Sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter

Text: Luke 24:13-18
On that same day two of Jesus' followers were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking to each other about all the things that had happened. As they talked and discussed, Jesus himself drew near and walked along with them; they saw him, but somehow did not recognize him. Jesus said to them, "What are you talking about to each other, as you walk along?" They stood still, with sad faces. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, "Are you the only visitor in Jerusalem who doesn't know the things that have been happening there these last few days?"
Jesus on the road to Emmaus

Too good to be true

The bush poet and priest Patrick Hartigan published the legendary poem, "Said Hanrahan" in 1921. It tells about a group of farmers standing around after a church service talking about the bad season and the drought.

ĎWe'll all be rooned,í said Hanrahan,
íBefore the year is out.í

"In Godís good time" the rains came -

And every creek a banker ran,
And dams filled overtop;
'We'll all be rooned,' said Hanrahan,
'If this rain doesn't stop.'

The rain stopped "in Godís good time" and the season was good, but the pessimist was unconvinced -

ĎThere'll be bush-fires for sure, me man,
There will, without a doubt;
We'll all be rooned,í said Hanrahan,
íBefore the year is out.í

It didnít matter what good things God gave in his own good time, Hanrahan could only see the worst. It seems that as Australians, we expect that things will not - or, at least, may not - turn out well. We have a couple of expressions that highlight our expectation that things will go bad Ė "just my luck" ("Just my luck that when I go to start the car, the battery will be dead". There is an expectation here that the car wonít start). The expression is "it's too good to be true"! (I canít believe that the car started first pop"). It is as if we expect things to go wrong and can hardly believe it when they turn out well.

Thatís how it was for the disciples after the resurrection. The women had found Jesusí tomb to be empty. They had received a message from an angel, "He is not here; he has been raised". They are reminded by the angel what Jesus had said about his death, "The Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, be crucified, and three days later rise to life." The women reported this to the disciples who in turn went to the tomb and found that it was true, the grave was empty. We are told that Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene who at first mistook him for a gardener. We are told, "Mary Magdalene went and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord and related to them what he had told her". Jesus appeared in person to the disciples on several occasions during that first Easter Day but Luke records that when Jesus appeared they were "startled and terrified" Ė they thought he was a ghost. Even when Jesus showed them his hands and his feet, we are told "they still could not believe" (Luke 24:41).

If I had been there amongst the disciples that day I too most likely would have jumped right out my sandals - "startled and terrified". As we say, "Itís too good to be true".

I once read about a judge in Yugoslavia who had an unfortunate accident. He was electrocuted when he reached up to turn on the light while standing in the bathtub. His wife found his body sprawled on the bathroom floor. She called for help, friends and neighbours, police - everyone showed up. He was pronounced dead and taken to the funeral home. The local radio picked up the story and the judgeís death hit the news.

In the middle of the night, the judge regained consciousness. He realised where he was Ė in the morgue, - and rushed over to alert the night watchman, who promptly ran off, terrified.

The former corpse phoned his wife to announce that he wasnít dead. But he got no further than, "Hello darling, itís me," when she screamed and fainted.

He tried calling a couple of the neighbours but they all thought it was some sort of sick prank. He even went so far as to go to the homes of several friends but they were all sure he was a ghost and shrieked and slammed the door in his face. Finally, he was able to call a friend in the next town who hadn't heard of his death. This friend was able to convince his family and other friends that he really was alive.

Cleopas and his friend were walking to Jerusalem, talking about all that had happened to Jesus, and when a stranger joined them on their journey, they were so overcome with Jesusí death that they didnít recognise who it is was who was walking with them Ė it was Jesus come back from the dead.

When it comes to death, no-one survives. When youíre dead, youíre dead. Thatís what the disciples thought. They could have easily joined with gloomy pessimistic Hanrahan and said, "Weíll all be rooned". They could have easily used the Aussie expression, "Itís just our luck that we followed Jesus for three years only to see him die like any of us. We heard about the empty tomb and the angelís message but itís too good to be true". But it is true.

We confess in the Apostlesí Creed, "I believe Ö in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting." We are saying along with Paul, that Jesus "will change our weak mortal bodies and make them like his own glorious body" (Phil 3:21). We are stating that death is not the final "Amen" of our life. We will rise again to life not just as a ghost or a spirit, but we will rise bodily and enjoy eternal life with a new body.

