What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?

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Luke writes in the Gospel Reading for this Sunday (Luke 24: 36b- 48) that the disciples “were startled and terrified” when the Risen Jesus appeared to them. In fact, Jesus appeared to them as Cleopas and his companion were relating their meeting with Jesus on their way to Emmaus. Furthermore, Mary Magdalene and the other women had brought the news of the Risen Christ to them.

So, why were they startled and terrified? Notice, also, that even after Jesus greeted them with “Shalom” – Peace – while they were joyful, they were nevertheless still in disbelief.

Today we look at Jesus’ resurrection in hindsight. We know the story, it has been repeated again and again for almost 20 centuries. It is a familiar story. For the disciples, however, it was a confounding experience. Even though Jesus had forewarned them of his death and resurrection, its reality was beyond comprehension.

They knew, and may even have seen ghosts. That is why Jesus wanted to dispel from them any thoughts that he might have been a ghost. A dead person had come back to life – that was a completely new experience for the disciples. This was an experience that would require a different mindset to comprehend. It required Jesus to open their minds, the same way he did with Cleopas and his friend.

Jesus showed his disciples his hands and his feet. He invited them to look (and see), to touch (and feel), to hear and to understand, not simply intellectually, but with their hearts and emotions. He ate with them. These are very tangible ways of encountering the Risen Christ. In western society there is often too much effort to make a separation between the sacred and the secular, the physical and the spiritual, the natural and the supernatural, church and state – which also  brings to mind Tertullian’s remark: “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” (Or the academy and the church).

What we learn from today’s Gospel Reading and the post-resurrection appearances of the Risen Christ is that God is everywhere in God’s creation. We encounter the Risen Christ in worship and in the Sacraments – which convey God’s grace through physical and tangible elements – as well as in everyday service in the world.

As we go about our daily life, at home, at work in the office, factory, hospital and in service teaching or attending to the needs of others, in business, may the Risen Christ be revealed in our midst.

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