Sermon Seeds: Touch and See
Sunday, April 18, 2021
Third Sunday of Easter Year B
(Liturgical Color: White)
1 John 3:1–7
Touch and See
By Cheryl Lindsay
We are witnesses.
A witness is someone who has seen something, been a party to something, who has expertise about something…who shares their testimony when called upon. There are witnesses to accidents, who may have simply been in the area, or may have been involved in the crash. There are witnesses to a crime, who may have been an accomplice, a victim, or an innocent bystander. Witnesses can then take multiple forms – those with active participation, those with passive participation, and those with no participation but are among the crowd. There’s an old saying that there are three types of people, those who make things happen, those who watch what happen, and those who say what happened?
Witnesses tell what happened, but their testimony comes from the perspective of their participation.
The disciples received eyewitness accounts of the events they missed. Most were not present for the arrest, trial, or crucifixion. They heard about it from those who show it for themselves. Earlier that morning, the improbable account of the women proclaiming the good news of the resurrection would have left them stunned and wondering about the next direction to take. It’s easier to know what to do with an executed leader than a resurrected one.
In this text, we observe the disciples responding in the way many witnesses do when they observe something extraordinary. Shock and fear fill them as they initially view Jesus as a ghost, the spirit of a dead person entering their midst:
In v. 37 Luke introduces into the narrative one of the misconceptions of the resurrected Christ, which he intends to combat. The disciples thought he was a ghost. They assumed that the Christ before them was without body, either as a spirit or an angel. Christ refuted this notion in two ways. He invited them to touch his hands and feet, and he ate a broiled fish. Jewish literature reflects the belief that angels do not eat human food. The book of Tobit carries an exchange in which the angel Raphael reveals his divine nature by declaring that no one had seen him eating or drinking anything, and thus they might have suspected he was an angel (12:19). (Dennis Gaertner)
But, the Risen Christ is alive, among them, and resolving the story. This concluding chapter of Luke focuses on numerous eyewitness accounts, each serving its own purpose. Within this week’s focus scripture, there is the dispelling of myths that have arisen after the fact. This important work occurs when witnesses bring the truth of their experience or expertise to light. Jesus also explains his new state in light of his prior teachings and the promises of God. At the same time, Jesus extends peace to his disciples as both greeting, blessing, and commissioning. This peace proclaims, promises, and manifests God’s good news in the world. That peace has exacted a terrible cost, displayed in the scars that remain on the body of Jesus, whose breath was stolen at the hands of the state.
The trial for the killing of George Floyd opened with powerful testimony of witnesses, who in some way participated in the event, if not the actions that caused Mr. Floyd’s death. Strikingly, the witnesses consistently conveyed not only grief and regret at the passing of Mr. Floyd, most also bemoaned their participation and openly wept as their sorrow overwhelmed them. These were not dispassionate observers; their inability to stop the unfolding events haunts them. Distant observers who watched his death through the videos recorded by some of those bystanders led to an expansion of the Black Lives Matter movement around the globe. The remedy to the pandemic of the virus made room for the worldwide witness of racial injustice, suppression, and violence in a way never experienced before. The names–and stories–of Armaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and Elijah McClain represent a fraction of those victims who entered our collective consciousness.
Jesus did not and does not call his disciples to dispassionate or distant observation of human suffering. We are witnesses.
One of the realities of the Floyd witnesses is that some of them knew that what they observed needed to be documented. They understood that there would be those who would not be persuaded by a retelling of the events. Some have to witness it for themselves.
The biblical narrative predates video technology, but the gospel writer is also aware that not everyone will believe without physical evidence. The disciples, who touch and see Jesus for themselves, stand as representatives for those not privy to this recorded moment. We enter the story to find that Jesus has shown up with the gift of peace after the worst has happened. We hear Jesus challenge our fears and doubts by offering reassurance of his tangible presence in our midst. We’re encouraged to face our truths as Jesus freely displays the marks of the trauma he endured.
Then Jesus gives us the opportunity to display hospitality. Just as the dying Jesus was thirsty, the Risen Christ is hungry. The Word made Flesh still seeks sustenance among us. The One who laid the table on Maundy Thursday needs a bite to eat on Easter evening. God has not been satisfied by completing this work; the Holy One continues to reside in the human condition. Still, the resurrection has transformed even this moment:
For the first and only time, in a Gospel replete with meal scenes, Jesus’ actual eating of food is the primary focus; he has now unambiguously assumed the role of guest and recipient of the disciples’ hospitality (Heil, Meal Scenes 225–26). Henceforth they will be hosts and providers of hospitality and benefaction in his name. (John T. Carroll)
The disciples get to try this new role out on Jesus, who identifies with the marginalized, the oppressed, and the poor. They give him fish, reminding us of the modest portion of fish and loaves that multiplied to feed a multitude once placed in Jesus’ hands. How much more plentiful and fruitful will our hospitality to our neighbor become when our standard and model is providing a meal to the Sovereign One?
This act of serving Jesus a meal may be as humbling for the disciples as having him wash their feet. The One who transformed death still conforms to the routine requirements of life. Breath, food, and water remain necessary and holy in the resurrected life and for resurrection people. Jesus, who began his earthly ministry by embarking on a fast when he comes out of the baptismal waters of the Jordan River, begins the resolution of his earthly ministry by breaking bread with his companions after coming out of the tomb.
The idea in resolution in music, when the sound of dissonance transitions to a final, stabilizing note, parallels the ending of Luke. Unlike Mark, who leaves us in the midst of the chaotic and uncertain unfolding, Luke ties up loose ends and documents that Jesus took the opportunity to do just that within this encounter. It’s also reminiscent of an axiom in writing that you begin by telling your audience what you intend to tell them, then you tell them, and conclude by telling them what you told them.
