... Ecclesiastes 2:26 ...
Cast your bread upon the waters,
for you will find it after many days.

Easter 3 Year B, Message April 22nd, 2012

From Fear to Peace: Embrace the Good News

Text: Luke 24:36-48

The greatest event in the life of the Church, if not the whole history of humanity, was the first Easter Day. The resurrection not only proved Jesus’ identity and validated his ministry, it confirmed all of God’s promises spoken of and attested to by the scriptures. Yet as the New Testament passages and the Gospels showed, this proof and confirmation was not immediately appreciated or accepted even by those who had been closest and dearest to Jesus. In fact the Gospels tell us that those first followers had been paralysed by fear doubt shame and despair withdrawing into seclusion and away from normal society. Left to their own they probably would have abandoned Jesus’ teachings, returned to former lives and attempted like Peter to deny their ever having been involved with Jesus.

But such was not to be. Having been raised to new life Jesus appeared to his followers and in each case transforms them into dynamic witnesses with commissions to go forth boldly to proclaim the Good News. So how is it that these disciples are moved from their natural emotional states of fear to joyful embracing?

Before we fully answer that – how many here this morning know how to swim? How many can remember prior to being able to swim? In a former life – seems like a whole life ago – I was a Red Cross Water Safety instructor teaching people how to swim and to be safe in and around water. This would seem to be a natural coming from an Atlantic province. It’s surprising how many people who live near the ocean and even earn a livelihood from the sea are unable to swim and live in fear of the water! Yet such is the case! Having taught swimming at all levels, I recall many who came to their first swim class in fear and trepidation with knees literally knocking from the anxiety of having to get their faces wet. However in a matter of 6-10 weeks these self-same novices would be gleefully jumping and diving into the water and swimming lengths of the pool despite it being 10-12 feet deep. To accomplish this each had to overcome his or her deepest fear of water, of thoughts of drowning, of thoughts of death. Step by step they had to embrace their fears and see that by various skills they could master what was required of them to the point of exuberance in what had been fear.

In much the same way Jesus had to teach and coach the disciples to overcome their fear, the sense of failure and their despair concerning God’s way. Yes, Jesus had been crucified and yes, there were reports of the empty tomb, but until they had come to see Jesus in physical form it would do nothing to dispel their fears.

In Luke’s Gospel there are 6 post resurrection appearances from the meeting of Mary and the gardener to the gathering of the followers in Bethany. Today’s passage following the road to Emmaus appearance shows Jesus appearing to the disciples in a closed room in Jerusalem. Each of these appearances seem to follow a set format – 1st proof of a physical presence; 2nd negation as to an apparition/ghost; 3rd a moment of recognition; 4th opening of their minds ; and 5th a commission.

As Jesus stood among the disciples he said to them, “Peace be with you.” Like the appearance at the tomb Jesus was there but unrecognized – unrecognized until something triggered a remembrance within the others. This phrase, “Peace be with you”, “Shalom” would have been a familiar greeting but each person says it with slightly different inflections – it’s how we recognize one another over the phone – It is as Jesus speaks this that the disciples realize who this person in their midst is – And they are terrified. Terrified that Jesus’ ghost is there. They are paralyzed by fear – fear of the ghost, fear of death, fear of the shame. To dispel this Jesus invites them to look at his wounds, to touch and see that it is real flesh. He also eats with them – a sure sign he is physical and not some ephemeral spirit. Then he transforms them – starting with where they were he instructs them in the scriptures and opens for them the real meaning behind the words history and writings of Israel so that they have a new take on life. And not just a new take but an enthusiasm which is able to propel them to toss off the mantle of slavery, to conventionality and put on the cloak of evangelists, to go forth to proclaim the Good News.

Like a swimming instructor Jesus prepares and teaches his followers to embrace a new skill set which will enable them to move beyond themselves into a new environmental medium with confidence, exuberance and, a sense of peace. Where there had been fear and doubt Jesus has brought joy tranquility and peace. He has given each disciple a newness of faith which shows that death is not the final word but rather God’s word and promise have superseded all human fears.

We, just as those first disciples or novices to swimming, all have fears. We all have certain locked doors behind which we hide and which we refuse to open out of shame, dread guilt or fear of harm. For some those secrets might deal with loneliness, for some it might be loss of honour or dignity and for others it might be a fear of death. And these locked doors are not just personal and individual, they are corporate and collective. As a society we have fears – be it of other nationalities, of financial security or of political policies. Just look at the McCarthy era of the 50’s, the “cold war”. Cuba is still not a part of the America’s conference because they are communist.

Fear is the “elephant in the room.” It will always be with us and will always breed a sense of insecurity. Yet the gospel message is that in Jesus we can learn to embrace our insecurities, go beyond the things that immobilize our lives and to become all that God has called us to be.

Unlike many fads that call us to be blatantly open about our past, our insecurities and phobias, the Gospel calls us to have faith in God and to live in peace. We don’t have to confess to the world our sense of loneliness our failures in business our youthful indiscretions or any other secrets. All these are between you and God, and God already knows them. The Gospel calls us to be at peace, to believe God, God’s promises of salvation and to be transformed.

Having met the risen Lord, go in peace as a transformed people to proclaim the Good News.

Amen