Tomorrow our Gospel centers on one of the resurrection appearances of Jesus–this one from John 20, and it parallels the evening story in Luke 24, and the meal in which the disciples recognize the stranger in the breaking of the bread. It’s interesting to read these two accounts in conjunction with one another, not so much for parallel readings but for the ways in which Luke and John describe “recognition.”
How do we recognize Christ among us? Biblically speaking, there’s a one sentence answer to that question, at least, that comes immediately: by faith.
That is: the recognition of the Risen Christ isn’t available except by faith. If we try to give an accounting of it in any other way, the resurrection of Jesus really is an inaccessible teaching. And faith doesn’t come by our trying: all we can do is preach the gospel and trust the Holy Spirit to work in the hearts of hearers.
Yesterday, April 9th was the 65th anniversary of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s death. Bonhoeffer was many things, a great theologian, pastor, martyr, musician, poet, member of the underground resistance to Hitler, and when in prison, an unofficial chaplain to the other prisoners and guards. He had a gift for friendship, as his family and friends attest, and was engaged to be married just before his imprisonment. His life was a preaching of the gospel in word and deed, and if one wishes to see what faith looks like, his life is a good place to look. Our Lutheran church calendar commemorates him, and his name carries the weight of sainthood, though we don’t call him that. His life illuminates the meaning of what it is to be called a Christian. Every year, on or near April 9, the anniversary of his execution, several memorial pieces appear in various journals. Yesterday, for the first time in forty years, a new biography of Bonhoeffer became available by Eric Metaxas, “Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy” (Thomas Nelson, 2010). I look forward to reviews of it, and to reading it, and will let readers know.
We know that the Risen Lord has been revealed or made manifest for someone by the way he or she lives, by the transformation of their lives. Faith, Luther commented, is a mighty active thing. Not all of us are called to the kind of work or life that Bonhoeffer lived, but we are called to live by the same Gospel. We serve in the places where we live, where we love, where we work. The disciples discovered that following Jesus, in life, in death, and in the resurrection was a life of surprising beauty and truth, peace, joy, charity, all the fruits of the spirit, a life of being for others, and not turned in on the self. But most of all, at least for this person, the life of Christian faith is an adventure, if it’s anything. We’re called, and led, we’re gathered and sent by Someone greater than ourselves. Every day, life is a discovery of something new that God may be doing, even in what is familiar and loved. In the life of Easter faith, something new is always already happening. Expect it.