Second Sunday after Easter
Psalm 116 and 117, Numbers 22: 2 – 21 and Luke 24: 36 – 48
God said to Balaam, ‘You shall not go with them; you shall not curse the people, for they are blessed’. Numbers 22:12
Then (Jesus) opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations ….’ Luke 24: 45 – 47
Almighty God, who hast given thine only Son to be both a sacrifice for sin, and also an ensample of godly life: Give us grace that we may always most thankfully receive that his inestimable benefit, and also daily endeavour ourselves to follow the blessed steps of his most holy life; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. Collect for the Second Sunday after Easter
Luke’s account of the appearance of Jesus to the disciples in the locked room on the evening of Easter Day does not mention the absence of Thomas and his statement that he could not believe Jesus was alive unless he saw him in the flesh and touched the places where the nails had penetrated. If you have time, see John 20: 19 – 29, as Jesus reappears the following Sunday and Thomas is present on that occasion. Thomas makes the declaration ‘My Lord and my God’ and Jesus then offers a blessing to succeeding generations who come to faith without the privilege of having seen the resurrected Jesus. Instead, Luke places more emphasis on the continuing doubts and fears of the disciples. They initially thought they were seeing a ghost (verse 37), and Jesus discerns they must be in shock and in need of reassurance.
This reassurance takes the form of showing visible proof that he was the same Jesus who had been crucified and bore the scars of that fearful ordeal. While Jesus’ resurrection body could clearly move about at will (the Emmaus Road encounter and meal) and could pass through locked doors, nevertheless Luke the doctor records Jesus as declaring that a ghost does not have flesh and bones (verse 39). Jesus then goes on to ask for some food and demonstrates that he is able to eat the broiled fish they had.
Having given the disciples this physical reassurance, Jesus then gives them the same sort of condensed spiritual proof he had recounted on the road to Emmaus in verse 27 (as we saw last week), going through the evidence in the Hebrew scriptures, beginning with Moses, the prophets and the psalms. In exactly the same way that Jesus had spoken during the previous three years about his forthcoming death and resurrection, he again explained why his death was necessary: verse 45 says, ‘He opened their minds to understand the scriptures’. Jesus then gave the disciples the same sort of commission Matthew records at the very end of his gospel account, that repentance and forgiveness of sins was to be proclaimed to all nations.
While the gospel accounts vary in recording when and where this teaching following the Resurrection happened, it is clear in the appearances Jesus made that he was finishing the teaching and preparation the disciples needed. Instead of the partial understanding of who Jesus was – those flickers of recognition and devotion from their earlier walk with Jesus – with the Resurrection the doubts and fears were cast aside. They saw the physical proof that Jesus was really alive, and now had this period of intense theological formation where the spiritual proofs from scripture all now fell into place. They were being prepared for apostleship, as they would soon become the first missionaries taking the gospel from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth, facing all sorts of opposition and suffering in so doing.
Our verse quoted from Psalm 116: 12 poses the question, ‘What shall I return to the Lord for all his bounty to me?’ We give thanks for our salvation, as we take hold of the gospel for ourselves and know with certainty that the risen Lord Jesus has forgiven our sins through his death on the cross. We also need to rededicate ourselves to serving in the ongoing efforts to spread the good news to a world we see in deep travail, without hope and without God (Ephesians 2: 12). We all have a role in this great endeavour, as we seek to pass on the same peace and hope in our hearts that come from knowing Jesus. The need is immense, as we have all witnessed the despair around us through these past months, and our prayer is that the Holy Spirit will move hearts to turn in repentance and faith while there is still time.