Luke 24:36b-48

Easter 3 (B) (2024)

Fear is a powerful, powerful feeling.

Some of us have fears we experienced as children: fear of the dark, fear of clowns or costumed performers, fear of strangers.


As we grow older, some of those fears intensify and complexify. We are afraid of unexplained phenomena (just look at how popular supernatural horror films are). We develop social fears around popularity, personality, public speaking…I mean, was middle school great for anyone?


But some of us have fears that get a little more ingrained. Sometimes they come and go: we fear an upcoming conversation or event, we fear what might happen. Sometimes it is more ingrained, as we come to fear things in the world around us. I know some of us may be feeling fear as we look at the news of increasing conflict in the Middle East (and other places as well). 


Fear is a very ancient human biological response to danger, that has served us well.

But in modern society, constant fear can turn into phobia, can lead toward anxiety…where our fears and our fear response become disproportionate to the amount of imminent risk we may have. This is true for all of us to varying degrees.


We continue to see some of this play out as well post-pandemic. I have a biological response when I hear my son coughing. My brain has some well-established pathways thanks to my limbic system that puts me on edge. I feel it in my body. My heart rate increases, I start sweating, etc.


We all have those ways our body has learned to respond to fear triggers. Add in trauma to the equation, and we become triggered by things that might not be as fearful to others. Some of our neighbors and local business owners have a fear-response when there is threat of rain. They stay out of town. They pile sandbags. They watch the weather reports constantly.


And this all makes sense. Hear me: fear is normal. And trauma responses are our body’s way of trying to keep us safe and from further harm. Fear is a normal part of being human. To be afraid is to be human.


Unfortunately, what can happen when we seek to bring our faith into dialogue with ourreality of fear, we will hear things like: “The Bible says ‘Do not be afraid’ like over 300 times,” or “Fear is the opposite of faith.” or “God is in control, so you don’t have to be afraid.” In other words, we have a way of trying to “think or believe our way out” of being afraid. Believe more. Think about how God loves you. Have more faith. Try saying this prayer or memorizing this verse or trying this new faith practice.


Well, I want to suggest that Jesus offers a different, and frankly, more helpful way for us when we are experiencing fear: ours or someone else’s.


That is how our Gospel reading begins today. Jesus’ disciples are hiding, because they, too, are afraid. Their friend and would-be Messiah has died. They’ve been hiding from the religious and political authorities, and these stories start to pop-up here and there about “Jesus sightings.”


And then, just as they were hearing the story of Jesus on the road to Emmaus from others) and in an instant, Jesus shows up! This could’ve been like a jump scare scene in a horror film! They are afraid and confused.


And Jesus’ first response to them is “peace be with you.”


Obviously, he needed to say that first, because their response is one of terror.


When we encounter someone who is expressing fear, anxiety, or a triggered response, the first and most important way is to respond with a peaceful presence. Hospital chaplains are trained this way: to have what is sometimes called a non-anxious presence. I like what one therapist has called have a calm, aware, connected presence.


When we say “peace be with you,” we are also trying to embody that very peace.


Can you remember times where you have felt the deep sense of peaceful presence? I have a vivid memory of my mom comforting me when I was just crying and crying because I was having all. the. feelings. She sat with me. Prayed with me. Sat with me. Read scriptures…until my body could calm enough to then talk.


You see, when someone else is anxious…it can cause us to also feel anxious. We then do what we do: we start talking a lot, we try to resolve other’s fears because they are fearful about things that we ourselves are fearful about, or their story connects to something in our story, so we start reliving or fixating on that.


But our response can be like Jesus…to show up, be present, and speak peace.


And notice what Jesus does next:

he asks: “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?”


Now, we can read this in two different ways. The first can be almost condemnatory. The second could be read as curious: as in “help me understand why you are frightened and what your doubts are.”


And then he says: “Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”


In other words, he invites them closer, to see him for who he truly his, to see his woundedness and also how he has healed.


It is only after speaking peace, establishing connection, being curious, and sharing his own vulnerability and story that he engages in the story of Scripture and explains how they tell about him. And then tell them they have been witnesses of these things.


In other words, Jesus has given us a model for how we are to bear witness to the Resurrection. He shows us how we can lovingly engage in a world where this much to fear, and hope to be found.


May we, too, hear Jesus speak peace to our troubled hearts, even as we speak peace to each other in a few moments. May we receive his presence and be healed by his wounds as we recieve the sacrament. May we be compassionately curious and peacefully present to one another and to our neighbors. May we be witnesses who embody peace to a world gripped by fear, by listening and attending to God’s presence and work around and within us.