Yesterday we came to the end of the Red Letter Challenge. Our goal during that Challenge was to take the words of Jesus and put them into practice because we believe that doing so will help us to change the story that we tell to others about Jesus through our lives, and will also help us to more fully embrace the rich, full abundant life that Jesus has for us. Over the past forty days, we were looking at the five main things that Jesus talked about, which were Being with him, receiving his Forgiveness and sharing it with others, being his hands and feet and Serving others, Giving generously because Jesus first gave so generously to us, and finally, Going to tell others about him so that they also can know Jesus and his unconditional love for them.
My hope and my prayer is that the Red Letter Challenge will have a lasting impact on your life and the things that you learned as you put Jesus’ words into practice will continue to be part of your life with Jesus as you continue to follow him.
Have you ever missed something important because you were not paying attention? Years ago, Susan and I were invited to the wedding of my friend, Ron. The wedding was going to be in Edmonton, three hours drive away from my hometown of Provost, Alberta. My Dad and I had some business to do in Edmonton so we thought that this was perfect. He and Mom were also invited to Ron and Kathy’s wedding, so we could all go up there, go to the wedding and also do the business that we needed to get done, and then come home the next day. Susan and I and my Mom and Dad all go to the wedding ceremony, then Dad and I go do the business that we need to get done and we get to the hall where the dance is being held just as the reception was wrapping up. And my friend, Ron, comes up to me and asks, “Where were you?” Susan and I were invited to the reception, but I missed it because I did not carefully read the invitation Ron and Kathy had sent me.
Sometimes we miss the best things in life because we are not paying attention. It could be the fine print on a wedding invitation, or a knowing glance from someone who loves us, or a meaningful conversation that never happens because we are more focused on our plans than the people God puts in front of us.
And I believe that many of us are missing out on the fullness of the rich, abundant life that Jesus wants to give us because we are not paying attention to what he said and did, and the impact that he had on those around him, especially after he rose from the dead. Today is Easter Sunday, the day when we celebrate the fact that Jesus rose from the dead, and this is great and glorious news for us. But we have distilled the meaning of Jesus’ resurrection down to “We get to go to heaven when we die.” And while that is true, the implication of that is “Until then, Jesus’ resurrection doesn’t matter to us at all.” And not only is that last statement no longer true, believing that it is true stops Jesus’ resurrection from impacting our lives in the here and now. The result is that, today, the lives of Jesus-followers are very much the same as the non-Christians who live around them, and very much different from those who first witnessed Jesus’ resurrection. A study conducted by the Barna Group in 2006 concluded, “The respect, patience, self-control and kindness of born-again Christians should astound people, but the lifestyles and relationships of born-again believers are not much different than others.”
The resurrection of Jesus should have such a profound impact on our lives that those of us who follow Jesus cannot help but be different than the people around us. The fact that we are not indicates that perhaps we are missing some of what the resurrection of Jesus means for us in the life we are living right now. That is why we are starting a new sermon series today called Living the Resurrection based on a book of the same name by Eugene Peterson. Starting today and over the next couple of Sundays, we are going to look at encounters people had with the resurrected Jesus and the impact that had on their lives for insight about the impact of Jesus’ resurrection on our lives today. My prayer as we begin this new series is that it will help all of us to grow in Living the Resurrection.
As we look at the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection, the first thing that we notice is that when Jesus rose from the dead, it was a profound shock to everyone who witnessed it. In Greek and Roman culture, the body was thought of as a prison house for the soul and there was no place in their beliefs or thinking for a physical resurrection. Though the Jews of Jesus’ time did believe in a physical resurrection from the dead, they thought that it would happen for everyone at the end of time. For one person to be raised from the dead in the middle of time was something that they could not comprehend. Jesus’ Jewish followers must have thought Jesus was speaking figuratively when he said that his resurrection would happen on the third day after his death, because their initial first reactions to Jesus’ resurrection was disbelief and fear, not faith.
But when the risen Jesus appeared to his followers, ate food and let them touch his body and see his crucifixion wounds, the fact of Jesus’ resurrection transformed his followers’ lives. A former coward, like Peter, courageously proclaimed to large crowds of people the Good News of forgiveness and life through Jesus. Rough-hewn fishermen and a despised tax collector became leaders in a movement which turned the world upside down. A former persecutor of the Christian faith, like Paul, became an evangelist for the Christian faith.
In Acts 2, Luke paints a picture for us of what the lives of the first witnesses to the resurrection looked like after they had been transformed: They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47)
And the power of Jesus’ resurrection to transform lives continued for generations. Three hundred years after Jesus’ resurrection, Julian the Apostate was ruling over the Roman empire. One of the things that really irritated him was the fact that it was the Christians who were providing the social safety net for Roman society, not the pagans who believed in the traditional Roman gods as he did. Referring to Christians as “Impious Galileans,” Julian wrote, (Julian the Apostate image) “…the impious Galileans support not only their own poor but ours as well, all men see that our people lack aid from us.”
