Third Sunday of Easter May 26Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

Easter B 26 May 10 2009 Textweek

Acts 3:12-19; Psalm 4; I John 3:1-7; Luke 24:36b-48

Reverend Barry May

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen

Well, it’s nice to be here. I’ve never been to this parish before and I had to look up the map to find you because I live on the other side and your rector was playing games, because he said to me a few weeks ago when he invited me here, ‘We’d like you to come to St Paul’s,’ - didn’t say where St Paul’s was. He also signed his name as Peter H, which meant absolutely nothing, so I had to go through all my yearbooks to find out who Peter H might be and there are several parishes dedicated to St Paul, so I did a lot of investigation. But I wrote back and said, ‘You had me rather puzzled,’ and he wrote back and said, ‘That’s all right. Peter H.’

I’d like to pick up a theme from today’s gospel, Luke 24:48, where we are told, Jesus said: ‘You are witnesses of these things.’

The gospel this morning depicts for us one of the three post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. This time it was on the occasion of the disciples being together when Jesus suddenly appeared amongst them. They were still getting over the surprise of the story of Jesus meeting two of the disciples on the road to Emmaus. With so much happening all at the same time and fearing that Jesus was a ghost, they were startled and terrified, we read, but the Lord calmly appears, and said to them, "Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at me, touch me; a ghost does not have flesh and bones as I have as you can see." And then almost in the same breath, Jesus asks them about something quite unexpected: "Have you anything here to eat?" It’s a little like meeting up with someone you haven’t seen for a long time and them saying, ‘Hi there, long time no see, and by the way who won the last race at Ascot?’

To say that the disciples were dumbfounded would be an understatement. Firstly they were still reeling from the Crucifixion of Good Friday. Most of them hadn’t come to grips with the fact of the empty tomb on the Sunday either, and they were having difficulty reconciling the story of Mary Magdalene, who seemed somehow to have lost the plot, claiming that Jesus was now alive and that she had spoken to him. And they were still in hiding from the Jewish authorities, being in fear of their lives as they might somehow be singled out having been the followers of the crucified one. They were unable to reconcile the story of the Emmaus walk too, and here on top of all this, was this man whose true persona had been hidden from them, and he was asking them for a snack. It all turned out well in the end, fortunately as they all became more confident with this stranger who had turned Lord. They had their eyes opened to the fact as to whom it was they were sharing their broiled fish with, and at the end of this extraordinary exposition they were left with the final words coming from Jesus himself, ‘You are witnesses of these things.’ The very final narrative in Luke ends this way, ‘Behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you; stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high. Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he parted from them. Then they returned to Jerusalem with great joy and were continually in the temple praising God.’ This is from the pen of St Luke, the physician, who as you probably know from all your Bible studies was also the author of the Acts of the Apostles, and as we read in the first chapter of Acts, we see the amazing connection between the two narratives. In verse 10 it tells us, ‘While they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes and said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way that you saw him go into heaven." This is not in any way a coincidence; in fact nothing that appears in the scriptures is coincidental; in my view everything is providential and these two scriptures spell that out very, very clearly.

So let’s return to the gospel and the account of the broiled fish. Let’s look at the reaction of the disciples when they first saw the Lord amongst them. They were certain he was a ghost. Why would they think that? Perhaps the story of the resurrection wasn’t as clear to them, theologically, as it is to us. We know and we understand their situation - anything like this must have a supernatural genesis. Their reasoning would be like this: if Jesus is alive then what sort of body will he have? In fact does he have a real body or perhaps a spiritual one? If it’s a human body like theirs made of flesh and bones, how is it anatomically feasible if he was has risen from the dead? If it’s an ethereal body, then surely it must be a ghost? There is one other reference to the sudden appearance of Jesus that was reasoned by the disciples to also be a ghost and that was on the stormy night in the lake of Galilee when Jesus came to them walking on the water. ‘It’s ghost,’ they said. ‘Be not afraid,’ said Jesus. ‘It is I.’

They were a superstitious lot, those men. One wonders how we might have reacted given similar circumstances. The fish was devoured and ghosts don’t need sustenance to survive. If the resurrected body was composed of flesh and blood and needed nourishment, then how did he rise from the dead; in other words, what was the composition of the resurrected body? The general understanding is that the body of Jesus was a spiritual body that may or may not need food to survive, but that Jesus ate food to be sociable and to feel at one with his disciples. I really don’t like rationalizing the scriptures, but I intend asking Jesus that when I get a chance when I’ve gone to heaven, if it’s his will for me to get there.

