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Why It Matters
based on Luke 24:36b-48
by Rev. Karen A. Goltz

Christ is risen.  He is risen indeed.  So what?

            We’ve just come through Lent.  We’ve celebrated the solemnity of Maundy Thursday and we’ve recalled the agony of Good Friday.  We rejoiced at the resurrection on Easter Sunday.  Just like we do every year.  So what’s different in your life because of it?

            I think in many ways we’ve become too familiar with the pattern of the church year and the story it tells.  Sure, we’re on a three-year lectionary, each year based on a different gospel, but the gospels all tell the same story.  We hear about expectation of the Coming One at the beginning of every winter.  We hear about Christ’s birth every December.  We hear about the Transfiguration and engage in introspection during Lent every early spring.  We hear about Jesus’ final days, his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, his final discourse to his disciples, his agony in the garden and on the cross.  Every spring we hear about his miraculous resurrection, followed by several weeks of his disciples trying to get their minds around this new reality.  Then we hear about the Spirit descending on Pentecost and the birth of the Christian Church, followed by several months of hearing that year’s gospel writer’s account of the ministry of Jesus.  Then we’re back at Advent, hearing about the expectation of the Coming One, and we do it all over again, rinse and repeat, round and round we go.

            The disciples were tasked with spreading the good news to all nations, and they did that so well that we fail to be really moved or inspired by it anymore.  We’re no longer amazed by the shocking twists and turns, and some of the events even seem a little hokey.  I mean, take that bit about the fish in today’s gospel reading.  Who cares if Jesus ate a piece of fish?  Who cares that it was broiled?  A nutritionally balanced diet doesn’t seem to be necessary for maintaining life after the resurrection, so why did Luke waste the precious ink and paper to include that detail?

            Probably because Luke wasn’t writing for a bunch of jaded twenty-first century Americans.  Luke was writing to a community of persecuted believers roughly a generation after Jesus’ crucifixion.  These were people who, like us, never actually witnessed all the miracles and healings and exorcisms.  These were people who, like us, had only ever heard the story, and who wondered what difference a story could make in their lives.  And Luke wanted them to understand that this is no mere story.  This is real.

            Early in Luke’s gospel we’re told that “in the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.” (Luke 3:1-2) Every one of these people and places would have been familiar to the first hearers of Luke’s gospel, and known as historical fact.  It would be the same as us being told that something happened during the first Nixon administration, when John W. King was governor of New Hampshire and Paul VI was the Pope in Rome.  It’s verifiable fact.

            All through Luke’s gospel he includes the names of people and places, telling the amazing story of Jesus’ life in a real and familiar context.  This is no fantasy world Jesus lived in, he’s saying.  This is your neighborhood.  The description of his crucifixion was detailed and terrible; Jesus really suffered and died.  And it wasn’t the sweet, peaceful sleep of a romanticized death; there was real pain, and real blood, and a brutal murder, ending in the ultimate finality of the body’s inability to continue living.  These people understood death.  They understood crucifixion.  They understood that there is no coming back from that.  Ever.

            But they’re told that Jesus did.  They’re told that in the context of names and places they knew: the well-traveled road between Jerusalem and Emmaus, Peter, the town of Bethany, the Temple in Jerusalem.  And to demonstrate how real this was, the post-crucifixion Jesus showed his disciples the still-raw wounds inflicted during his murder, and ate a piece of fish, something no mere vision or ghost could do.  Jesus, who really lived and then really died, really lived again.

            And if Jesus’ resurrection is real, then Jesus’ life and ministry were real.  And if his life and ministry was real, then his promises are real.  And if his promises are real, then repentance and forgiveness of sins is real.

            We live in the real world.  So did Jesus.  We have real problems and real struggles.  Jesus meets us in the midst of them.  We come to church or read the bible, and we don’t just hear some nice story.  We experience the reality of God working throughout our history, in the times and places of old as well as in the times and places we know, and we encounter the love of God in Christ in our reality.

            A mere story can’t change our lives.  But knowing our history, our present, and our future can.  That’s our reality.  And our reality is that Christ is risen.  He is risen indeed.  Hallelujah!