Sermon Third Sunday of Easter April 18, 2021
It’s back to business, I guess. Lent is over, so too is spring break and the excitement of Easter Day. For our kids, it’s time to get back to class, finish the semester strong. For those of us wondering what we’ll do this summer, we know we better start planning now. While we’re still uncertain about how things are for traveling, nothing will happen without some planning. And if you haven’t already started your garden, it’s time…to get to it. I remember springtime all those years as a middle school teacher and administrator. We teachers loved and hated the weeks post spring break —summer is nearing, but the pre-teens were blooming.
In Luke’s final account of Jesus’ resurrection appearances in today’s gospel it seems the disciples were back to work too, back to what they knew best, fishing, and perhaps wondering where to go from here. And then they saw someone and heard him say, “Peace be with you.” But they couldn’t believe their eyes or ears. Could it really be Jesus?
It was too good to be true. The translation we read today says, “While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering.” But another translation I love says pithily, “They believed not for joy.”
It was too good to be true.
There are infinite examples of this saying – too good to be true– in our lives… most of them warnings, I’d say. The terrific price for a used car or the amazing TV bargain for one size fits all…pair of jeans. Don’t believe it, we hear the voice of reason in our heads, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”
But there is a problem with disbelief. When we distrust, we become stymied. We are unsure of what to do when we’re not sure of what to believe. Things come to a standstill.
I’ve told you that a few years ago I was part of a medical mission from the diocese of Alabama to Haiti after the horrific earthquake that killed thousands of people. On this trip I saw that people who had homes, were now living back in them, but most folks were still living in tents. Haiti was still such a mess. I just could not see how all of this would ever be fixed. It was not only the devastation from the earthquake. From years of conflict and political turmoil, Haiti’s land is ravaged. What the televisions showed the world was collapsed buildings and body counts, but what shook me, just as much, was the seeing there are virtually no trees left to hold the soil down, they’ve needed them for fuel, so they’ve cut them down; and with little soil, there can be no planting, no food. I did not believe there was really any hope for Haiti.
Our mission, was to bring hope, but the problem was, truthfully, I was lacking in hope. How could the little medical attention we offered that week, the medicines and vitamins we brought in suitcases, and the eyeglasses we gave out, even make a dent in what these people needed? Shouldn’t we just have sent money to build back their churches and homes? But, what I learned was that hope comes powerfully in ways that we often miss. Offering hope is not just about offering stuff. Hope comes in sharing life’s experiences, and in being present to one another in hard times.
Jesus comes to his disciples and does just this, saying, Peace. He offers them to touch his hands and feet–to use their senses in seeing that he is not a ghost, but really alive and present. That is the beauty of this Easter story: the opening of a tomb, yes, but the opening of our eyes and ears to see Jesus present to us…calling the disciples, calling us to witness to his presence in the world. It is too good to be true, but it is tangible, touchable. Our ears hear the joyful chatter, our eyes see the happy tears, our hands and arms hold one another—Jesus is present in the suffering of others and in the joy we bring one another.
I think we genuinely need to be open to this revelation—to Christ’s presence all around us. It helps us understand ourselves more than in a scientific or psychological ways—opening our eyes to the amazing part of being alive, using our hearts and minds, using our consciousness intent on grasping the earth’s beauty and feeling human compassion helps us to grasp what it means to be a part of God’s creation. I’m a big fan of Annie Dillard and if you’re not, you should be, because she helps us contemplate all of this. She writes:
We are here to witness the creation and to abet it. We are here to notice each thing so each thing gets noticed. Together we notice not only each mountain shadow and each stone on the beach but, especially, we notice the beautiful faces and complex natures of each other. We are here to bring to consciousness the beauty and power that are around us and to praise the people who are here with us. We witness our generation and our times. We watch the weather. Otherwise, creation would be playing to an empty house.
Dillard shows us how the living side of creation can enter the service of God. Like the disciples, charged with carrying forward the history and the truth of what they’s seen and experienced, we too are called to be active witnesses, open to the living God, revealed to us in creation. This is our Christian mission: to be a witness to God’s love and God’s plan of redemption for all of creation.
I think it is as natural as seeing the earth bloom around us this spring. And too good to be true, but true it is, brightly colored, lovely smelling, sneezy, and full of life. We could find reasons to avoid or deny this revelation… seeing the environment in distress—it is depressing. Like Haiti’s almost treeless landscape, the enormity of global environmental problems can seem like a hopeless undertaking. But we already know where this leads–it immobilizes us. “We are here to witness to the creation and abet it…” This is the work of ecological hope: a field that teaches us the perils of focusing only on the immensity of the environmental crisis. Instead, ecological hope calls us to be active witnesses, to work toward a realized hope and to share our stories of success: Communities planting gardens, sharing resources, preserving land & species, planting trees, building bicycle and pedestrian paths… Last week in Raleigh, the capital city of NC, I rode along 20 of their 120 miles of paths designed for people to get out in God’s creation and enjoy it. The stories of success we share are part of building hope and a better future. We share knowing that hope is infectious and self-perpetuating.
As one wise ecologist writes, “Hope bridges the gulf between the beliefs and actions of today and possibilities for tomorrow.”
And as the Haitian people say, Hope makes one live.
It’s no different from what Jesus asked of the disciples. It’s time to get to work, to share His story of hope, to stick our hands in the dirt of life, and witness to the unbelievable joy of Christ’s risen life.
 Kretz, L. J Agric Environ Ethics (2013) 26: 925. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10806-012-9425-8