Sunday Week 3 of Easter Year B

I could have sworn when I read the gospel this week that that last line wasn’t in there — “penance for the remission of sins” — penance? In Eastertide? — hardly! So I looked it up — well it’s there in the New American Bible as large as life. Some other translations have “repentance.” I even tried spelling out the Greek and the word is metanoia — a change of heart, of vision, of imagination — an about-face.
Which is kind of the experience I had with these readings — a little shocked, a little dismayed, a little resentful — at having my Easter joy ruffled by three readings harping on sin and preaching penance. But not just sin and penance: sin, penance, and resurrection. Surprising allies!
There’s a lot of surprise and about-faces in these readings. Peter, a little while ago, coward and traitor, stands confidently preaching to the crowd. The disciples, hearts burning within them after the news from Emmaus, are suddenly struck into panic and fright by a familiar stranger breathing disturbing words of peace. They reach and touch him, they feed him, and still they are agitated but now with what Luke calls sheer joy and wonder. Now the reading doesn’t say so but I imagine they sober up pretty quickly as Jesus reminds them of who he is, of what he’s always preached, and of who they … and are to be—disciples, witnesses, people sent. “Nothing has changed,” he seems to say, “but everything is different.” “Look here I am, flesh and bone, eating cold fish out of ruined hands.”
And he tells them a story, a story they already know, a story we still tell each other, of life and death … and life.
Look how Peter puts it. “This is sin,” he says, “you disown justice and you prefer murder—you put to death the one who brings all things to life.” A better definition of sin than we heard all Lent! Sin is the choice of death when life is offered. And for some reason it’s so easy to die and so hard to live. So easy to repeat the old and so hard to risk the new. We can always find a reason why one should die for the good of the many, a reason why, in my case, laughter is out of the question, a reason why, in the circumstances, darkness is brighter than light.
Jesus chose life—offered to share it—and still we killed him rather than live ourselves. A final confirmation of the wisdom of our reasons. As if to say, “There! Done! Once and for all, proof that life is on a loser!” But just when you think it’s safe to slumber, when you’re sure there’ll be no more interruptions, and God is finally polished off—why then God refutes our reasons, confounds our cases. God denies the world forever the certainty of death. Even death is no longer safe, even hell has been opened and delivered up life, even the grave has become a garden.
“Touch me,” says this new Jesus, “believe I’m alive, believe that death is dead. Touch me and remember.” … Remember! If we have touched his joy we have been made witnesses. If we’ve known him in the breaking of the bread what choice do we have but to testify for life. If we’ve experienced the about-face of Easter then we have to share this with the world wherever it still dwells in the dark, still prefers murder to justice, still puts death to life.
Easter joy has its own challenges. If the Greek word for the about-face is metanoia, the Greek for “witness” is martyr. There’s a challenge, full of irony, that’s guaranteed to send us swaying between sheer joy and sheer panic. “Touch me,” says Jesus, “let my wounds be witness that I am not dead—I am alive. Turn about-face, you are not dead—you are alive. And tell the world—be my witnesses, my martyrs—tell them life is alive.”