Sunday, June 11, 2017

I Have Seen The Lord

I Have Seen the Lord
John 20:1-18[1]
One of the key principles of our faith is that we “live by faith and not by sight.” None of us has ever seen Jesus in person. None of us has seen anyone who has seen Jesus. We are centuries removed from those who actually heard him teach and saw him after he rose from the dead. That may pose a challenge for some of us. After all, we do tend to live by the mind-set that “seeing is believing.” Since we don’t have the privilege of seeing the events that serve as the basis for our faith it can be difficult at  times to maintain it. I think in those times we may wish we could have been there and seen and heard Jesus. We tell ourselves that it would have made it easier to for us to have faith.
Or would it? As a matter of fact, the Gospels remind us many times that the disciples struggled to understand and believe in Jesus. Yes, even the ones who were with him day and night, who heard his teaching, who saw the amazing things he did, struggled to believe what they were seeing and hearing. How often in the Gospels does Jesus say to them “O you of little faith!” Even after that first Easter morning, their faith was a work in progress. Peter and the others had to develop their faith through their life experiences, just as anyone does. Even Paul didn’t emerge from the Damascus road with a fully formed faith. He had to live out his faith in order to grow strong enough to serve as he did.
Our Gospel lesson provides an illustration of how difficult it was for Jesus’ original disciples to understand and believe what was going on. The Scripture tells us about three people at Jesus’ tomb: Peter, John, and Mary Magdalene. The first person is Peter, the one whose confession of faith in Jesus as the Messiah Jesus said would be the foundation stone upon which he would build his church. But on that first Easter Peter’s faith was anything but rock solid. The story tells us that Peter rushed into the tomb, even though it was taboo. He saw the burial shroud, but didn’t understand. In John’s Gospel there were no angels telling Peter that Jesus had risen.
We presume the second person was John, although he’s not named anywhere in this Gospel other than “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” He is the one on the basis of whose testimony the Gospel was written (John 21:24). Since he was younger than Peter, he arrived at the tomb first. But he hesitated to enter out of proper religious scruples. After Peter rushed in he also entered. And the Scripture tells us that John saw and believed. In this Gospel that is attributed to his testimony, he was the first to believe that Jesus had been raised from the dead. That makes sense. But all of the Gospels tell us that, despite whatever budding faith they had, the disciples were all hiding in the upper room behind locked doors that night!
The third person was Mary Magdalene. She’s at the tomb even though she was overcome with grief. It was she who saw the two angels at the tomb, but instead of joy I would say she was probably shocked at that sight. Even to her the angels said nothing about resurrection. In her grief and shock, when she saw Jesus, she didn’t even recognize him. Thinking he was the gardener, she asked him if he knew where they had taken the body. Jesus simply speaks her name, and Mary realizes it is he. In this Gospel, it is Jesus himself who directly communicates the good news of his resurrection—not to Peter or John, but to Mary! More than that, he commissions her to go to the others and tell them what has happened. And so she does: she returns and tells them “I have seen the Lord.”
I think many of us could wish we had been in her shoes. We may think how easy it would be for us to maintain our faith on difficult days if we had actually seen the risen Christ as she did. And yet, I would say that there are indications in Scripture that we do indeed see the Lord all the time. In one of the judgment scenes in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says, “anything you did for even the least of my people here, you also did for me” (Matt. 25:40, NCV). Wherever we see people suffering poverty, homelessness, abandonment, injustice, Jesus said we are seeing him. And more than that, our response to them is our response to him. We can ignore Jesus in the face of those who suffer, or we can serve him.
Which brings me to another way in which we see the Lord. The New Testament describes “spiritual gifts” of teaching, service, generosity, and hospitality as something that comes from the Spirit and embodies the risen Lord Jesus working through us.
In a similar way, the “fruit of the Spirit” represent the character of Jesus reproduced in the lives of ordinary believers like us. And so wherever we see these qualities put into practice, we are seeing the risen Lord Jesus carrying out his work through us.
These kinds of things aren’t spectacular. We might not think they would constitute something as lofty as seeing the risen Lord. But whenever we see people in need and respond by serving them in love, we have seen the Lord. Whenever we see ordinary believers like you and me putting compassion, kindness, generosity, and love into practice, we have seen the Lord. We might wish that we could have been there to experience that first Easter. But the truth of the matter is that those who are suffering among us represent no less real an experience of the risen Lord. And along with that, our service to anyone in any way is just as important a demonstration of Jesus’ continuing presence. In light of this, we need not think of our faith as less than that of the original disciples. Because, like Mary, all of us can say “I have seen the Lord.”

[1] © 2017 Alan Brehm. A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 4/16/2017 at Hickman Presbyterian Church.

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