Perhaps you’ve heard the story of the Yugoslavian judge who was electrocuted when he reached up to turn on the light while standing in the bathtub. This guy’s poor wife found his body sprawled on the bathroom floor. He was pronounced dead and was placed in a preparation room under a crypt in the town cemetery for twenty-four hours before burial. Well in the middle of the night, the judge came to. The judge looked around at his surroundings and suddenly realized where he was. He got pretty excited and rushed over to alert the guard. But instead of being any help, the guard was terrified and promptly ran off.
Fortunately, though, the guard returned with a friend, and they released the newly-revived judge. The judge’s first thought was to phone his wife and reassure her that he really wasn’t dead. Unfortunately, he got no farther than, “Honey… it’s me,” when his wife screamed and fainted.
So, he decided that the best course of action was to enlist some friends. He went to the houses of several friends; but because they all had heard the news from his distraught wife, they all doubted that he was really alive. They were all convinced he was a ghost.
Finally, in a last desperate effort, he contacted a friend in another city who hadn’t heard about his death. And that person was able to convince his family and friends that the judge really was alive. That story almost sounds like one of the Gospel writers could have written it, doesn’t it? It sure sounds like the passage from Luke today.
Our gospel lesson takes place on the day of Easter but not in the morning; it is in the evening. It is actually the event that is described in our last week’s lesson from the gospel of John. But John emphasizes Thomas. This gospel focuses on this evening when the disciples were there but Thomas was not present. The rest of the disciples are there in this room and there are some other disciples who though they were not of the 12 they were also followers of Jesus. The doors are locked because they are afraid the Jewish religious authorities will find out where they are and come and arrest them like they did Jesus. They have been lying low for 3 days ever since Thursday evening when Jesus was arrested. They have just been talking with the Cleopas and another disciple who have told them they saw Jesus while they were walking to Emmaus and they are trying to figure out what it means. What did Cleopas and the other guy see? Was it a vision? And if it was a vision what did this vision mean—what was it supposed to mean? They were debating all this when here in fact Jesus came, in the flesh, into the room. Of course they didn’t believe it. They didn’t believe it anymore than the wife of the Yugoslavian judge believed her husband was alive. She after all had seen his dead body on the bathroom floor. She had seen the men carry him out to the morgue. She knew he was dead. And the same thing with the disciples, they knew Jesus was dead. They knew he had died upon the cross. The Romans had stabbed him with a spear. They had put him into a tomb with a big stone in front of it. He was dead—dead people don’t get up and talk anymore. Dead people cannot come back to life. Everybody knows this. That is why we have horror movies about people who are dead yet somehow they are not dead. We have horror movies about zombies and vampires and mummies. Why are they scary? Because these zombies or vampires or mummies are supposed to be dead and they are walking around. So why do you think the scriptures say the disciples were frightened—because they were! You and I would be terrified too! And yet as the minutes ticked by and Jesus kept on talking to them and reassuring them that he was really alive and not some ghost or zombie or something like that, slowly they began to believe he was alive again and it says they in their joy were disbelieving. In other words this was literally too good to be true! And yet, here Jesus was in front of them and he actually ate food and they could touch him and feel his breath. But it doesn’t stop here. We are told that after they were more or less convinced that he was alive that he opened the Scriptures to them.
It is interesting to note that at the end of that first Easter Day Jesus turns his disciples’ attention back to the Scriptures. He had been telling them all along but they were so convinced they understood the direction he was going to go that they had misunderstood everything. Messiahs were not supposed to suffer and die. Messiahs were supposed to be the heroes and everyone was supposed to love them. Messiahs were supposed to set up kingdoms here in Israel and drive out the Romans. But Jesus told 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. You are witnesses to these things.”
So what was the point? Why did Jesus suffer and die? Why did the Messiah have to suffer and die and then rise from the dead on the third day? According to Jesus it was about repentance and forgiveness! This whole business of repentance and forgiveness was not even on the disciple’s horizons. Repentance and forgiveness was not something they had on their priority list at all! Yes they knew from back at the beginning that Jesus had preached repentance, but in their minds the really important part for the Messiah was to set up an earthly kingdom. What was really important was to get their world set up right. They thought that this world, this what we see and live in, was to be the focus of the Messiah’s attention and that he was coming to fix it all up. But apparently they were wrong! Apparently repentance and forgiveness was the point of the Messiah’s mission.
Jesus came so that people could come to know God. He came so that people could have a relationship with God. And for people to know God and for people to be able to have a relationship with God, they need to repent. They need to see how they that they are doing wrong things and feel bad about it and want to change which is what it means to repent. Jesus came so that people could have the power to change their ways. He came so that people could find forgiveness from God and then be reconciled to God. We need to repent and we need to find God’s forgiveness. And we do all this through Jesus. It is through him
Without his power and help we are unable to become new people. But now, now because of him as it tells us in the epistle reading from John, now we are the children of God! We have been given new hearts. We have been given new desires. Now we can want to serve God. Now we can have a whole new set of priorities in life.