Part of coming to a new church is learning all the new stories of “How THAT happened.” I unabashedly love this part of the job. Church stories are generally bananas, and wholly unbelievable to anyone who has not spent much time around churches.
Take, for example, the local legend of the Little Old Lady who had passed into blessed memory prior to my arrival at my first parish. One Sunday, she came upon an unfamiliar family seated in Her Pew. The regular parishioners knew not to cross her, for LOL was known for being of a cantankerous disposition. But these newcomers knew not Joseph, as it were. She took one look at them and proceeded to beat them about the face and head with her pocketbook until they beat a hasty retreat. Thus victorious, she reclaimed her seat. And so it was that the congregants never changed pews again.
To date, I have not heard any similar tales of sanctuary fisticuffs from St. John’s. (Y’all will tell me if there were any, right? Because, now that I think about it, I can recall some story of a physical altercation in at least three of the churches where I’ve served. I don’t know if that says more about me, or them.) I did, however, spend several hours pouring through assorted historical documents, pamphlets of history, and “Important Sermons” to get a sense of how the parish sees itself, and what has shaped it over the years. This sermon was partially inspired by that.
Rev. Megan L Castellan
April 15, 2018
We have now reached that part of the Easter season when we get to experience the slightly odder Resurrection stories, having exhausted the initial appearances of Jesus to his disciples, and to Mary Magdalene and the other women.
Most of these second-order appearances include eating something. Jesus, it would seem, returns from the dead quite hungry. He eats dinner with the disciples traveling to Emmaus. He cooks and eats breakfast with Peter and the others on the beach by the Sea of Galilee. And here, he shows up to the disciples, and asks for some fish.
This is all happening, mind, as the disciples are all in a tizzy because Cleopas and Unnamed Disciple have run back from Emmaus to inform the others of their Resurrection sighting.
Sidenote: Luke doesn’t tell us who is with Cleopas on the road to Emmaus. Either the person was not considered important enough to have a name, or they were considered so famous that a name was beside the point. Christian tradition in Palestine says that the unnamed disciple was Mary, Cleopas’ wife (who is named in several other gospel accounts as following Jesus).
For context—Cleopas and Mary decided to Get Out of Dodge, and head out of town but on the road, they encounter Jesus, who asks why they were bickering (told you they were married). They explain what they’ve been through, and why they’re disappointed. Then he explains back to them what their experience means in the context of the scriptures, and they’re so entranced, they ask him to stay with them for the evening meal. And just as they finally recognize him, he vanishes.
It is at this point, after they’ve run back to Jerusalem to tell the others, that Jesus shows up again, and asks for fish. Apparently, dinner with Mary and Cleopas wasn’t filling.
Everyone goes nuts. Cleopas and Mary are excited because their story is now proven right. The disciples are excited because they get to see Jesus again. Party all around.
But once Jesus gets them to quiet down, he does the same sort of thing he did earlier with Mary and Cleopas on the road: he “opens their minds to understand the scriptures.”
Like the focus on food, the focus on the scriptures is a reoccurring theme in these second round resurrection appearances. Because once people got over the initial shock that Jesus was alive again, then they needed to understand What This Meant. How did this strange event fit into everything that had come before?
And like any life changing event, you can’t do much in-depth analysis in the moment, when you’re first getting used to something. It takes a while for the shock to wear off. So Jesus doesn’t really make the disciples do theology until he shows up for Round 2.
That’s actually where the all the food comes in, too.
Bear with me, now.
Scholars think that the reason Jesus keeps asking for food, post-Easter, is because the gospel writers want to disprove the theory that the resurrection of Jesus is incorporeal. That is, they want to dispel the idea that Jesus is showing up as just a ghost or something. Because surely, there can be no more human, flesh-and-blood task than eating breakfast. So, at every turn, Jesus is handling physical objects and proving he has a physical form.
But the food does something else, too. Every time Jesus shares a meal with his friends after he returns from the dead, he incorporates this resurrection life into their daily experience. Because, again, what could be more perfectly human than sitting down to breakfast together?
So now, the resurrection is not something inapproachable, concerned only with the Very Holy and the Very Pure.
Now the resurrection makes you breakfast, sits you down, and insists that you really should have a second helping because you’ve been looking tired lately. The resurrection is as normal as daily bread.
So closely woven into the daily lives of the disciples, then, does Jesus weave his resurrected presence, that it actually might become difficult to follow his final line in the gospel. You are witnesses of these things. Because it is tempting, for us, at least, to say, “Really? What things? The breakfast? The fish? The community?”
Over the years, Christ has so intricately woven resurrection into the life of the Church that we have almost become accustomed to seeing it, the way we are used to eating a meal with friends. It’s all around us, wrapped around the daily rhythm moments of our lives. But Christ reminds us that not only is resurrection familiar, but resurrection must be witnessed.
So we who follow in the footsteps of Christ and his disciples must learn to recognize the resurrection around us. We must learn to witness to its presence, to tell these stories when we see them. New life springs up all around us, and all of us have experienced it. But we must take note, and we must honor that new life by witnessing it.
Because when the world seems lost and bleak, it is our witness to the Risen Christ that reminds us not to give up. When the news seems all bad, and chaos seems more persistent than ever, our testimony to the daily resurrections that surround us are more needed than ever. They are a reminder that though the world is still broken, it will not stay that way forever, and God is still at work. So these stories are vitally important.
I’ve been reading the history of the parish this week, including two pamphlets written for the purpose. I commend them to you—both are delightful in different ways, if both clearly of their respective times. But one of the things I was most struck by, aside from the colorful characters that built this parish, that sustained it, and that kept it running through the years,
Is its persistence.
If you read all of the parish history, it’s been a series of ups and downs. There were wars, divisions, population surges. There were good priests, and not as good priests. There were budget concerns, and budget surpluses. There were liturgical changes and staunchly-resisted liturgical changes. But time and again, this parish stayed faithful to its mission, and kept on. It was reborn countless times out of who knows how many crises and conflicts. St. John’s, is, in itself, a testimony of resurrection—just a normal-seeming church, and yet a miracle in its own right.
What is your own story of resurrection? How have you seen resurrection in your own life? What is your own story to tell of the Risen Christ, active and present in your life? Think of these stories, cultivate and care for them.