Living Stereogram

April 14, 2024
Luke 24:36b-48

Christ is risen!

Christ is risen, indeed!


You might be thinking: “we’re still doing this?!” And yes, we are still saying Christ is risen! Easter continues again this week – in fact – today’s scripture story picks up right where last week’s left off.

During our service last week you may recall that we heard the story of two travelers who were making their way from Jerusalem to Emmaus and as they were walking…

…a stranger joined them on the road and journeyed with them – asking them about current events and, when they told him about Jesus’ death and that his body had gone missing – the stranger proceeded to remind them of places in scripture that spoke of the journey the Messiah would take through suffering to resurrection. It wasn’t until they arrived home, invited the stranger in to share a meal and let him bless, break and share the bread that they recognized that it was indeed Jesus, the risen Christ, in their presence. Jesus immediately vanishes from their presence and full of wonder they run back to Jerusalem to tell the other followers of Jesus what they had just experienced.

And that is where our text today picks up:

While they were still talking about this, Jesus actually stood in their midst and said:

“Peace be with you!”

The disciples panicked and were filled with fright thinking that they were in the presence of a ghost!

We can hardly blame the disciples for their surprise in this moment. They are still in a space of turbulent experiences – the emotional drain of the death of Jesus, the report of his body not being present in the tomb that morning, and now incoming reports of encounters with him from various sources. Their spirits and brains are trying to play catch up to connect all the dots that are swirling around them. And then to have Jesus appear in right their in their midst, must have been shocking! While I can offer them understanding at their response…

Jesus is surprised at their disturbed state and asks them why such thoughts are crossing their minds. He then moves into Ghostbuster mode…that is – Jesus offers them tangible assurances that he is no ghost – he is a real corporeal being.

“Look at my hands and feet – a ghost doesn’t have flesh and bones like I do!” He goes on to offer further proof by showing them the wounds of crucifixion still present on his body.

The members of the gathered group are still incredulous – remaining skeptical yet leaning towards joy – between the two emotions – they are full of wonder…

Again, I can relate to the disciples in this moment. The other week, as Penny and I were planning Sunday school for the kids and talking through these stories that we were going to be exploring together we realized how familiar this encounter feels to our responses to the world around us in this age of overwhelmingly available information, media message manipulation, and the exponential increase in access and use of Artificial Intelligence swirling around us. How do we trust what we are experiencing? How do we test and verify the information we are taking in? How do we balance our desire to embrace a hope that what is before us is ‘real’ while also maintaining a healthy critical approach to input that comes our way. I love the word wonder in this kind of space – as it seems to be a word that allows for both awe and curiosity. To wonder about things keeps us engaged and open to the experiences around us while also helping us ask critical and meaningful questions about that which we are experiencing.

Of  course, to have a librarian spouse is also a gift when one is pondering these kinds of conundrums about information for the librarian will remind you to root yourself in credible sources.

Jesus attempts to be a credible source for the disciples. Seeing their ongoing wonder still contains a healthy dose of skepticism, he takes another approach towards validating his human presence by asking them if they have any food.

They offer him some cooked fish…

…which he eats in front of them to fully assure them that he is in fact bodily present with them. I guess ghosts don’t eat filet o’fish sandwiches. Having satiated his physical requirements for nourishment, Jesus follows the same pattern as all of the other experiences of encounter that the disciples have had following his resurrection: he invites them to remember. Remember the words I spoke when I was still with you…the dazzling figures at the tomb that morning had invited the women to remember Jesus’ words, Jesus himself, though unrecognized, invited the travelers on the road to Emmaus to remember scripture, and here now, in the midst of the gathered group Jesus again says: remember what I said when I was still with you and remember what the scriptures say. Through this act he becomes a…

…conduit – a point of connection, a channel between what was, what is, and what is to come. He invites the group to turn their capacity for wonder towards the scriptures, to remember and to imagine what meanings they hold, what messages they have to offer. Jesus connects the dots between scripture references and the current events the group is experiencing on this journey with the risen Christ to help ground them and make meaning.

