people dying through starvation and war, painful and difficult things happening in our own lives and in the lives of those around us – we are to bear witness to the love of God through Jesus. This means something different to each one of us. As the disciples dispersed to different parts of the world to take the good news of Jesus, his love and forgiveness, so we will disperse this morning. Here we worship the Risen One and receive from him in in the Eucharist, then go out to many corners of this city and this country to take the good news of God with us.
As we leave today with the words, ‘Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord’, let us go with renewed courage to pray for people, to love people and to be bearers of Jesus to the world. Amen.