Lesson 20: Resurrection Appearances as Love Story

Resurrection Appearances of Jesus ChristWhen I was a parish pastor, I felt a great challenge preaching the sermon on Easter Sunday. I realized that this might be the only time a large number worshipped all year. I also knew from experience that some of these were listening to hear if the church offered them any meaning and purpose. And my text was an empty tomb.

The empty tomb might speak volumes to someone who had heard the Passion Story in Lent and would hear various resurrection appearances in the coming weeks. However, taken out of its context, an empty tomb is open to all sorts of misinterpretations. An outsider certainly might think she was being asked to celebrate an event that proved there was life after death and nothing much beyond that.

The challenge was how to proclaim a more accurate resurrection message. The difficulty is compounded, because Easter is shrouded in mystery. There is no common framework like we find in the Passion Story. There are quite different stories in every one of the four gospels as well as in Paul (I Corinthians 15: 1-11). It’s enough to give an honest fundamentalist a headache.

Nonetheless, all of these are told with such great intimacy that they fit into a love narrative quite easily. They tell a love story in which a broken relationship is restored and strengthened.

The Risen Christ brings peace. Once his friends get over the surprise of his being among them, they have to expect alienation or punishment for abandoning him when he needs their support. Instead they receive the embrace of forgiveness. He calls them by name and makes clear they are still beloved. The fuss about touching and holding certainly illustrates Christ’s physical presence, but it also conveys intimate contact.

In addition, every appearance includes Jesus sharing his spirit with his followers. They engage in conversation that warms their hearts and brings new insights. They significantly share meals in just about every appearance.

Regarding these stories as a love narrative helps us see we are dealing with much more than a promise about life after death. When they proclaim death is not able to destroy our loving relationship with Jesus, they are speaking of what has already taken place. Jesus’ promise to be with us until the end of the age begins at the moment of his speaking (Matthew 28: 16-20).

The key is to discern where Jesus is found now. The resurrection appearances are clearly written to imply that discernment begins whenever the gospel is spoken and the sacraments practiced. However, recognizing Jesus’s presence in the means of grace is of little value unless it opens our minds and hearts to further experience his presence whenever we converse with one another and share meals. Matthew 25: 31-46 assures us this includes appropriate relationships with even the least of our brothers and sisters.

Perhaps John 21:15-19 best illustrates that the restoration of the broken love relationship involves our commitment to continue Jesus’ mission of spreading God’s love. Jesus repeatedly asks Peter if he loves him and responds to each positive response with the call to feed his sheep. The passage ends reminding us that Peter gave his life for his friends just as Jesus did. The promise of resurrection becomes much more than a pledge about some far-off-in-the-future events. It is made to people who face danger for practicing love here and now.

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