St Paul gives this wonderful description. He says, "This is how it will be when the dead are raised to life. When the body is buried, it is mortal; when raised, it will be immortal. When buried, it is ugly and weak; when raised, it will be beautiful and strong ... What is mortal must be changed into immortal; what will die must be changed into what cannot die" (1 Cor 15:42,43,53).

Paul declares without apology that in heaven our failing, aging, decaying, and dying bodies will be replaced with bodies that are immortal and incorruptible. Our bodies, our hearts, our minds, our personalities, our relationships will become what God originally intended they should be.

No other religion, no other philosophy promises new bodies, new hearts, new minds. Only in the Gospel of Jesus do we find the promise that no matter what may afflict us here, that affliction will be removed in heaven.
Can you imagine the hope this gives to someone who has suffered a spinal cord injury or the person who suffers from the terrible affliction of cerebral palsy or multiple sclerosis?
Can you imagine the hope that gives to the person who suffers daily from the pain of crippling arthritis or the terrible pain of cancer?
Can you imagine what this promise of Jesus means to those who bodies and minds have become weak and frail because of old age?
Can you imagine what this promise gives to the parents of a young teenager whose body was severely crushed and disfigured in a car accident?
Can you imagine what this promise means to those who are waiting at deathís door, looking forward to the moment when they will be transported from this life into the presence of Jesus?
We can imagine what this promise does for each of us as we face the day when we will leave this life and our bodies are placed in a grave.

Iím sure you have a million questions about all this just as I do? What kind of body will we have? One like Elle Macpherson? Like Tom Cruise?
Will we all look alike?
What if we prefer the muscles of a body-builder or the shape of a model?
Does our glorified body also have a glorified digestive system, one that is so good we never put on weight regardless of what we eat? In fact, will we need to eat?

Because others will have new bodies will we recognize them? And what about those people whose earthly bodies have been destroyed by fire, bombs, or eaten by sharks or wild animals? We could go on.

You and I are not among the first to have wondered this. The apostle Paul tells us that his readers were puzzled by all this as well. He says, "Someone will ask, "How can the dead be raised to life? What kind of body will they have?" Paul doesnít answer most of our questions but he does say that we will have a new and wonderful body. Like Paul, the best we can do when trying to describe what will happen to us when we rise from the dead is to go to nature for pictures to help us understand.

When we look at a dahlia bulb it doesnít look very interesting, in fact itís quite ugly. But when the bulb is planted, it grows into a bush that has the most wonderful flowers. Right now we are the bulb with all of our imperfections and weaknesses but one day we will rise to be like the flower, more beautiful, and attractive than we could have ever imagined. The dahlia flower has some connection with the bulb but it is far more glorious.

Or look at a caterpillar and see how ugly and hairy it is. After a short time entombed in a cocoon we marvel at how its body has changed and how beautiful it has become. So it will be for us when we leave this life and are raised to eternal like. To use Paulís words, "This is how it will be when the dead are raised to life. When the body is buried, it is ugly and weak; when it is raised, it will beautiful and strong (1 Corinthians 15:42.43).

Not only will our bodies be new and glorious but also our minds will be renewed. In this life our minds are filled with all kinds of sinful things, selfishness, greed, sexual immorality, deceit, hatred and so on. When we are raised all this will be a thing of the past. We will know perfectly what Godís will is.

Our relationships will be perfect especially our relationship with God. In other words, we will be just as God had intended the human race to be when he first created them and placed them in the Garden of Eden. What it will be like in heaven is something far more glorious than anything we could try to imagine in this life. The Bible only gives us glimpses of the beauty of eternal life because words fail to describe something that wonderful.

Jesusí resurrection defeated the power of sin and death. If the power of sin had not been destroyed then we would have to face the judgement of God and hell.
If the power of death had not been destroyed, our last breath would be the end of us and there would be no hope of life beyond the grave.

Christ has risen and we will too! We will rise from the grave and enjoy a life in heaven without any of the weaknesses and blemishes in our bodies that we have now. We will enjoy a life without the worries, stresses, pain and uncertainty of life in this world. Itís absolutely guaranteed!

When death comes near to us it is possible to be like Hanrahan and all we see is the hurt, the pain, the emptiness and the sadness because someone we love has gone, or we can see that our lifeís journey is drawing to a close. Jesus promises something more than this. Sure, we will feel sorrow and pain as death touches our lives, but there is more. Paul has summed up our confidence that there is life beyond death when he said, "Christ has been raised from death, as the guarantee that those who sleep in death will also be raised" (1 Cor 15:20).

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
10th April, 2005

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