The Reality of an Eclipse … and Jesus

Apr 14, 2024

Third Sunday of Easter
Text: Luke 24:36-48
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
     It’s one thing to hear about a full solar eclipse, it’s another thing to experience it, wouldn’t you agree? I hope that everyone was able to experience Monday’s eclipse in some way. Here at Faith Lutheran Church, the preschool children who were here for afternoon programming, their teachers, and some family members played and watched on the playground, while five of us viewed from the south side of the parking lot.
      I didn’t know what to expect as the view through my eclipse glasses showed the sun seemingly shrinking. When the last sliver of light disappeared, the temperature dropped, bats flew out of their hiding places and silence fell as the lights triggered by darkness came on. I was in awe. Later, as I read comments on Facebook and in the newspaper, more than one person described it as a spiritual experience. When I gave that some thought, I decided that it was, one that required in-person participation to really grasp.
     That is also what’s happening in today’s Gospel lesson from Luke; it’s one thing to hear about resurrection and yet another thing to experience it in-person. The event describes is occurring late in the day on what we call Easter Sunday. Here’s what happened in Luke’s version.
     The women who went to the tomb at sunrise that day had told the disciples of their encounter with angelic beings and that Jesus is risen. But, as the scripture plainly notes, “These words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.”
     The Gospel then reports that two of Jesus’ followers, probably from the “outer ring” of disciples, were walking to Emmaus when they encountered a stranger with whom they talked about Jesus’ death and the rumors of his resurrection. This stranger then interpreted, according to scripture, what had happened and why. Later, as they were sharing a meal, their eyes were opened; the stranger is Jesus! After he vanished from their sight, they went back to Jerusalem and told the others about the encounter. It’s one thing to hear that Jesus is risen, and quite another thing to see the Risen Lord!
     That’s where today’s account begins, while they were talking about this amazing event, Jesus showed up. He appeared in their midst as they were trying to reason things out, which is somewhat like viewing an eclipse as a purely scientific event.
     They were afraid, and assumed they are seeing a ghostly apparition. Jesus showed him his hands and feet, so they can see his wounds from the crucifixion, but perhaps also to display that bones were present in his extremities. He encouraged them to touch him, to actually grab onto him. Then, since they were still wondering and disbelieving, although joy is building, he had a snack, a piece of broiled fish, a testament to his bodily existence. That’s a good deal of proof that he was not a ghost.
     Now that that’s settled, Jesus opened their minds to understand that what happened to him was the fulfillment of scripture. And, he affirmed that they were the witnesses of it all, and were the ones designated to spread the word of repentance and forgiveness of sins to everyone. His presence among them, and the Holy Spirit’s eventual arrival, inspired them to share the good news.
     This account is a great example of the value of first-hand experience. Its purpose is to confirm the physical reality of Jesus to his first followers, showing that he was not a mere spiritual presence. The point is that Jesus was … and is … really, truly alive.
     Is this so far removed from our recent experience? We had heard about an eclipse; perhaps read about what would happen, but now we can affirm that an eclipse really, truly occurred. And for days everyone has been talking about it, everywhere you go. It has inspired a lot of reflecting on that experience, and also calculating if one might have the opportunity to do so in-person again. Isn’t that what those first disciples did have seeing their resurrected Lord?
     One of the thoughts I had when darkness fell was how such an event would have impacted those who did not know it was coming and had no scientific explanation for it. As we were waiting, Troy Koezee mentioned hearing that an eclipse once ended a war. So, I looked it up and found that according to the ancient Greek historian Herodotus, a total solar eclipse occurred during an indecisive battle between the Lydians and the Medes.
     When, suddenly, day turned to night, the fighting ceased and, thinking it was an omen, the two sides negotiated a peace agreement. Oh, that such a thing could happen in Gaza and Ukraine!
     Consider this, the first followers of Jesus were similarly impacted by their in-person encounter with the Risen Lord; their lives and their world changed, just as was the case for the Lydians and the Medes when the experienced that ancient eclipse. But, the transformation the early believers experienced continues because Jesus was and IS truly alive. That means he is present in our world today. It’s true that Jesus is no longer physically present, but that does not mean he is not here. He is, present with and working through us.
     I keep thinking about the recent deaths of seven World Central Kitchen volunteers in Gaza; who were meeting needs in a supposed “safe zone” when they were attacked.
     This non-profit, non-governmental organization was founded in 2010 by Spanish American chef Jose Andres following the earthquake in Haiti. They provide food relief where there is hunger due to natural disasters and war, not only bringing food, but employing local people to prepare and distribute it, thus bolstering families and the economy. Let me share a quote from the group’s founder: ”Food is essential to life every single day, all over the world—and it is more important than ever in a crisis. Not only is a thoughtful, freshly prepared meal one less thing someone has to worry about in the wake of a disaster, it is a reminder that you are not alone, someone is thinking about you, and someone cares. Food has the power to be the nourishment and hope we need to pick ourselves back up in the darkest times. Sadly, World Central Kitchen left Gaza, where famine threatens, following the attack due to the risks to its volunteers.
     I have no idea what the religious affiliation is of those who serve with World Central Kitchen, but I am confident in saying that Jesus is present with and working through them. They, and others like them who serve sacrificially, are proof that Jesus is really, truly alive. In them, and in us, his presence is as real and as awe-inspiring as any eclipse. AMEN