July 25, 2017

Jesus has Necrophilia

Acts 2: 5-12
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and
Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”

John 20: 19-23
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Preached at Trinity Lutheran Church, Lanark, IL for Northwest Conference pastors’ meeting on May 14, 2008 (Pentecost)
Jesus has Necrophilia!

This is a strange scene describing the gathering of the disciples on the evening of the day of Resurrection. This was the day when the power of God was made manifest in the midst of this world, the power that overcame death and the devil, whose job is to keep the funeral business thriving, caskets closed, and tombs sealed. That day, the first of the week, a tomb broke open and the crucified one, the executed criminal, Jesus of Nazareth, defeated his executioners. And justice was served! On the evening of that day, however, the disciples of this Jesus were locked in; they created for themselves a tomb of defeat for they were overtaken by fear. Fear of the world outside. Fear of the people who would not understand why they were the followers of a loser. Fear that that the big mouth of Mary Magdalene and her story of having seen the Lord resurrected would get around and stir the hatred of those who had executed him. Fear was the disciples’ self-chosen tomb. They chose to play dead. They pretended to be corpses.

Yet Jesus had not only resurrected, but he continues to suffer from a condition that psychologists would diagnose as necrophilia. Jesus is necrophilic, there is nothing that stimulates and arouses him more than corpses. Nothing was more exciting to him than to descend to the dead as we confess in the Apostles’ Creed. And these corpses can be those found in cemeteries, or they can be pretending ones locked up in fear.
It was Jesus’ necrophilia that brought him to that closed up room on the evening of the first day. When Jesus appears in the midst of them they rejoice. Corpses as they were, they seem to be like those dried bones in the vision of Ezekiel that gain sinews, flesh, blood and skin. And like in the vision of the prophet there is something still missing. So Jesus says to them: “Peace be with you.” And we don’t know, but if they were liturgically sound they would have responded: “And also with you,” and they would embrace each other. But here something else happens. Jesus did not embrace anyone. Instead he showed them the still fresh three days old scars on his hand and on his side. Something was still missing. And the disciples did not get it.
Well, Jesus was a teacher. Just a couple of verses before the assigned reading, that is what Mary Magdalene calls him: “rabbouni,” my teacher. Teachers know what a Latin saying has enshrined: repetitio mater studiorum est, repetition is the mother of learning.

So, since they did not get it the first time, Jesus repeats: “Peace be with you.” And to be a good teacher, as he was, he paraphrases what he meant in the first place: “As the Father sent me, so I send you.” In other words: Get out of here; get out of fear. That is what peace means. Get out of fear. That is what it means to practice resurrection.

And as to how that happened we don’t know. And we also do not know what happened in the forty days Jesus was still with them, but ten days later at Pentecost, that is fifty days after the resurrection, the disciples got it. They, apparently, were slow learners. It took them fifty days for the lesson to sink in. On the fiftieth day after they heard the shortest sermon Jesus ever preached, they were all gathered again. But this time it was not a locked up room. It was a public place, so public as to attract people coming from all over
the known world at the time. Pentecost is one of the three most important holidays in the Jewish calendar, a day of pilgrimage to Jerusalem by Jews from all over the world. And there they were to saw those disciples of Jesus that finally got out of the closet, the tomb of the closed up room upstairs. So, now they were out, exposed to the very people they had feared so much before. Now there was no fear; now there was no hiding.

What happens is an amazing story about being blunt and exposed. These two texts should be read together as they are in the Bible, just two pages apart. Jesus spirited them and now they are out very much like wind and fire, uncontrollable. They are just out there and people gather, and church happens! Yes, they were speaking in tongues that, presumably, they never knew. Paul recognized this as a charism, a gift of the Spirit, although not the greatest one if it were not interpreted for the whole community. But this is not the point of our text. The point of the text is exactly the opposite. It is not about speaking but about listening: “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear them?”

Yes, it was the Galileans that were speaking that day at the gathering in Jerusalem. And Galileans were known as carrying a very strange accent when they spoke the language of the land, Aramaic. People often could not understand them. Speaking in tongues if it is to be a Pentecostal experience needs to be understood by the hearers. If not that particular experience is not Pentecostal, the Spirit is not present there. The presence of the Spirit gives one the courage to go out and express oneself, to truly believe means to communicate, to be able to be heard. It is like saying: “Are these not all Mexicans, or Brazilians, or Indians, or Saudis, or Southerners? How is it that we hear them?”

Pentecost is a feast of harvest, and harvest it was that day when people culled the fruits of the Spirit sown by Jesus on the day the Resurrected met his friends and said unto them: “Peace be with you.”
This is the miracle of Pentecost: listening! Understanding what peace means: rejoicing over justice.

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