Where is the Risen Christ?   May 1, 2022 by    Loraine MacKenzie Shepherd

John 21:1-19

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to God. Amen.

Last Sunday, Rev. Dr. Peter Denton spoke bold and courageous words that woke us to the urgency and immediacy of the crisis that our poor earth is facing. Where can the risen Christ be found in the effects of climate change? Last Sunday was also Easter Sunday within the Eastern churches and they prayed that leaders of churches within Ukraine and Russia will be peace brokers. But the bombs continue to fall and some church leaders support this war. Where is the risen Christ in Ukraine and in Russia? Closer to home, we grieve the loss of loved ones who have died—some prematurely. We grieve the toll of isolation and the pain exacerbated by delayed surgery. Where is the risen Christ in the midst of suffering and death?

The disciples were wondering the same thing. They had actually seen the risen Christ but they didn’t recognize him at first. In each one of his appearances to various disciples, he was never recognized at first. It was only through actions—the breaking of bread, the making of breakfast, the showing of wounds, the offering of peace—that the risen Christ was revealed to them. And yet, these appearances were fleeting—the risen Christ was still lost to them.

And so, they returned to their former way of life. Those who used to fish for a living went back into the boat. And then the risen Christ appeared once more to the disciples. This time, they got it—at least Peter did. The risen Christ had taken on cosmic proportions, transformed from Jesus of Nazareth to an ever-present Christ no longer bound by time or place.  From now on, the risen Christ would be revealed in actions of love. “Feed my sheep,” he repeated three times to Peter, absolving Peter’s triple denial of Jesus. Christ’s body had become sacrament, tasted in the breaking of bread, heard in the invitation to a meal, seen in the woundedness of Creation, received in the offer of peace. Peter finally realized that Christ would now live through him.

There are four ways that I have found the risen Christ is revealed to us today. The first is in the things of life—the ordinary things that we see and touch every day. When Jesus invited the disciples to breakfast, he served them bread and fish—the first symbols of Christianity. The cross was not a Christian symbol until much later—after Christianity had become the religion of the empire and was used to justify violence. But that’s another sermon for another day. The first Christian symbols of bread, wine and fish highlighted the importance of communion with one another. This is the heart of Christianity. The risen Christ is present in the communal feast.                                    In his book Going Home: Jesus and Buddhas as Brothers, Thich Nhat Hanh writes, “If Christ is the body of God…then the bread he offers is also the body of the cosmos. Look deeply and you notice the sunshine in the bread, the blue sky in the bread, the cloud and the great earth in the bread. Can you tell me what is not in a piece of bread? The whole cosmos has come together in order to bring to you this piece of bread. You eat it in such a way that you become alive, truly alive”[1]

It’s not just in bread, fish and wine that Christ is present. The risen Christ imbues everything with a sacredness. Christ is present in a drop of rain reflecting a softened, upside-down world. Christ is present in a chickadee bravely plucking a strip of bark for its nest while the snow swirls around. Resurrected hope is all around us in the ordinary things of life, even in the midst of a blizzard or a flood.

The second way in which the risen Christ is revealed is in the forces and patterns of Creation. In my Easter message, I talked about God being the hidden force that holds the universe together. But it’s not just a centripetal force that holds everything in place. There is complexity and beauty to this force. Have you noticed that the spiral pattern is found in everything from a spinning galaxy to tornados to spiral vortex patterns from electron waves? You will find spiral patterns in seashells and pine cones, fiddleheads and flowers. Scientists have determined that this spiral pattern best allows for both growth and stability—two forces that are essential for life. I call it God’s signature imprinted on the universe. Christ, we are told in the opening verses of the Gospel of John, was in the beginning with God co-creating this incredible universe.

The third way in which the risen Christ is revealed is through you and me, through the disciples and followers of Christ throughout the ages. We, as the church, are the body of the Christ.  And we pray that we will live up to this tall order. God really is counting on us to be Christ’s hands and feet, knowing that we will screw things up—and sometimes in a big way. The disciples failed over and over again, but as long as they remained open to God’s grace, Christ’s forgiving love could still be revealed through them. That’s the key. We will never be perfect. But as long as we are open to Christ’s forgiveness and love, we can still be Christ’s hands and feet.