The early Christians did not form pockets of quiet people biding their time in an unchanged life waiting for the resurrection to happen for them. These are people whose lives were so transformed by Jesus’ resurrection, while they were still living, that they changed the world around them, simply by being Jesus’ people where he had placed them. Why is that not happening today?
The Importance of Jesus’ Resurrection in Spiritual Formation
I believe that we have been discipled into resurrection-less living by screens that capture our attention, secular values that capture our mind, and enticements of beauty, power and wealth that capture our heart. What we need is to stop allowing the world to spiritually form us and turn towards the ancient practices the Church used to mold people into Jesus-like living by impressing his resurrection onto their lives.
Psalm 116 gives us both a before and after pictures of human life formed by Jesus’ resurrection. Without the present promise of the resurrection in our life, we are weighed down as the Psalmist describes in verse 3: The cords of death entangled me, the anguish of the grave came over me; I was overcome by distress and sorrow. (Psalm 116:3) Does anyone here ever feel like the cords of death are entangling them? My Dad passed away when he was 75 years old. If I pass away on my 75th birthday, I have 4,442 days left, and each day that number goes down by one. That is a sobering thought for me. The truth is that none of us is going to live forever in this world, and the reality of that fact is always pressing upon us.
But the Psalmist also describes what our human lives look like with the impact of Jesus’ resurrection. Return to your rest, my soul, for the Lord has been good to you. For you, Lord, have delivered me from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before the Lord in the land of the living. (Psalm 116:7-9) When Jesus rose from the dead, it resulted in his followers walking before the Lord in the land of the living. In other words, they were fully alive in a way that simply was not possible before and they were living that fully alive life before God. Yet, at the very same time, they were living their fully alive, extraordinary life in the everyday, ordinary living that they did before and among other people. Living the Resurrection was normal for Jesus’ first followers after he rose from the dead. That’s what we are aiming for as we begin this three-part series. We want to walk before the Lord in the land of the living.
The Presence of the Risen Jesus in Our Everyday Meals
To help us do that, we are going to look at two of Jesus’ resurrection appearances today. The first is found in Luke 24:13-35. If you have a Bible or a Bible app, I invite you to turn there now. Here we meet two of Jesus’ followers who are walking back home to Emmaus after the Festival of Passover concluded in Jerusalem. They are grieving over the death of Jesus the previous Friday. Not only had they lost a friend, cruelly crucified by the Romans, but they had also hoped that Jesus was the Messiah, the One sent by God to redeem Israel. Now those hopes were crushed and locked away by the weight of the heavy stone that sealed Jesus’ tomb. They had heard reports from that morning that said Jesus’ tomb was empty, but they struggled to understand what it all meant.
The risen Jesus joined them, but they were kept from recognizing him. He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (Luke 24:25-27) Still his followers did not recognize Jesus.
They invited him to come to their home, have a meal and stay the night. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. (Luke 24:30-31) Note the pattern that Jesus uses here. He takes, he gives thanks (or he blesses), he breaks, and he gives.
Our next account is found in John 21:1-14. You can turn there now, if you would like. This one is a little different from our previous one. Some time has gone by, the initial shock has worn off, but still Jesus’ followers do not understand the full implications of what Jesus’ resurrection means for them. So Jesus imprints his resurrected life on them one more time.
Some of Jesus’ followers have gone back to their ordinary former life as fishermen. That’s who they were before they began following Jesus around to be mentored by him into fishing for people. Now it was time to go back to fishing for fish. This is often the way of God. We can have intense, emotional mountain top experiences with him, but it is in our ordinary, everyday life that the risen Jesus comes and meets with us. It is there that he shows us how to be his person in the place where he has put us. The typical things we do in a day may not seem very interesting or dramatic to us, but they are fascinating to God because he loves us.
Every moment in our regular old life is an opportunity for resurrection life to shine forth through us. That cranky person in the check out line might be hiding hurts that no one else will ever know. Your patience and kindness can open up a crack in the darkness that surrounds them, a crack that can let heaven’s light can shine through. The prisoner or the senior who gets no visitors may seem hard-hearted. But your gentleness may be the balm that starts healing their broken heart. The friend who has lost a loved one may not know God, but you can be God with skin on for them. That tray of lasagna you take over can nourish their body, but your love can comfort their soul. All these things happen in everyday life. Jesus meets us in the ordinary things of life, and then invites us to let his resurrected life shine through us.
