Looking in the Right Places (Easter Sunday)

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So where is the Risen Jesus?  It’s a reasonable question you might ask, since Jesus never actually appears in his own Resurrection story as told by Luke!

Moreover, this a question that the first disciples themselves keep asking.  Well, we’ve heard Jesus is alive again.  But we haven’t seen him.  Where is he?  And it appears, at least at first, that the problem they’re having is that they keep looking in the wrong places.

As the story begins, the women who have seen Jesus’ burial return to the tomb with spices to anoint his body.  But they find the tomb open.  And instead of Jesus’ body, they find two guys inside (presumably angels) who ask them, “why do you look for the living among the dead?”  That is, you’re looking in the wrong place.  Jesus isn’t here, because he’s Risen.

So they run back and tell the rest of the disciples this story.  Nobody believes them.  But Peter decides to go and look for himself.  You probably know that one of the classic definitions of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results.  But Peter does the same thing as the women.  He goes to the same tomb, and he sees that Jesus’ body really isn’t there.  He gets the same result, because he’s still not looking in the right place.

And as Luke’s story continues past what we just read, there’s a much longer story about two other disciples of Jesus who are heading home from Jerusalem after the Passover.  They’re travelling in the rush hour crowd of folks leaving town and headed to their own village about 7 miles away.  As they do so, the Risen Jesus walks up to them and starts having a conversation with them.

But they don’t recognize Jesus.  And they don’t recognize him for a long time!  Why not?  Well, there are lots of possibilities – perhaps when Jesus was raised he looked different than before.  Perhaps the two disciples were so overcome with grief that they didn’t really look closely at who they were talking to.  Maybe even Jesus was wearing a robe with a big hood to shield his head from the sun!

But maybe it was simply that these two weren’t looking to see the Risen Jesus among the regular people who were part of the crowd returning from Spring Break!  I mean, they had been present when the women reported that they had seen a vision of angels who told them Jesus was alive.  They knew others were looking for Jesus, or at least for his body.  But they simply weren’t looking for the Risen Jesus in this bunch of people.  They also weren’t looking in the right place.

Wherever they thought the Risen Jesus might be, it couldn’t be here among the regular folks they were walking with.  And they didn’t perceive the Risen Jesus for a really long time because they weren’t looking to see him right here among the regular folks.

But after they DO recognize Jesus, he vanishes from their sight.  So they run back to Jerusalem and tell the rest of the disciples that they’ve actually seen the Risen Jesus!  By this point – in a story that’s never recounted – it seems that Jesus has also appeared to Peter.  And so the disciples are now inclined to believe that there may be something to this “risen from the dead” stuff.

And since the Risen Jesus had appeared to Peter and to these disciples on the road, you’d think the disciples would now expect to see Jesus themselves at any moment.  But you’d be wrong!

The risen Jesus does indeed suddenly appear in the room with them, but they’re startled and scared, and STILL don’t believe, even though in theory, they should have been expecting this.  But like a lot of other things people might expect “eventually”, it just didn’t seem like NOW would be the time it was going to happen.  There must be a better, more dramatic moment. But now?  The disciples still didn’t fully “see” the Risen Jesus because they weren’t expecting Jesus at the right time.

Those first disciples didn’t “see” or “experience” the Risen Jesus at first because they weren’t looking in the right place, or among the right people, or at the right time.  And maybe Luke tells the story in this way to remind us that, as we’re looking for the living presence of Jesus in our lives, we may have the same problem.

Maybe the angels’ question is a question for us as well.  When we’re looking for the living and renewing presence of Jesus in our lives, it sometimes means looking:

  • In the right places – over the last couple of years, many of our comfortable routines and patterns of living have changed.  Sometimes, that seems good and sometimes not.  But sometimes that also means that the places we’ve expected or hoped to find God in our lives were in the routines and patterns that no longer exist for us.  And sometimes like Peter, we keep hoping that by going back to the way things were, we can maybe find life and renewal again.  Yet maybe for us, too, Jesus is calling us to look for his living and renewing presence in the new patterns and different routines that we now live in.  Maybe the “places” we live now are the places to look for Jesus, instead of the “tombs” of the past…
  • Among the right people – maybe the two disciples on the road to Emmaus thought that Jesus, if he were alive, would be found among disciples more important than they were.  But they actually experienced Jesus where they were among the regular people they were traveling with.  And maybe that’s the story for us, too.  The living and renewing presence of Jesus may be found by us in people we don’t expect – even strangers.  And maybe for us, too, the key to experiencing the living and renewing presence of Jesus is to look for him among whatever people we happen to be around…
  • Right now, in this moment – probably, if you ask anybody who even vaguely claims to be Christian if they expect to see Jesus after they die, they’ll tell you “sure!”  But how many of us really expect to see and experience the living and renewing presence of Jesus right now.  That was the hard part for some of those first disciples.  And even if we don’t see and experience the physical presence of Jesus standing in front of us, it’s sometimes true for us, also, that we will actually feel Jesus’ presence when we’re looking for Jesus right now, instead of waiting until someday after we die…

In the end, Jesus showed up in the places, and at the times, and among the people, he himself chose.  It’s just that his disciples were more likely to recognize his presence when they were open to his presence in different places, different times and among different people.

And so on this Easter Sunday, the words of the angels aren’t just for the first disciples. Instead, they’re reminder to all of us that Jesus isn’t just alive, but that Jesus will reveal his living and renewing presence in our lives.  And Jesus does that because he wants to.  It’s his promise.  It’s just that we also, will be more likely to recognize his living and renewing presence in our lives when we’re open to his presence in different places, times and people than we might have expected.