It’s all about the flow of energy. As long as we keep the flow of love moving through us, Christ is revealed. But the moment we block that flow; the moment we close ourselves off from self-giving love is the moment we cease being Christ’s hands and feet. That’s what sin is—cutting ourselves off from the love of God. When we close down because of shame or anger or fear, we begin to close off that flow of Christ’s love. But when we’re able to recognize this hard-hearted protection and dare to be vulnerable enough to open our hearts again, Christ is revealed once again through our words and actions.

I just returned from a wonderful week with my Dad in Victoria. He lives in an assisted living co-op right beside the junior high school I attended—quite a few decades ago! As I was hemming my Dad’s pants last week in the shadow of my old school, I was taken back to a traumatic incident with my home ec teacher. Mrs. Stanley-Jones was my favourite teacher and I worked so hard to gain her approval. I was determined to sew in a zipper perfectly and by the time I had picked the stiches out for at least the 9th time, there was not much left of the material, but the seam was finally straight!

One day, I had a spare and popped into another of her classes. Some friends were there and I struck up a great conversation with them until I went to my next class. Apparently, Mrs. Stanley-Jones had been having trouble with many students coming into her classes and disrupting things. She saw me leaving and noted the classroom I went into. When she had a moment, she knocked on the door and asked the teacher to send me into the hall. I was devastated. She didn’t have to reprimand me—I was already full of guilt and shame. At my next home ec class, she walked down the line of students, handing out samples of baking. When she reached me, I put my hands out, but kept my head down. She stood there, not giving me anything until I finally looked up. I don’t remember her saying a word, but I think she smiled at me—a smile that said, it’s ok. You’re forgiven. That was the day I learned about forgiveness. It was such a little thing, but it was huge for an insecure 13-year-old. She gave me much more than a sample of baking that day. She gave me grace.

I have also received Christ’s grace from those who whom some consider the despised. This is the fourth way in which the risen Christ is revealed to us. Jesus spent so much time with those who were despised —because of their wealth, because of their poverty, because of their morality, because of their contagious diseases—that he, himself was despised. I have been surprised time and time again, when someone marginalized by our society has given me a blessing. Perhaps it was because we recognized the humanity in each other when our eyes met. Maybe they saw a need in me that others don’t see. But for whatever reason, many of them have given me a deep and meaningful blessing.

There is a common theme in each of these four ways in which the risen Christ is revealed. Each one takes us out of the normal way of seeing and thinking. It requires an open heart and an open mind. German philosopher Martin Heidegger wrote a fascinating essay in which he declared that humans have two ways of thinking: calculating and meditative. Calculating thinking is based on logical progression and is immersed in technological progress. In contrast, meditative thinking “demands of us not to cling one-sidedly to a single idea, nor to run down a one-track course of ideas. Mediative thinking demands of us that we engage ourselves with what at first sight does not go together at all.”[2] Both types of thinking are necessary, but meditative thinking is much more difficult. It releases our attempt to control and opens us to mystery. Heidegger believed that if humans lose the ability to think meditatively, we lose the very essence of our humanity. I would extend this by saying that we lose sight of the risen Christ.

So where is the risen Christ in the midst of destruction, violence and loss? It is there, with the wounded, where we find the risen Christ. It is there, in the breath of hope in the midst of hopelessness, in a glance of compassion that cools the heat of shame. The risen Christ is deep within and far beyond, turning the ordinary into sacred sacraments of love, through Christ, with Christ, and in Christ. Amen.

[1] Thich Nhat Hanh, Going Home: Jesus and Buddha as Brothers (New York: Riverhead Books, 1999), 106-107.

[2] Martin Heidegger, “Discourse on Thinking,” transl. by John M. Anderson and E. Hans Freund, 1966 of Gelassenheit, published in 1959, p. 53.