Jesus comes to us

Easter 3 2009

Luke 24:36b-48

Marian Free

In the name of God, whose forgiving love transforms our lives and forms us for mission. Amen.

I would like you to imagine that you are part of a coach tour to Egypt and the Middle East. The trip is for a fortnight and over that time you have become very close to those who are touring with you. Because you are thrown together for long periods of time you have come to know each other well. You know each other’s weaknesses and strengths. During the tour you have shared some difficult moments – like the time at the check point when the security forces thought that your tour group was trying to smuggle arms to the Palestinians, or the time when a rocket exploded near to your motel and you thought you would die. The shared experiences have brought you closer together and you are sure that when you return home you will continue to meet and your friendship will grow.

So close have you become to the group, that you do not think twice when one of them asks you to carry a souvenir back to Australia. She is staying in Singapore for a few days longer and wants room in her luggage for some shopping. When you reach Singapore, you are surprised that the sniffer dogs take an interest in your luggage and alarmed when heavily armed police approach you. You look around for the person who gave you the souvenir and find she is no where to be seen. At the same time, your new found friends, embarrassed by the turn of events and anxious not to be associated with you, are slowly melting into the crowds.

You are in serious trouble and alone. Alone you face the indignity of a luggage search and the worse indignity of a strip search. Alone you protest your innocence as you are led into custody. Alone you wait for a lawyer and a member of the Embassy to visit. You are frightened and confused, aware that your gullibility and trust has contributed to the situation and dismayed that friendship could be so shallow. Desolated and abandoned, your thoughts are filled with foreboding – will your holiday end in an ignominious death, for a crime of which you were as much a victim as a perpetrator?

Miracles do happen! Somehow you are brought from death to life as it were. Your so-called “friend” is known to polics and has been caught and has confessed to planting the drugs. You are free to go. What do you do? My guess is that the last thing you want to do is to seek out your former friends. They might be sorry for their behaviour, but you are probably still too hurt and bewildered to speak to them. I’d be surprised if you ever wanted to see them again – the value of their friendship is seriously diminished and no apology will make up for their betrayal. Right now you just want to get on with your life and put this awful experience behind you. You are not sure you will ever travel again and not at all sure that you will be able to trust anyone again.

At least that is how I imagine such a scenario. A normal human being would find the experience of facing death for drug trafficking so devastating, so demoralizing, that they would want to get as far away as possible from the person who planted the drugs, and as far away as they could from those who disassociated themselves from you.

Jesus is no ordinary person. He is even more intimate with the disciples than the imaginary you. He has spent up to three years with them. They have travelled together and eaten together. They have faced the criticism of the Pharisees, Chief Priests and scribes together. The disciples have seen Jesus happy, angry and sad. They have witnessed his healing power, heard his teaching and promised loyalty even to death. Yet, at Jesus’ moment of greatest need, all courage left them. Afraid of being caught up in Jesus’ strife and sharing the consequences of his arrest, the disciples fled. Apart from Peter who denies him, no one is present for the trial and only the women are present at the cross. During the worst hours of his life, Jesus is alone. He dies abandoned by his closest friends.

So what does Jesus do when he is brought from death to life? Amazingly, he doesn’t skulk away to lick his wounds. Nor does he ascend immediately to heaven leaving his friends to live with their shame, embarrassment and disgrace. To our surprise, Jesus behaves as if nothing has happened. The first thing that he does is to seek out his friends and to offer them peace. He doesn’t make them sweat it out, but simply appears among them to share the good news! Despite the disciple’s obvious betrayal and desertion, Jesus gives no indication of recrimination or reproach. He doesn’t demand that they explain themselves or beg for forgiveness, nor does he withhold his friendship or trust. What is more, despite all that they have done, he entrusts them with the message of the resurrection!

How extraordinary! Not only do the disciples not have to face the consequences of their actions, but Jesus continues to treat them as his best friends and successors! No wonder that they are transformed. I can think of no better way to assure his friends that there were no hard feelings and that Jesus continued to have faith in them. No wonder the disciples change from a group of frightened, humiliated people into a force for change. Jesus has seen past their betrayal, their cowardice and their disarray, to their goodness and their potential. Jesus demonstrates confidence in them when they have lost all confidence in themselves.

No wonder they found the audacity and energy to proclaim the Christ. They have experienced for themselves the power of God’s love and goodness. They can assure others of God’s ability to overlook their faults, because they have experienced God’s forgiveness in their lives. They can proclaim the resurrection with confidence because, not only have they seen the risen Lord, they too have been brought from death to life.

In our arrogance and self-centredness, we are tend to think that our salvation depends on us, on what we do, that we have to present ourselves perfect before God. The mystery of the gospel is that we do nothing and God does everything. God in Jesus comes to us – forgiving, restoring, healing, loving and empowering. God, in Jesus, does away with all our transgressions. God, in Jesus, comes to us when we have betrayed and abandoned him and offers us a future. God, in Jesus, lives to show that we are truly forgiven and restored.

When we know God’s love it is impossible not to share it. When we understand that we are forgiven, it is difficult not to forgive others. When we understand God’s confidence in us, we are empowered to act.

Loved, forgiven, restored and free, we can take the gospel to the world.

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