Jesus Appears

The Rev. Paul Nancarrow. This sermon is based on John 20:19-31, Revelation 1:4-8, and Acts 5:27-32.

Look around you right now. Where do you see Jesus? If you look with the eyes of faith, if you let yourself see the truth, the living Jesus will appear to you in this moment, in this space, in these faces, in this life. How does the Risen Jesus appear to you right now?

Our scripture readings today tell us about several different appearances of the Risen Jesus, and how Jesus appears differently to different people as they need him to be.

Take the case of Thomas, for instance. Thomas wanted to see Jesus. He was not content to take at face value the other disciples’ report that they had seen Jesus: Thomas wanted to see Jesus for himself. Thomas wanted to be sure that this appearance was the same Jesus, the same Jesus he had known in his earthly ministry, the same Jesus Thomas had called Master and Teacher and Friend, the same Jesus Thomas had known and followed and believed in and loved.

And I think it was that personal connection that Thomas really needed. He didn’t need proof for his skepticism; he needed a personal contact. It was all very well if Jesus rose to some kind of new life; but that new life wouldn’t mean much if it had no connection to the life that had gone before, the life that Thomas and Jesus had shared. Thomas needed to know that this Risen Jesus was connected to him in a real and personal way.

And so that is precisely how the Risen Jesus appears to Thomas. He stands before Thomas in his full personality, and he shows Thomas the marks of the nails in his hands, and he shows Thomas the gash of the spear in his side, and he shows Thomas that he really is the same Jesus. But he also shows that he is the same Jesus made new: the wounds have been transformed, the scars are no longer marks of pain but have become signs of glory. And in that moment Thomas’s whole life is transformed too: because he knows the Risen Jesus is the same Jesus he had known before, because he knows life can be raised up and made new and transformed in Jesus, Thomas knows his life can be raised, too, and he says to Jesus, “You are my Lord, and you are my God.” In this Gospel story, the Risen Jesus appears to Thomas in the way Thomas most needs him to be.

In the Revelation reading today, John’s needs are very different. John is in exile on Patmos; probably an early bishop, John has been sent there, away from his home, away from the seven churches under his charge, as a victim of Roman governmental persecution against Christians. And when the Lord’s Day comes, when he knows that his churches are gathering in prayer, John prays with and for them too. And in his prayer the Risen and Ascended and Heavenly Jesus appears to him and gives to him a vision to strengthen him and encourage him and keep him going through the difficult time. The letters to the seven churches – indeed, the entire Book of Revelation – is the content of that strengthening and encouraging vision.

What John needs most at this moment is to know that Jesus is more powerful than the Roman authorities who have sent him into exile. John is in a situation where it looks as though the worldly powers are winning, where it looks as though the Church could be broken by Roman hostility, where it looks as though the Mission of Jesus could be stopped before it has had a chance to spread and renew the world. What John needs to know is that the resurrection power of God in Christ cannot be stopped by worldly powers.

And so that is precisely how the Heavenly Jesus appears to John. He appears in power, amidst seven spirits, the ruler of the kings of the earth, about to come with clouds of glory, about to be visible to every eye of all the tribes of earth. The Heavenly Jesus as he appears to John is not threatened by any earthly persecution – and that power to be not-threatened is just what John needs to see in his time of persecution, and to share with his churches in their persecution. So here in the Revelation story, too, the Risen Jesus appears to John in the way John most needs him to be.

And in our reading from Acts today, the Risen Jesus doesn’t even appear, strictly speaking, to Peter and the other apostles. Instead, Jesus appears in them: they are teaching in his name, healing in his name, doing again things Jesus did; they are bearing witness to his living presence, as it is brought to life in them by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Risen Jesus appears to Peter and the apostles not in an external way, but as the indwelling ability to carry on Jesus’ Mission in their world. And so in Acts too, the Risen Jesus appears to Peter and the others in just the way they most need him to be.

So how does the Risen Jesus appear to you today? As you look around this church, this day, this life, how do you most need to see Jesus for you?

Perhaps Jesus appears to you in a very human and personal way, in the face of a friend. Perhaps Jesus appears to you in a powerful way, assuring you that no threat or fear the world can throw at you can keep you from the love of God. Perhaps Jesus appears to you from within, as the impulse and the ability to love and to act out that love in ways that are bigger than you ever thought you could. Perhaps Jesus appears to you in George Henry and all his family as they gather for this Baptism. How is it that the Risen Jesus appears to you as you need right now?

And as you look around I invite you to keep in mind that the revelation of the Risen Christ we need isn’t always the one we think we want. Sometimes we want Jesus to appear in power, as the one who can end all our pain and fix all our problems – when what we really need is to know the presence of Jesus who suffers with us, and who teaches us how to take that suffering within and from the inside out transform it into compassion and wisdom and joy.

Sometimes we want Jesus to appear as the gentle companion who will bless our status quo – when what we really need is to know the presence of Jesus who gives us a good swift kick, and calls us out of our comfort zones, calls us out of our places of privilege, and sends us out in mission to listen and serve and celebrate in places we’d never expected to go.

Sometimes Jesus makes himself known to us in times and places and situations we would never have imagined. But even then – especially then – the Good News is that the Risen Jesus always appears to us in the way we most need to see him – the Risen Christ reveals his presence to us with the revelation we most need to receive.

Let us pray today that we may be open to receive the revelation of the Risen Christ, in this Eucharist where Christ calls us, and in all the places Christ sends us to go. Amen.

Comments

  1. Shirley Ruedy says:

    Beautiful sermon!