The stories of Jesus after Easter, known as post resurrection stories, are all different, but one theme we see in almost all of them is that the people who encounter Jesus don't recognize him at first.
We see that in the gospel for today. Two disciples are walking down a road, they meet Jesus, yet they don't recognize him, even when he gives a long explanation of who he is and what his death meant. It's only when he shares a meal with them and specifically when he breaks bread that their eyes are opened and they realize who he is. And in that moment, he is gone.
We could spend a lot of time trying to figure out why the disciples didn't recognize him at first and why he disappeared when they did, but that's not the heart of this story. The heart of this story is that moment of recognition, when their hearts burned within them and they knew it was Jesus who was offering them comfort and breaking bread with them. I believe that moment has a lot to teach us about resurrection.
I came to a new understanding of that story just after my dad died eleven years ago. He died the day before Palm Sunday, very suddenly of a brain aneurism. I cannot tell you how lost and broken I felt. A few days later, so the middle of Holy Week, I was at my parents' house and I was hungry. I hadn't been able to eat much that week, grief does that to you, so I wasn't sure what my stomach could handle.
I looked in the fridge and saw a loaf of home made gluten free bread - perfect. Then I decided I needed a glass of wine to go with it because sometimes you just need a glass of wine.
I found a bottle of red wine, opened it, and sat down with my gluten free bread and my wine. As I was eating, I realized my father, who was also celiac, had made the bread. It was the last loaf he made before he died. And he was the one who had bought the bottle of wine. And in that moment, I knew that he was present with me as I broke his bread and drank his wine.
The next time I read the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, I knew exactly how they felt when Jesus broke that bread. Oh, you're here! And you will always be here.
I believe those stories of Jesus appearing to his disciples teach us that resurrection takes many forms in our lives and in our world. Clearly resurrection isn't just about seeing Jesus in bodily form, it's about experiencing his presence in a powerful way, a way that changes who we are and how we live.
Donald Senior, a writer in one of my resources put it this way: “The risen Christ present within the community enables them gradually to understand the full meaning of the paschal mystery.”
We see that in the story from Acts. The people who listen to Peter are “cut to the heart” by what they hear. Their response is to completely change the direction of their lives -- their hearts and lives are transformed to live in a new way. That's resurrection as repentance.
As I've mentioned before, repentance is not about regret or guilt or shame; it's a translation of the Greek word metanoia, meaning to change one's mind, to turn. It implies making a decision to turn around, to face a new direction. Miriam Webster dictionary defines repentance as “a transformative change of heart, especially a spiritual conversion.”
In the United Church we're not big on conversion experiences, unlike our evangelical brothers and sisters. In some ways that's too bad, because conversion can be very powerful, it pushes us to make a decision, like the people in the story from Acts, what do you believe? Are you going to live your life for God, or just for yourself? If you're going to live for God, what's that going to look like?
I relate to that because when I was a child, my church was quite evangelical. I realize that's very unusual for a United Church! When I was ten, my Sunday school teacher encouraged us to give our hearts to Jesus, to give our lives to God. I still remember kneeling in the darkened sanctuary and praying for Jesus to come into my heart. It was a very powerful experience, I felt a difference afterwards and I believe it is part of the reason my faith has stayed strong throughout my life.
Yet I was also very relieved when I started studying theology and realized that giving my heart to Jesus, making a commitment to God, was an ongoing process. Up to that point I had some times when I got pretty worried. If conversion was a one time event, then what about the fact that I didn't always feel close to God? That I had times when I really was just living for myself? Was that backsliding? Had I “lost” my salvation?
Thankfully the Bible assures us that repentance is definitely an ongoing process, as is resurrection. We are constantly needing to “realign” our hearts and our lives with our faith. Sometimes it's easier than other times.
This is the place where the role of our faith community is so important. The church can be like our compass, helping us realize when our lives are no longer in line with our faith. The church also challenges us about what living a faithful life looks like, as that will change as the world around us changes.
Under normal circumstances repentance, turning our lives back to God, is easy to avoid, isn't it? It's not exactly easy to do, and usually we have the excuse that we're far too busy to take time for that kind of prayer and self reflection.
But now that's changed, hasn't it? Self isolation means that most of our distractions are gone, we have more opportunity for reflection whether we want it or not. That can be pretty scary, as I'm sure some of you are discovering.
Most of us don't like having time to look at ourselves more deeply, we don't like feeling pushed to question who we are and how we're living out our faith. But in a way, this time is a gift. We have no excuse not to enter into the spirit of Easter, not to explore what resurrection and repentance look like in our lives. Where are places in your life where you need to change direction? Where and how do you need to make significant changes?
This can be scary and uncomfortable! It means being honest with ourselves, which is never easy. But think of the crowd in Acts and the disciples in Luke, they were so excited about changing their lives, that their hearts burned within them, so this can be an exciting process too.
Don't just look at it from the point of view of what you might need to do more of. It's also an opportunity to ask what burdens and issues are you tired of? What would it take to let go of them? Repentance and resurrection are about making changes that lead to healthier lives, lives where we have the time and energy to put our faith into action, and sometimes that means giving things up that weigh us down.
It's also important to realize that repentance isn't just an individual action. There's a communal aspect to the reading in Acts. Peter says, “this promise is for you and your children and for all who are far away.” Resurrection as repentance can happen within a community and to a society.
I wonder if our society is going through a time of repentance right now. We see signs of that in the news and in social media. As a society we are turning away from some of our more destructive behaviours. We're using less fossil fuels, there is less consumerism. I read a CBC article that said people are spending far less, credit card spending fell by 60% in the last two weeks of March.
Another healthy change is that many people are no longer caught up in a relentless cycle of busyness. At the same time they are turning towards more connections, more efforts at talking voice to voice to the phone and video face to face. People are more aware of the need to look after each other.
We've seen some incredible acts of compassion and cooperation from our politicians of all people! Who would have thought Jason Kenney, premier of Alberta, would be sending medical equipment to other provinces, including arch rival BC? Who could have predicted Doug Ford, premier of Ontario, would be working hand in hand with the federal government, with his new BFF, Liberal cabinet minister Chrystia Freeland?
Will it last? It's hard to say, but at the very least it's forcing us to think, to see in very powerful ways the difference it makes to our planet when we don't create as much pollution, or use as much fossil fuels, or tromp all over creation.
Whether or not it lasts or at least creates a few lasting changes is up to us. It may seem that as individuals we have so little influence, but we do. Our individual choices, our conversations, even our social media interactions all impact the bigger picture. Each way that we turn our lives in a new direction is a path to resurrection, to new beginnings for our selves, for society, for creation.
As faith writer Gary Hansen says, “We need a transformed mind to begin to see through Christ's eyes and to guide our transformed lives participating in his mission of reconciliation and justice.” May our minds, our hearts, our lives be transformed this Easter season as we explore what resurrection means for us and for our world.