Parents often describe the birth of their child using a wide range of emotion—joy at the baby’s arrival after nine months or more of anticipation, disbelief that the little one in front of them is actually their son or daughter, and wondering how on earth the doctors and nurses will allow them to take their baby home.
Even in joy, we can find ourselves disbelieving and still wondering. Standing on the stage with a diploma or speaking marriage vows to a partner can have the same effect—joy in the occasion, disbelief at its arrival, and wondering about what to do tomorrow. Perched on the top of a mountain, gliding along a pristine lake, or strolling through a forest glade in autumn—joy at the surrounding beauty, disbelief in the experience of such a precious moment, and wondering about how a world so stunning and so intricate has come to exist.
Jesus’ reappearance in the gospel of Luke leads the disciples into this swirl of emotion. With an entrance that’s become a signature of Jesus—just randomly appearing out of nowhere, Jesus stands among them and offers his peace. His peace is met with doubt and terror. Jesus’ next act reminds us of last week’s story with Thomas—to dispel the disciples’ doubt and fear, he offers his body as proof that he isn’t just a ghost. He shows his hands and feet; he invites them to touch and see. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering.
Which is kind of crazy when we go back and take a look at what happened just before this reappearance moment. Listen to the first half of verse 36, the words that lead into today’s story, “While they were talking about this…Jesus stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’” Believe it or not, what the disciples were talking about when Jesus interrupts and reappears was what had just happened on the road to Emmaus. And what happened on the road to Emmaus? A stranger joins two of the disciples as they walk to Emmaus, invite him to stay with them when they arrive, and its only when they sit down to eat that they realize it’s Jesus—risen and alive. So Jesus had just completed his first reappearance act, so recently that the disciples were still talking about it, when he shows up again. Yet in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering.
I don’t know about you, but that’s music to my ears. When we descend into those moments of pure humanity, when things like joy and hope are tempered by things like fear, disbelief, doubt, and wondering, no matter, Jesus simply keeps showing up. When things start to get overwhelming, Jesus shows up. He shows up and disperses peace. He shows up and invites us to experience his presence with our whole body, with all five senses. He shows up and reminds us, again and again, that there is good news, that his resurrection is real, that he is real, that his victory over sin and death is real, that new and everlasting life is real, that the world’s redemption is real.
I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes, it’s hard to know what’s real and what isn’t. Sometimes it’s hard to know that what we’re witnessing is really the risen Christ at work in the world. In all three readings this morning, we encounter others who struggle with the same thing. In Acts, Peter preaches about how the people had a clear definition of what to expect from the Messiah, but when the Messiah came, they didn’t know it; instead, their Messiah they rejected and killed. In the second reading, it is the world at large that does not know God, but it is God’s children—you and me—who come to know God through Christ. And in Luke’s story, the disciples struggle with knowing what is real, whether what they see is actually the risen Christ. Like he did on the road to Emmaus, Jesus opens their minds and they are transformed into witnesses.
Jesus opens our minds and we are transformed into witnesses. We come to know resurrection and the risen Christ in simple things; in ways that we encounter with all five senses—the smell of bread baking, the taste of wine or grape juice on the tongue, the sprinkle of water on our brow, the sight of the gathered community, the sound of song and prayer. But the resurrected Christ isn’t only found and experienced in this place. The risen Jesus is everywhere, showing up in the chaos and fragile humanity of our lives to remind us yet again that he is real, that new life is real, and that he will keep showing up.