Jesus tells the disciples what he has told them. As John T. Carroll notes, “Jesus proceeds to offer not new teaching but a reminder of what he has already taught, although it did not produce insight at the time.” He illuminates the scriptures as well as his teachings in light of the events of his passion. “Then, as Jesus speaks, opening their minds to understand the promises and hopes of Scripture that have arrived in him, there is a discernible breathlessness, a mounting excitement that pervades these final verses of Luke’s gospel, culminating in joyful communal worship and the renewed blessing of God.” (Aaron Miller) He helps them make sense of the incomprehensible. The Word is still being made flesh.
This, too, is good news. “Throughout Luke’s Gospel, belief and understanding, for most folks, do not come all at once. It is good news that we dare hope for increased trust in Jesus.” (Sarah Henrich) Surely, there were those who believed upon the testimony of the women or when Jesus appeared in front of them. Still others were convinced by the evidence of his scarred hands and feet. But, for some, they needed those to have the disparate parts of the story tied together. God is revealed at each step, and we travel this journey with Jesus no matter which stop we used to get on board.
Once we get there, however, we receive the call to be witnesses. “The passage offers a broad and imaginative space to reflect upon how each Christian community, in its context, is called to live in and for the world, as witnesses to the mission and will of God in Christ Jesus, on earth as in heaven.” (Aaron Miller) I am reminded that the early church celebrated the resurrection every Sunday; the Risen Christ was their focus and emphasis. Over time, the post-resurrection visitations and empty tomb were relegated behind the cross. Evidence of this is the prevalence of crosses in prominent display in almost all of our gathering spaces that dwarfs any physical reference to the resurrection.
I wonder if this is because the cross presents a moment of helplessness that triggers no action. All the work is on Jesus at the cross. And while Jesus tells us to pick up our cross to follow him, it’s all too easy to metaphorically satisfy that decree. We glorify the cross. But the cross was a means, not the end. The point of picking up our cross is not to stay there, but to get to the resurrected life through transformation.
That life requires something of us. As resurrection people, we cannot be content to be idle bystanders. We are witnesses, compelled to touch and see the world and participate in its transformation into the kin-dom of God. “The culmination of Jesus’ words to the disciples—’You are my witnesses’—is performative language in which the words do something. This scene is a kind of Lukan ordination. He first names and appoints the disciples as witnesses, literally, in Greek, martyrs. Because of its shortness, this sentence receives strong emphasis and is directly addressed to the present-day listeners, ‘You.’” (Thomas E. Boomershine) This ordination ceremony began with the greeting, blessing, and commissioning of “Peace be with You.” We are witnesses to and of God’s peace in the world. We are called to be carriers of that peace, transmitting it and transforming spaces by it. We are to reside within, finding our rest within the embrace of God. We are to be co-creators of it, providing fresh and new evidence of it to the idle bystander, the curious recorder, and the interested observer so that they too, when encountering followers of Jesus, may touch and see.
For further reflection:
“It is very good news that Jesus does not give up helping his followers come to understanding.” — Sarah Henrich
“Church is what happens when people are faithful witnesses to the saving action of God, in and for the world, in Jesus Christ.” — Aaron Miller
“The empty tomb does not explain Jesus’ resurrection; Jesus’ resurrection explains it.” — Robert L. Brawle
Suggested Congregational Response to the Reflection:
Invite the congregation to consider ways to increase their public witness of God’s peace.
Boomershine, Thomas E (Eugene). “Third Sunday of Easter.” Lectionary Homiletics 2 (5): 9–13.
Carroll, John T.. Luke (2012): A Commentary (The New Testament Library) . Louisville: Presbyterian Publishing Corporation, 2012
Gaertner, Dennis. “Third Sunday of Easter: May 7, 2000.” Lectionary Homiletics 11 (6): 1–8.
Henrich, Sarah S, and Sarah (Sarah S) Henrich. 2014. “Between Text and Sermon: Luke 24:36-53.” Interpretation 68 (4): 431–34.
Miller, Aaron. 2013. “Witnesses of These Things.” Touchstone 31 (1): 27–35.
The Rev. Dr. Cheryl A. Lindsay, Sermon Seeds Writer and Editor (firstname.lastname@example.org), is a local church pastor and worship scholar-practitioner with a particular interest in the proclamation of the word in gathered communities. You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SermonSeeds.
A Bible study version of this reflection is at Weekly Seeds.
1 John 3:1–7
12 When Peter saw it, he addressed the people, “You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? 13 The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. 14 But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, 15 and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. 16 And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you.
17 “And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. 18 In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer. 19 Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out.
Answer me when I call, O God of my right!
You gave me room when I was in distress.
Be gracious to me, and hear my prayer.
2 How long, you people, shall my honor suffer shame?
How long will you love vain words, and seek after lies? Selah
3 But know that the LORD has set apart the faithful for himself;
the LORD hears when I call to him.
4 When you are disturbed, do not sin;
ponder it on your beds, and be silent. Selah
5 Offer right sacrifices,
and put your trust in the LORD.
6 There are many who say, “O that we might see some good!
Let the light of your face shine on us, O LORD!”
7 You have put gladness in my heart
more than when their grain and wine abound.
8 I will both lie down and sleep in peace;
for you alone, O LORD, make me lie down in safety.
1 John 3:1–7
1 See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. 3 And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.
4 Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. 5 You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. 6 No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him. 7 Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.
Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37 They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate in their presence.
44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 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, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.