Saturday, April 25, 2009

Not Another Ghost Story

Luke 24:36-48


About a week ago, I decided to stop in at Trempealeau Valley Lutheran Church when I had a little time on my hands just to take a look around and spend a little time quietly meditating in this beautiful country church. As I was about to head downstairs, I thought I heard someone moving around down there. This was odd, because as I pulled into the parking lot of church I noticed that there weren’t any other cars there. Wondering who it could be, I went downstairs to check and see who it could be. I didn’t see anybody down there, but I heard a sound again, this time coming from the furnace room. As it turns out, there seemed to be some kind of animal crawling around the duct work who I disturbed upon my entry. At least that’s the conclusion I came to when I heard more clearly the sounds of scurrying coming from the ducts in the furnace room. I have to admit, though, I let my mind wander into the more imaginative parts of my thinking.

You see, my imagination tends to run wild in those situations, coming up with any number of possibilities not least of which can be “supernatural” in my thoughts. When I was a child, I routinely let myself get caught up in ghost stories that I either heard on television or heard from my friends. They warn of self-disclosure in one’s sermons in seminary, but to tell a little secret, there was a time when my imagination ran so wild that I actually slept with a night light, much to the dismay of my older brother who shared a room with me for many years and liked sleeping in the dark. There was something about those stories that really just captured my imagination where I could turn any number of odd sounds or odd lights into any number of ghosts benevolent or otherwise. I don’t think that I’m alone in this either. We seem to have the ability to forge the odd into the supernatural. I think that most of us have a story like this, but I don’t think they are simply the products of us being gullible (although, gullibility, the ability to be taken in, may play a part in our susceptibility to ghost stories). I think that it really is more of a product of our mind trying to make sense of a situation that doesn’t logically add up. Yet, that even fails as I know of quite a few people who have had very real experiences, especially when it comes to loved ones who have passed away.

As it turns out, the disciples are no different. They too are confronted with a situation that just seems too odd to be natural. They too are trying to make sense of what’s been going on around them. So, when they see Jesus the man, friend and teacher that died standing before them, they immediately start thinking of the supernatural. As the Gospel of Luke says, “They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost.” Nothing seems to be making sense to them. First, he died. He was supposed to be the Messiah! He was supposed to be the one who would lead them into a new age. He was the one who had done such amazing things right be fore their eyes, yet he died. To make matters worse, all in the same day, some of the disciples who were women told them that Jesus had risen – story that just seemed to be “an idle tale.” Peter, though, ran to the tomb only to find it empty, was simply “amazed.” Now, they hear this other story from two other disciples who walked with Jesus but didn’t know until they broke bread with him in the town of Emmaus. All of this seems too odd. All of this seems too strange. All of this doesn’t add up in their minds.

No wonder they thought that they were seeing a ghost. What other explanation could there be? People don’t rise from the dead. Usually when someone dies, they stay dead. But the Greeks, they talk of spirits and ghosts of people. Maybe, just maybe that is what they are experiencing. But, even that doesn’t make any sense to them, considering all the tales they’ve been hearing all day long. An empty tomb? The Greek idea of ghost was that it was a manifestation of the soul that separated from the body. Why would a ghost need the tomb opened? And, why is there no longer a body within the tomb? All of this doesn’t add up. Still the best guess that they can come up with is that Jesus standing here before them must be a ghost.

Thanks be to God that Jesus doesn’t leave the disciples in that place, nor does God leave us in that place to fumble around with that very same conclusion. Jesus sees their confusion right away and sees the doubts that are creeping into their minds even as he tells them, “Peace be with you.” They are to look at his hands and his feet and touch him to see that it really is him. Here he is! Not an ethereal ghost but a man of flesh and bone! You see, Jesus, the risen Christ is really risen! This is not simply a spiritual rising. This is not simply a ghost who has come back either to haunt them or even give them just one last piece of advice. This means everything to the disciples, with the help of Jesus opening up the scriptures, because they are finally able to understand, know, and trust who Jesus is. They now are able to understand that Jesus truly is the Messiah, even if he’s not the Messiah they were expecting. They now are able to know who Jesus is, because they finally see what God has come on earth to do. They see that God has come to die for us and our sins so that we may be united with him in a death like his and raised to new life in a resurrection like his. And, they are finally able to trust in God, because they see the depths to which God will go for us. “Everything written about Jesus in the law of Moses, the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled” And, it is only by the power God opening these scriptures that they are able to know what this means for them – God’s abundant love, care, and redemption for all of creation.

Even though we know this to be true, and we hear about it time and time again, I believe that we find ourselves living much like the disciples in those few days of confusion following Jesus’ crucifixion. Confusion, doubt, and uncertainty assail us from all angles of our life. Sin and evil are still present in the world. Atrocities are still being carried out for one reason or another, though it too often seems like there’s no reason at all behind it. Our loved ones still die no matter how much we try to keep them alive. Greed grips our society as the actions of few people affect the lives of so many people who depend on steady work and income. By all our reasoning, it seems as if nothing has changed and the world makes perhaps even less sense than it did even 50 years ago. But this is why it is all the more important that this story of Jesus appearing to the disciples is not just another ghost story. Jesus is not just kind of risen. Jesus is not just part way come back from the dead. Jesus, this person who is fully human and fully God has been fully raised into new life and brings us the hope of our own resurrection. This isn’t something that we know by the power of our own reasoning or the power of our own will. We know this to be true only by the Holy Spirit who shows us the truth, the way, and the life. That is why we come back to this story year after year. That is why we come back to the table that our Lord set for us. This is why we should constantly remind ourselves what God has done for us in the waters of baptism. This is why we come together as a community so that we can see, feel, smell, and hear the love of Christ in the people that we meet – especially the poor, the hungry, the sick, and the oppressed. We do it so we can receive yet again that promise of grace and love that is the presence of Christ in our lives. As much as it is wonderful to live yet again in this Easter time, it can be very hard to live in a world that still has pain. But again, Thanks be to God for not leaving us in that pain and sorrow!

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