The Same OL’, Same OL’; Is not the Same OL’
By Rev Steven R Mitchell
Mountain View United, Aurora, CO 4/19/2015
Based on Luke 24:36-48
In this morning’s gospel lesson, we read another authors account of Jesus meeting with the disciples that first evening of discovering an empty tomb. In John’s account (which we read last week) we see Jesus speaking with the disciples, who were behind locked doors. In both stories the disciples are fearful because they assume Jesus’ ghost is appearing before them. In both stories, Jesus’ first words are, “Peace be with you.” This is where the similarities stop.
In this story, Luke shares how the disciples understanding of a ghost was challenged. If I were to take a survey of this room, asking, “Have you ever had an encounter with what you believe to be a ghost?” I would get some “Yes’” and some “No’s.” But almost all of us could describe the characteristics of what a typical ghost would have. (ask audience for their understanding of what a ‘ghost’ is.) Luke tells us that after Jesus had proved to the disciples that he was who he said he was, He then does a very un-ghostly thing – He tells them that he is hungry and asks them if they had anything to eat.
I have always been a lover of the cartoon series “Casper the Friendly Ghost). As a child I would watch this series religiously. I was totally delighted when some years ago, a movie version was made. The movie showed the same ol’, same Ol’ things that a ghost would do. It showed how ghosts were mischievous, loved to scare people, and enjoyed haunting empty houses. It also showed how when a ghost would eat, the food would just fall start through them, splattering onto the floor. But this movie did something different, it provided a moment where Casper was able to materialize into a fully human body. All of a sudden, the same ol’, same ol’, was no longer the same.
When Luke is describing the events of that room, with Jesus walking through locked doors, suddenly appearing and disappearing, and of showing human needs such as hunger, Luke is telling us that things were not the same ol’, same ol’, but that something new has happened. Jesus although dead, although a ghost, was not dead, was not a ghost, but still fully human.
This story is a very hard concept for some of us to wrap our minds around. For those of us who have experienced what we would call a ghost, it might be easier to toss around the idea of disciples talking to Jesus, as a ghost. Yet Luke is telling us that Jesus is more than a ghost, that even though Jesus was no longer the same prior to his crucifixion, he was still the same. I would like to explore this story of Luke’s by sharing with you an event that I attended this past Thursday at the Temple Emmanuel in Denver.
I had the privilege of attending The Governor’s 34th Annual Holocaust Remembrance Program. The topic of this program was, “Survival and Forgiveness: The True Story of Eva Mozes Kor, Mengele Twin.” The guest speaker was Eva Mozes Kor. Eva and her sister were twins, from Portz, Romania. At the age of 10 years old, they were taken to Auschwitz concentration camp, where they underwent genetic experiments conducted by the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele. Both Eva and her sister Miriam, survived Auschwitz; with Miriam eventually living in Israel, and Eva moving to the States, becoming a U.S. citizen 1965. Author of two books, Angel of Death… and Echoes From Auschwitz, Eva shares her stories across the country talking about survival and (what I believe to be even more important) forgiveness.
In this gathering of over 1,600 people, you could not help but be filled with tears as at least 35 people stood up who are survivors of those concentration camps, with another couple of hundred family members also standing. This year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII and the release of those who were still living in Nazi concentration camps. As I was listening to Eva’s story, I was struck by how she was able to forgive the Nazi’s for the murders of her family members and of the cruelty that she and her sister Miriam endured at the hand of Dr. Mengele.
A part of her healing came through the establishing of the organization: CANDLES: Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Lab Experiments Survivors. The other step in her healing came through going back to Germany, meeting one of the Dr’s who worked under Mengele, and both of them visiting the facility where these experiments occurred and his signing a letter acknowledging his participation in those experiments.
The second part of Eva’s sharing was some of the life lessons that she has learned in her journey. Eva then, that up to the point of having that letter signed, she had spent almost 45 years hating the Nazi’s. What she realized was, through that hatred and non-forgiveness, she was still a victim, she was still a prisoner of the war, of the Nazi’s, and of Dr. Mengele. With the signed letter by a Nazi Dr. describing all of the brutality and abuse that she and scores of other twins endured at Auschwitz, Eva said she was able to forgive the Nazi’s. When challenged by a Jewish Rabbi that through Jewish history, it was the perpetrator who needed to confess and ask for forgiveness before forgiveness could be granted by the victim, Eva said, “if these guys are dead and unable to ask, where does that leave me?” “It is I who has the power to forgive. It is I who needs to be released from the fear and anger that are the seeds of future violence.”
There is something very important and often over looked, that needs to be brought out in Luke and John’s story about what went on behind those locked doors between Jesus and the disciples. Jesus was the first to speak in these stories, and the very first thing he says is, “Peace be with you.” In saying this, Jesus is giving forgiveness. This we understand, but what I think we fail to understand is that by tradition, it should have been the disciples asking Jesus for forgiveness, not Jesus offering it first. In fact, there are no accounts of the disciples ever asking to be forgiven. Without forgiveness, I do not think that the disciples would have had the courage and assurance needed to move forward in life. I also think it was important for Jesus to give “forgiveness” first, not just as an example of what a ‘good person’ should do, but because I don’t think Jesus would have been able to ascend to God without doing this. If Jesus truly is God in human form, then he would still have human feelings; if Jesus still needed to eat solid food, then I think Jesus still had human emotions that also needed to be attended to.
Emotions such as anger, fear, low self-esteem are all emotions that paralyze and cripple us as human beings. As Eva responded, “How do I benefit myself by hanging on to that anger? Why should I deny myself the joy in life by living with grudges? How do I better myself by harboring seeds that lead to conflict?” Eugene Peterson paraphrases on one of Jesus’ responses to forgiveness this way: If you don’t forgive sins, what are you going to do with them?
As I sat listening to Eva, I also realized that she was talking about ghosts. Ghosts come in many forms, but they all represent the past in some form or another. When the disciples first saw Jesus, they saw a ghost, but once they had “peace”, they then saw Jesus their teacher and friend. Eva was saying that as long as she lived with non-forgiveness of those who hurt her, she was always going to be haunted, imprisoned really by the ghosts of her past.
Forgiveness is the essential message to be understood through these post resurrection stories. The power of the resurrection story is found through the truth of “forgiveness.” It is in the death of Jesus that we understand the power that comes through forgiveness. On the cross, Jesus utter, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” Behind the locked doors, Jesus gives forgiveness to the disciples, “Peace be with you.” Later by the sea of Galilee when Peter is still unable to forgive himself for his betrayal, Jesus again speaks forgiveness language to Peter in saying, “go feed my sheep”.
Events like the Holocaust program are designed to continue to remind us of the horrors that humanity does to itself, hopefully so we will learn lessons that will help us prevent future atrocities, but it also reminds us of the importance of what “forgiveness” plays in the ability to move forward in life. When we talk about living as a resurrection people, we have to live “forgiveness”, for that is where life, new life is found. Amen