By Bryan Owen
If someone asked you “What is the Christian faith all about?,” how would you respond?
While different people may answer that question in different ways, I think the best place to start is with the Bible, for there we discover many passages that highlight the heart and soul of the Christian faith.
One of the most celebrated is John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” The late evangelist Billy Graham once called this verse “the gospel in a nutshell” and “a miniature Bible.”
There are many other biblical passages that highlight the beauty and the power of the Christian faith. I think, for instance, of these words St. Paul wrote to the church in Rome:
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:38-39).
There are also these words from Jesus the Good Shepherd in John’s gospel: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).
And then there’s one of my favorites that I often read aloud after the confession and absolution in the Rite I Holy Eucharist: “This is a true saying, and worthy of all men to be received, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15).
In different ways, these verses from Scripture sum up the gospel. They speak to the riches of God’s love, the mystery of God becoming a human being who overcame death and the grave, the new life we receive in Jesus, and the reassurance that Jesus came among us, not to condemn, but to save.
The risen Jesus’ appearance to his followers in Luke 24:36-49 provides another window into the heart of the Christian faith. And it beautifully underscores what we need to know about Jesus and what it means to follow him as Lord and Savior. To see that more clearly, we need to go back to Good Friday and then make our way to Easter Sunday.
As we recall, Jesus’ death on the cross was a devastating blow to his followers. Their hearts were crushed with grief. All of their hopes seemed lost. And they had no idea how to proceed with their lives.
But then something strange happened on the first day of the week. The women who went to the tomb early that morning to anoint Jesus’ body discovered that he was missing. Two men in dazzling clothes appeared and told them that “he has risen” (Luke 24:5).
Shaken to the core, the women raced back to the male apostles to tell them what had happened. But Luke tells us that “their words struck the apostles as nonsense, and they didn’t believe the women” (Luke 24:11).
Later that day, a couple who were making their way to the village of Emmaus outside of Jerusalem were joined by the risen Jesus, but they did not recognize him. They shared their grief with this apparent stranger, acknowledging that they had hoped Jesus “was the one to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21). But now he was dead.
Adding confusion to their grief, they heard that the women who went to the tomb had reported that Jesus was alive. It was all very disconcerting and upsetting.
And so they were astounded when the stranger walking with them opened the Scriptures so they could understand God’s plan “that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory” (Luke 24:26). And then, when this stranger sat at the table with them, took bread, blessed it, and broke it, suddenly their eyes were opened and they recognized the risen Jesus before he vanished from their sight.
This was such a powerful experience that the couple raced back to Jerusalem to tell the 11 apostles and their companions: “The Lord has risen indeed!” (Luke 24:34).
And then, out of the blue, Jesus appeared among them.
I wonder if there was a pause before any words were spoken, as the apostles and their companions were stunned to behold the one they knew had died on the cross.
In addition to shock, there was also fear. Had Jesus come back from the dead in anger? Was he going to exact revenge upon his followers for betraying and abandoning him?
Perhaps to their surprise, instead of words of judgment, Jesus offered the traditional Jewish greeting: “Peace be with you” (Luke 24:36).
But that was not enough to help them overcome their fear. After all, dead people stay dead. So how could Jesus possibly be standing among them? It must be a ghost!
In response, Jesus invited them to look at his nail-scarred hands and feet. He invited them to touch his body to see that he was not a ghost, but a real person. And then he did something no ghost could possibly do. He took a piece of fish and ate it in their presence.
There are several points in this post-resurrection appearance to emphasize.
First, in spite of the rejection, hatred, and violence he suffered, and although he had every reason to be angry and to seek revenge, Jesus appeared with a message of peace, forgiveness, and reconciliation.
The risen Jesus continues to respond that way today. For in spite of our failures — in spite of our actions that wound his heart — the risen Jesus comes with the reassurance that God does not seek our harm or destruction. Instead, in Jesus, God comes among us to bring peace, joy, and new life.
But there’s more good news. For as this post-resurrection appearance emphasizes, Jesus had not been resuscitated, as though he had not truly died. He wasn’t a ghost. He wasn’t a hallucination conjured up as false comfort by his disciples’ grief. He wasn’t merely an inspiring memory living on in the hearts and minds of his followers.
On the contrary, Jesus had been really and truly raised to bodily life again after bodily death. The risen Jesus was a real flesh, blood, and bones person. And now he had a body no longer subject to death and decay.
The resurrection of Jesus is a foretaste of what God intends for you and me, for all of our loved ones, and for the whole creation that waits, as St. Paul notes, “with eager longing” to be “set free from its bondage to decay” (Rom. 8:19, 21). We, too, shall be raised to life imperishable as fully embodied persons in a new and gloriously beautiful creation.
Even though Jesus had been raised from the dead, his body still showed the marks of his suffering. His hands, feet, and side were still wounded. But those wounds were now badges of vindication. For his resurrection from the dead proved that everything Jesus said and did was truly from God.
Just as the marks of Jesus’ suffering were glorified by his resurrection, so too all of the sufferings we endure in this life will be glorified. For having been baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection, there’s nothing we go through that lies beyond the reach of God’s transforming love.
And finally, Jesus commissioned his disciples to proclaim “repentance and forgiveness of sins … in his name to all nations” (Luke 24:47). That’s been the principal mission of the church for nearly 2,000 years. And it continues to be the calling of all the baptized who promise to “proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ” (BCP, p. 305).
Death defeated by resurrection; hatred, division, and violence overcome by peace, forgiveness, and reconciliation; the promise of a new creation: This is the good news of the Christian faith for everyone, regardless of race, nationality, or language.
And it is the privilege and calling of all Christians to share and live that good news, that everyone might know “the power of [Jesus’] forgiveness and the hope of his resurrection” (BCP, pp. 816-17).