A couple years ago a member of our congregation came into my office one morning to bring me a clipping from the Richmond Times-Dispatch obituary section and I wish I could pass it around to you so that everyone could see it, but that’s not really possible so I think I will show a couple people here in the front and see if they can make a guess as to why someone would have given me this.
We aren’t exactly twins, obviously, but its pretty close. We look an awful lot alike. If I had been reading the newspaper and seen this myself I definitely would have done a double take. The person who gave me this thought it was funny and I do too and so I put it up on my office wall.
It’s called a “doppelgänger,” and many people have had this experience: You look like someone or someone looks like you. There’s not family connection and you’re not related, but you look alike.
When the risen Jesus appears to the disciples we’re told they were disbelieving from their joy. They had a hard time believing this person they were seeing had died and was now alive again. Nothing in their life so far prepared them to understand this moment.
Certainly, there had to be all kinds of emotions running through these disciples’ bodies: shock, as well as shame and remorse at having left their friend at the lowest point of his life all by himself, and now, wondering what he might say to them as they are being confronted by the friend they had abandoned.
And one thing they may have been thinking was: Is this somebody who looks like Jesus?
There was no way to verify identity – there was no fingerprinting, no DNA testing, no showing someone your drivers license. Perhaps this is just someone who looks like Jesus.
The other, more far-fetched thing they consider is that this is a ghost. An apparition.
And Jesus says: No! it is me. It’s really me and not someone who looks like me. It’s not a ghost. Look at my hands and feet, touch me, handle me, see that I am flesh and bones and hold onto my body and see that it really is me!
It seems like to wouldn’t be hard to believe in that moment.
This is, after all, the fourth appearance of the crucified and risen Lord according to Luke’s gospel…first he appeared to the women outside the tomb, then he appeared to Simon Peter, then he appeared to two hikers walking from Jerusalem to a town called Emmaus, and now, Jesus appears to the apostles saying Peace! And showing his hands and feet.
If we have ever had doubts. If we have ever wondered if Christ was truly raised with flesh and bones. If we have ever said the Apostles Creed with some reluctance, we might also think, but if I had been there, if I had seen Jesus eat that fish, lick his lips, and wipe his mouth with a flesh and blood hand, then I would not have had trouble believing.
We think that the disciples had it so easy, but John Dominic Crossan, a Christian writer and theologian, points out in his book Resurrecting Easter: How the West Lost and the East Kept the Original Vision of Easter, something that might be surprising: there is only one event in the life of Jesus, which we know happened, but is not actually described in the gospels.
There are many events in the life of Jesus, from the Annunciation to the Ascension, but the only event in Jesus life that’s not described in detail is the moment of his resurrection. And we often miss that fact because its hidden by these post-resurrection appearances; all these indirect descriptions. But while the crucifixion, for example, is described in minute detail the moment where Jesus went from being dead to being alive is not described. And pausing over this fact might help us to understand how the disciples could stand in front of Jesus and be disbelieving in their joy.
Paul says, if the resurrection of Jesus is not real, we of all people are most to be pitied. Our life and our work together is for nothing.
Is always a leap of faith to believe God cares so much for us that he would come among us in human form, die for us and be raised on the third day, and because it is always a leap of faith, God is always ready to help us believe and give us faith.
God raised Jesus for us. Not for himself, but for us. For you.
The purpose of the resurrection is not just for Jesus to be alive – he could’ve never died!
The purpose of the resurrection is to bring us the gift of forgiveness and reconnect us to God.
In Jesus Christ you are forgiven and I am forgiven for all the ways we fail to love God, for all the idols we set up in our hearts, for all the ways we are dishonest and selfish and arrogant and unsympathetic.
And so we are also of all people most to be pitied if we don’t receive this forgiveness God gives us in Jesus and accept it, and live changed lives because of it.
I still remember one of the first time I experienced real forgiveness.
When I was about 5 years old my Mom was going to make me an Easter suit. The fabric was yellow, with a little pair of shorts and a little sports coat, to be worn with a white button up shirt. One day we went together to a Jo-Anne’s fabrics to buy buttons for the jacket. There was a carousel of possibilities. Yellow, green, blue, red buttons. Mom decided she wanted me to have little blue sailboats.
As I looked, my eyes fixed on a set of buttons – black, skull and cross-bones.
I asked my Mom if we could get these and they could be sewn on my new Easter suit. She said they could not.
I knew that my mother had said no. I knew that to take them without paying for them would be stealing. I knew how good I would look if I could wear a suit with these buttons on it. And I slipped them into my pocket.
The questions are many: Did I know how to sew? No. What did I think, Mom wasn’t going to notice? I don’t know. But when we got home and my Mom found out I had stolen them she was furious. I had stolen and I had disobeyed her. It was back to JO-Anne’s and she sat in the car while I had to go inside and put them up on the counter and slide them toward the clerk and explain I had stolen the buttons. At the time I thought she might call the cops, but of course, she said, “Oh honey, that’s alright.”
She forgave me and my mother forgave me. And the sailboats didn’t look that bad.
We are forgiven by God for disobeying his command to love one another. We are forgiven by God for the way we are dishonest to one another and use one another for our own selfish motives. We are forgiven by God for stealing what is his by hording our gifts for ourselves rather than sharing them with those in need
John Dominic Crossan tells in Resurrecting Easter how there were no depictions by Christian artists of Jesus’ resurrection for hundreds of years, because without a narrative to build from artists were reluctant to try to create an image, but when they finally did two separate images emerged.
In the West, the first visual depiction of Easter morning was in the 400. And perhaps because of our emphasis on individualism, Jesus always appears alone. You can check this out on google as I did. In more recent times, with Western artist you will sometimes get an angel, very seldom and more recently the women in the morning dawn, but Jesus resurrection is solitary.
In Eastern art, when Jesus’ resurrection is finally first depicted in visual art in the 700s, the difference is striking. The resurrection is a communal event. Jesus appears with many people. He clasps either Eve or Adam’s hand – or both, as a symbol of how Christ is raised so that all humanity might live. Often the disciples are there, the prophets, David and Solomon. It is clear that in this moment of resurrection, God has rescued all creation, which is to say: Resurrection is communal.
We are a forgiven community; a family saved by God and looking to Jesus together.
This weekend the United State government and the Pentegon are praising the missile attacks on Syria in response to the use of chemical weapons as precise and effective, while Russia calls the same attack a threat to world peace. Violence escalates and escalates, layers upon layers of sin. And we wonder if this world will always believe that more violence will bring peace and we ask the question: what are we to do?
The answer given by Jesus of Nazareth – the answer he lived by and died by – was nonviolent resistance. Receiving violence, he returned compassion. Receiving death, he gave life. Receiving hate, he returned forgiveness.
And Jesus’ resurrection shows us that God’s power of forgiveness will have the last word, even if not everyone has eyes to see that now.
In the meantime, the risen Jesus leads us to practice forgiveness for the whole world to see –
And so, may you practice forgiveness with joy. May you witness with joy. May you serve with joy. So that somehow, mysteriously and spiritually in our life together we will be a doppelgänger for Christ, and extend his mercy to those in need, so that when people see our forgiveness and our life together they will be sure they’ve seen the Lord.
May it be so.