The ancient world knew all about ghosts, visions, apparitions, and spooks. Amen.
“Searching” is the word used to describe what happens to many of us when someone we love has died. For example, there you are, in Tesco buying cakes for the after funeral tea, when you see him - or her. Just glimpses in the crowd, but you are certain, yes it is him, that’s just the way he wore his hat, or just the way she walked.
There was once an elderly lady who would not allow visitors to sit in ‘his’ chair. She had regular conversations with him, her husband, even though he had died ten years before. She felt his presence with her all the time.
How can we be confident these sorts of experiences were not what the disciples were having? The ancient world knew all about ghosts, visions, apparitions, and spooks. Their writings have many accounts of dead people returning, ghosts haunting or spying on the living. But the disciples didn’t refer to those sorts of events, to explain their extraordinary experiences, of the presence of the risen Jesus.
For many years I have made clear to grieving people that ghosts do not haunt us. Rather it is we that haunt ourselves, with what we have said or done and wished we hadn’t; or what we didn’t do or say and wished we had. Ghosts do not eat, and as apparitions or visions, they can’t be touched.
The disciples went to great lengths to tell that the risen Jesus ate broiled fish and offered him-self to be touched. On the other hand, they also told us that he appeared suddenly in locked rooms and disappeared too. These contradictions do not make a credible story, if they were describing resuscitation, or a totally spiritual appearance after a death.
They had no words to describe what was illogical and indescribable, a presence that had no precedent or explanation, except what Jesus had told them, that on the third day he would rise again from the dead.
St Luke, at the end of today’s gospel, described how the resurrected Jesus explained to the disciples, what we now know; the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms had been fulfilled. The old order of Adam and sin and death was gone. They were, as we are, healed and restored in God’s love.
The disciples knew that Jesus had died and now existed somehow in both their world and in God’s. This was a new reality, a new way of being, and became the model of how Christians understood that they shared in Jesus’ resurrection life. We too, as followers of Christ, exist both in the here and now, and into eternity.
Peter and the other disciples were given a newfound boldness to proclaim that Jesus is alive, and they shared hope in a life beyond death. This boldness and hope were held very close within the walls of Jerusalem but would blossom and flourish at Pentecost and be spread throughout the known world.
In the Eucharist week by week, we act out and recreate the whole of what happened at the first Easter. “Peace be with you” is the refrain that draws us closer to the Table. Remember “They recognised the Lord in the breaking of the bread at Emmaus”, we recognise his presence with us now in the bread and wine. We are fed with his body and blood and nourished with boldness and hope. We are strengthened to proclaim:
“Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again”.
The elderly lady who feels the comfort and presence of her dead husband is only a pale resemblance of what we can feel as we ‘eat and drink in remembrance of him’.
The poor reflection that we see in our mirror may not show the fullness of what we shall be in Christ, but as children of God we can expect to be as God intends us to be when we see him face to face.
Let us pray:
Almighty God and Father, strengthen us to boldly proclaim the hope you have set before us, that as children of God we may share in your promise of life in all its fullness and life eternal, through your Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.
The Rev'd Mo Lunn, St Mary Magdalene, Enfield, 18/04/2021