3 rd Sunday of Easter Year A 2008

Recognising the Risen Lord

Sermons year A

How do you recognise people?   The question isn’t as straightforward as you may think. Try to list someone’s distinguishing features .. for example red curly hair, grey eyes, a moustache, small ears, piercing eyes … It may be reasonably easy to describe the features that make someone’s face distinct, but that’s not the same as being able to recognise their face.   In fact it isn’t known exactly how the human brain recognises a face;   some argue that there is a specific ‘face recognition centre’ in the brain, others argue that recognising a face is no different from recognising other aspects of the world around us.

One of the intriguing things about the return of Jesus from the dead is that it seems that he was more difficult to recognise than before.   Mary Magdalene thought that he was the gardener.   The two disciples who were walking together on the road to the village of Emmaus didn’t recognise Jesus at first, either.   What is interesting, then, is that Jesus found other ways of showing those who saw him, after his resurrection, that it was really he.

Let’s look at these:

(i) In the Garden where the empty tomb was, he called Mary Magdalene by name,   and it was this that made her realise who he was;

(ii) When he appeared to the disciples in a room whose doors were locked, he showed them the marks of the wounds on his hands, his feet, and on his side;

(iii) On the road to Emmaus, it was when Jesus broke bread with them that they realised who he was;

(iv) On the shores of Lake Galilee, when the disciples were fishing, the first thing which showed them who he was occurred when he told them to put their nets down one more time, and they were then filled – just as when Jesus had called the first disciples;

- And during the same encounter, Jesus told St. Peter three times that he was to look after his flock, to care for his sheep (the Church).   This three-fold commissioning of Peter mirrored Peter’s three-fold denial of Christ just after his arrest.  

But it wasn’t just to prove to them who he was, and that he had really risen from the dead, that Jesus presented himself to the disciples in these four ways.   Each of these ways stood for a different aspect of who he was, and what he came to earth to do:

(i) By calling Mary by name, he reminds us that God knows each of us by name .   We are all precious in his sight; though he doesn’t take away our troubles, they are known to him and he is always with us, through the Holy Spirit.

(ii) By showing his wounds, he reminds us that he died for us, and for the sins the world .   God did not send his Son to lord it over others, but to serve, to live a life of humility, and to be sacrificed on behalf of the world.

(iii) By breaking and sharing bread on the road to Emmaus, Jesus tells us that we too are to commemorate him, and to celebrate his risen presence, as we share the bread and the wine of holy communion, which are his body and blood.

(iv) Jesus’ forgiveness of Peter, and his commissioning of him to lead the Church, are symbols of God’s forgiveness of each of us , if we turn to him in penitence and faith.   They also remind us that we, like Peter, are to be used by God as his servants , his disciples, his missionaries in the task of bringing people to him.

But of course we can also take this one step further:

(i)        Just as we are all precious in God’s sight, so each person should be precious in our sight;

(ii)       Just as Christ bore the consequences of the sins of others, by dying on the cross, so we are to bear the sins of those around us – by willingly sharing in the consequences of other people’s mistakes and wrongdoing – and not by seeking revenge or harbouring resentment.

(iii)      We are called not just to share the bread and wine of holy communion with each other, but to do what we can to ensure that the people of the world do not go hungry and thirsty in their everyday lives;

(iv)      And just as God forgives us, so are we to forgive those around us:   “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us”.

All this, then, has emerged from our looking at the different ways in which the risen Christ was recognised by those around him.  

But it also means that we too are recognisable as Christians in the eyes of the world by the things we do, not just by the things we believe or say.   Valuing each individual; sharing in the consequences of the sins of others; helping others to be fed; forgiving those around us.   These are in fact all part of what it means to love God and our neighbour – the so-called “Golden Rule”, as it was described by Jesus.

Finally – even if we sometimes find it difficult to recognise people, especially if we’ve hardly met them, remember that Jesus also said that we were to see him in other people.  

Whatever we do for the least of our brethren, therefore, we do not just for them – but for him.   Amen.  

Christopher Harrison