As we read our second passage, we see that Jesus’ followers experienced something very similar to what happened when they started following Jesus as his disciples. Peter and six of his fellow disciples had been fishing all night, but had caught nothing. When morning came, there was resurrected Jesus standing on the shore, but, as on the road to Emmaus, his followers did not recognize him. Jesus tells the fishermen to throw their net on the right side of the boat, and they catch so many fish that they could not pull the net into the boat. Immediately, John realizes that the person on the shore is Jesus and calls out, “It is the Lord!” Peter then jumps out of the boat to get to Jesus as quick as he can. When the disciples and the fish all made it to shore, they saw that Jesus had some bread and was cooking some fish. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead. (John 21:12-14) Jesus took bread, and though the text does not say it, he likely blessed it and broke it before he gave it to the disciples. Again, we see that pattern.
It is a pattern that Jesus followed repeatedly before he died on the cross and rose again. In the feeding of the 5,000, we read in Mark 6:41, Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. (Mark 6:41) Jesus takes, blesses, breaks, then gives. In the last Passover Meal Jesus would celebrate with his followers, Jesus gave us a greater meal to mark our exodus out of bondage to sin and death and into the Promised Land of forgiveness and eternal life with Jesus. In Luke 22:19, we read, And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19) Again Jesus takes, blesses, breaks, then gives.
And note that at everyone of these meals it is Jesus who is the host. He is the one serving and feeding us.
We Have an Opportunity to Let the Life of the Resurrected Jesus Form Us
So what does all of this mean for us? We have an opportunity to let the life of the resurrected Jesus make an impression on us in the meals that we share as a band of believers following Jesus together, and in our own meals we eat at home, at work, or at school. In the meal of Holy Communion, Jesus has made it clear that he is with us when he said, “Take and eat, this is my body; take and drink, this is my blood.” Through ordinary things like bread and wine, Jesus takes us, blesses us, breaks us, and then gives us back to ourselves and to the world. But we are not the same. We have been transformed by the resurrected Jesus and with the forgiveness, new life and spiritual nourishment that he gives us, we are better able to walk before the Lord in the land of the living.
We can also meet with Jesus in the regular meals that are part of our everyday life. We can remind ourselves that it was Jesus, working through the farmers, processing plants and transportation system, that took our food, blessed it, broke it, and then gave it back to us for the nourishment of our bodies. And we can remember that Jesus is with us as we eat. He is our host, he is serving us, and our meal becomes a time of sitting with Jesus. As we do that, through the ordinariness of our breakfast cereal, our angel-hair pasta, or our chicken noodle soup, Jesus takes us, blesses us, breaks us and gives us back to ourselves and to the world. By practicing the presence of Jesus in our ordinary meals, we can reinforce the spiritual formation that Jesus is doing in the special meal of Holy Communion. And because the risen Jesus is present in those meals, they become resurrection meals that help us to grow in living the resurrection.
Pastors are always on the lookout for great illustrations that help engage their audience when they are preaching. So a pastor from the Prairies took note of something he saw another pastor do when he was attending worship while on holidays in the Okanagan. It was a hot summer day, and people were beginning to drift off. Realizing this, the pastor departed from what was written on the sermon manuscript, and said in a loud, clear voice, “The best years of my life were spent in the arms of another man’s wife.” Right away, everyone’s eyes snapped wide open and everyone was fully alert. People began to whisper to each other, “Did he say what I thought I heard him say?” The preacher paused for several moments for dramatic effect, and then said, “It was my mother.” Some people smiled while others chuckled, but all were paying full attention as the preacher concluded his sermon.
The pastor on holidays was impressed and told himself that he should use that same technique in his home parish. But he was not careful to intentionally remember all that the preacher had said that day.
The better part of a year passed, and that pastor was at his home church in Saskatchewan. It was a beautiful sunny day in June. The farmers were thinking about farming, the gardeners were thinking about gardening, and the kids were thinking about running around in the sunshine instead of sitting on those hard, old, wooden pews. No one was paying attention to the pastor’s sermon. “Now is the time,” he thought to himself. Leaving his prepared sermon manuscript, he said in a loud, clear voice, “The best years of my life were spent in the arms of another man’s wife.” People were shocked at what the pastor had said and sitting up, staring at him in rapt attention. The pastor briefly smiled to himself. The technique was working. But then his smile began to turn upside down.
You see, there are consequences to not intentionally remembering. And one of those consequences is that you sometimes can not remember what you need to remember when you need to remember it. The pastor racked his brain trying to remember how that preacher in the Okanagan had completed his illustration, but he couldn’t. Finally, after what felt like hours, but was probably only moments, he exclaimed, “But, as hard as I try, I cannot remember her name.”
Dear friends, in a few moments, the risen Jesus will serve us in the special meal of Holy Communion. But let us remember that Jesus is also with us in our everyday meals. As we eat with him each day, he will help us to live a resurrection-transformed life. Amen.
(This message is based on the chapter “Resurrection Meals” in the book Living the Resurrection by Eugene Peterson. This sermon was shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church on Easter Sunday, April 17, 2022. For more info, please go to wglc.org.)