Jesus told the disciples they were all witnesses, and do you know what, so are you, so am I, witnesses: witnesses to the resurrection through our faith. And what do you think about the disciples being obsessed with ghostly appearances? Of course no one in these modern and enlightened days believes in ghosts, or do they?

As I was speaking of the three post-resurrection stories of Jesus, I want to put in a plug for my radio talkback programme on 100.1 Curtin FM. This happens every Thursday night between 9 and 10 pm. I mention this because last Thursday night I had in my programme my regular ‘Bible Brain Burster’, over and above the discussion topic. Last time I asked the question, ‘Of the three post-resurrection stories of Jesus, one of them has the disciples unsuccessfully fishing all night. Jesus suggested they cast their net on the right side of the boat, when they were amazingly successful in hauling aboard a large catch. My question is how many fish did they net that night?’ Think about that – the answer is written in the scriptures.

So why the fascination with ghosts? Were they just a superstitious bunch of disciples and why were they scared? I raised the question earlier: do ghosts exist in this era and what do you think about them? Can we as Christians entertain such thoughts or is that more to do with the occult?

The telephone rang in my house a couple of years ago, and it was a woman who said she had a problem that was unusual. I was told you might help me, she said. Just in case you didn’t know, I am also a published author and I am in the early stages of commencing book number four; I only tell you this because I have a supply of my autobiography, Padre Plod, in my car. My autobiography contains a number of stories about ghosts and about supernatural events, and the call came as a result of someone reading my book. I asked her what the problem might be and so began the story. If you happen to be sceptical about ghosts and poltergeists, bear with me because you might well change your mind.

She told me she lived in her own house with her twenty-two year old daughter. Ever since the daughter had moved in, there was a series of strange events, in the sense that the lights would flicker on and off, the cupboard doors would swing open and bang, and the door bell would ring without anyone pressing the button, and strange and eerie noises would be heard. She thought the house was haunted, which is always a feast day for the exorcist and I suggested I come around and investigate her house and if necessary, lay the ghost to rest. She told me things had changed recently, however, because as soon as her daughter had moved out of her house, the house returned to normal. I thought the problem was over, but she assured me that similar things were happening in her daughter’s flat, as she had recently moved in with her boyfriend. I asked to meet the daughter and talk her through the events.

I met with the mother and the daughter in the second house. The interview is really more like an interrogation, as I won’t pussyfoot around with the occult. We arranged for an exorcism to take place in her house, as it seemed plain to me that the daughter was the cause of all the spooky manifestations. Just afterwards incidentally, I was talking to a community news reporter about my book and she asked me about the contents, and I just happened to mention the matter of the supernatural, (which I prefer to refer to as the superspiritual) and told her that I still active in this ministry and that I had a house to expel a ghost from. Being a journalist, she showed great interest and asked if she could come along as well. With permission given by the family and with the proviso that no photos or notes be taken, we arrived on Saturday afternoon – that is me, the journalist, the mother, the daughter and the daughter’s boyfriend.

I knew from our earlier interviews that the daughter and the mother had dabbled with the occult in going to a clairvoyant and having their cards read. I told them I could not proceed with the exorcism unless they renounced their involvement with the occult. So both mother and daughter agreed and renounced. I asked the journalist and she also renounced, and Ifinally asked the boyfriend if he had anything similar and he said with wide open eyes, ‘I’m a Catholic.’ I told him that that was no excuse, so he agreed to my request.

In the meantime the house cat was really putting on a show of tearing around the lounge, climbing up the curtains and blinds and making an absolute pest of itself, behaving almost as if it was possessed – well, maybe it was. The daughter locked the cat in the bedroom where it continued its performance, so I told her to let it out where it might cop a spray of my holy water and quieten down. We proceeded with the exorcism and the cat, with or without holy water, slowed down as well. I blessed every room in the house and finally I exorcised the daughter, as she was obviously the cause of all of the problems. Suddenly all went quiet: the house was still, the cat was purring at our feet and the daughter thanked me for bringing a calmness to the house on the two occasions I had visited. Three weeks later I received a letter from the daughter saying that everything was quiet and still again, and she was so grateful, as we all were. Any sceptics still here in the congregation?

I am very serious about this matter. The disciples were also serious that Jesus was a ghost and they were terribly frightened. But let us all remember that we and the disciples and all Christians are witnesses of the Resurrection. We must never forget that, and that means being witnesses in the home, in the office, in the schoolyard and the ghost house with an apparently deranged cat.

Easter, as we know, is a time for new life, a time to reflect on the wonder of the Resurrection story. And the next time you hear the expression, ‘It’s a ghost!’ then you’d better believe it, because it might just be true as things really do go bump in the night - believe me, I’ve been there.

The Lord be with you.