When we look at the events that took place after Good Friday, there is a huge collection of pieces of evidence that Jesus has risen and is alive, albeit alive in a way that allows him to walk into locked rooms at will. Why were so many opportunities given for the disciples to get to grips with the resurrection?
In my reflection given in the service in the Anglican Cathedral last night, I explored this further. The readings were Psalm 8, Acts 3:11-end, Luke 24:35-48.
I wonder if you are familiar with the poem, The Hound of Heaven by Francis Thompson. It’s a long poem and needs study to understand it I think, but the first verse is worth quoting here:
I fled Him down the nights and down the days
I fled Him down the arches of the years
I fled Him down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind, and in the midst of tears
I hid from him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped and shot precipitated
Adown titanic glooms of chasmed hears
From those strong feet that followed, followed after
But with unhurrying chase and unperturbed pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat, and a Voice beat,
More instant than the feet:
All things betray thee who betrayest me.
This picture of the pursuing God came to me when looking at the readings for today and with that picture came the realisation once more of the sheer humility of God. Look at the opening of Psalm 8, listen to God extolled as he should be:
O Lord, our Lord,
How majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
God is creator of the world, of everything we see around us. How can we avoid worshipping him when we see the beauty of all he has made? And how can we avoid being aware of his power? We are breathing now because he wills it. Should he cease to will it, we will cease to breathe.
I’d like to contrast that with the picture we see in the gospel reading today.
In Luke’s gospel we are told that the women from Galilee who had gone to the tomb had seen two men in dazzling clothes who told them that Jesus was risen. They had conveyed the news to the eleven but only Peter followed it up with action, going to the empty tomb and going home marvelling at what had happened. Following that Cleopas and his friend walked to Emmaus with Jesus and recognised him in the breaking of the bread. They rushed back to Jerusalem to share the news, to be greeted with the news from the others that Jesus had appeared to Peter.
This is where we pick up the story. Surely you would think there had been ample evidence to show that Jesus had risen by now. It would be reasonable to assume that the disciples would be totally convinced and worshipping God in wonder at all that had happened. Here I think we see the humility of God. Jesus appears yet again, knowing that the disciples are still not up to speed on what has happened. Instead of demanding worship he brings them more evidence of the reality of the resurrection. He answers their unspoken need for a sign. ‘Look at my hands and feet. Touch me.’ That moved them to belief, though they were so happy it seems they wanted to pinch themselves. But Jesus didn’t stop there. ‘Give me something to eat.’ And he ate a piece of fish to prove he was not a ghost.
The picture I get is almost of a children’s entertainer, a magician, producing rabbits out of hats to the delight of his audience; letting a dove fly up from his apparently empty hands; pulling endless streams of silk handkerchiefs out of nowhere. Jesus didn’t have to stoop to this level; he could have demanded worship. He could have come through that door in the upper room and made sure that the disciples stayed startled and very frightened indeed. For three years the disciples had been prepared for this and shown evidence that Jesus was God. He could so easily have taken the approach of the teacher who, when asked to explain something again, says ‘You should have listened the first time.’
So why does God, in Christ, lower himself so far? I think the clue is in the psalm. The psalmist looks at the puny nature of humans when compared to the scale of the universe and he wonders about us. Then he acknowledges that, puny and insignificant though we appear, we are only a little lower than the angels, and that God sees us crowned with glory and honour. Just imagine that, let your mind dwell on it. God, the creator and sustainer of the universe, gives to us glory and honour!
We matter so much to God, each and every one of us, no matter how insignificant we feel. He is like a lover, totally besotted with us. He portrays this in the book of Hosea where he compares Israel to an adulterous wife. He longs for her to call him ‘My Husband’ and not to chase after other gods. It’s the same for us today. There are so many gods we can worship – money, sex, power to name but three – but God wants us to worship him. For that reason he pursues us and tries to draw us to himself, to gather us into his arms where we will be safe and know his love.
As Isaiah tells us, we should seek the Lord while he may be found. God makes sure there are ways for us to find him, to know his presence, just as Jesus gave the disciples many pieces of evidence for his resurrection. Although God’s love will never cease, one day he will accept our ‘no’ and cease to pursue. Jesus could have pursued Judas Iscariot. He could have caught him at the door of the upper room and talked to him and tried to draw him back into the company of the disciples but he didn’t. That was tough love, to watch in pain as someone he loved walked away and said ‘no’ to the love he offered. I believe that Jesus never stopped loving Judas and that had Judas, having betrayed Jesus, returned and asked for forgiveness it would have been granted just as it was for Peter. The problem was within Judas; he didn’t believe such love was possible and so in despair at his mistake he removed himself from the great gift of God, life itself.
If you doubt your value to God, doubt that he loves you and wants you close to him, I pray that God will find a way to reach you over this Easter season. No one is unlovable in God’s eyes, no one is beyond forgiveness. If this is something that you struggle with, ask the service leaders for help and we will gladly spend time with you.
If you have responded to God be prepared to be used to help pursue others whom God loves. Peter, the repentant and restored disciple, does just that in the passage from Acts that we have heard today. We have a message of hope for all people: ‘Repent and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.’ It’s a message the world needs in these difficult times.