In the Christian tradition, we have too often followed Jesus’ practice here in a very literal way, by reading Jesus himself back into the older testament scriptures and using the connections we find as a sort of proof text for Christian supersessionism. I don’t think that is what Jesus is inviting us into. In this moment, Jesus is practicing the grounded tradition of his Jewish community of rooting himself in scripture, remembering it as a holy gift, and intentionally exploring the scripture texts to seek connections within them with what the community is experiencing now. This practice is an invitation into an expansive experience of scripture that honors the context it is rooted in, finds meaningful connections for the present moment, and offers hope for the future. It is a practice that keeps scripture alive and meaningful from generation to generation, not because the scripture was always waiting to be fulfilled by Jesus and then was finished being relevant and reflective of new seasons, but because the scripture shares stories about the human condition living in relationship with the Holy and in so doing, it reflects the ongoing experiences of people and the Divine in connection over and over again, the same stories can speak to a multitude of diverse encounters. If we look to the scriptures we will find our own experiences reflected in them, perhaps not precisely because our context is so different, but in concept and in meaning we may find surprising and relevant reflections and connections.

This intentional and expansive approach to encountering the scriptures adds depth and can shift our perspective. It’s sort of like those magic eye stereogram images that were super popular during the 1990s.

Do any of you remember these? If you do, you may already know how to see the image hidden within the abstract lines and colors – and some of you may not have ever been able to see a hidden image even if you know what you are looking for – some people just cannot make their eyes adjust to see the 3-dimensional image hidden within. And for those of you who have never seen one of these and are lost about what I am talking about – these images are a kind of optical illusion called stereograms – which means there are multiple images overlaid on top of each other in such a way that if you kind of stop focusing on the image and let your eyes settle and fall out of focus you will all of a sudden start to see a 3-dimensional image come into focus – in the case of this example – hidden within these lines and colors is a tricycle that pops off the screen when you finally see it. Don’t worry if you cannot see it – for those who can it is a fun experience and for those who cannot figure out how to adjust their eyes I have heard it is mostly a frustrating endeavor. I’m not here to frustrate you – I’m here to invite you into encountering scripture in an expansive way.

Jesus, in his invitation to remember and connect the dots on scripture is acting as a sort of living stereogram – he is layering the familiarity and context of moments in historical scripture with the context of the current moment and in so doing invites new depths and perspectives on both. I believe this practice is what Jesus models and invites us into as well – to bear witness to what has been, make connections with what is, and to share those connections as signs of hope and life for the future.

By now, you have likely realized that I illustrated this scripture story with photographs I took in the last week or so. This is a part of a practice I have carried in my spirit for many years – a practice called Scripture Spotting – through which I open myself to the wonder of seeking and recognizing reflections of scripture in the world around me and then (hopefully) capturing a picture of what I find so I can share it with others. It is an activity we pursued together for a few seasons as a congregation 10 years ago. People took photos of encounters with scripture – either literal references to scripture spotted in the wild – or more often – capturing images of scenes and situations that alluded to or reflected upon scripture in some way. Folks submitted the images to me and we shared them on social media and then created books of our collections for two years.

It’s a practice that invites us to open ourselves up to scripture in new ways. If we make space for it, it brings scripture to the forefront of our encounters with the world around us and can transform our experiences of those moments. It can also transform our experience and understanding of scripture itself. Sometimes I am surprised and even humored when I spot a reference to scripture in a most unlikely space. That spark of recognition and joy brings the scripture alive in new ways for me as I form a new connection with it. A connection that, whether I captured a photo of it or not, becomes part of how I carry a piece of scripture within me and open myself up to making it relevant and meaningful in the context of here and now.

Scripture spotting, as a practice, can resurrect our interactions with scripture. In order to spot scripture we must open ourselves up to scripture, to grounding ourselves in it, to remember what we know of it, or to engage it again as we encounter it in new ways and seek reflections of it in the world around us. It may be an invitation to dig into scripture once again, or maybe for the first time, in order to create a frame of reference for spotting it in our living. Our findings can transform how we understand scripture, it can shed light on and ask critical and meaningful questions of the content of scripture. It can invite us to renew moments of meaningful connection with the world around us. Scripture spotting invites us to create new connections with moments of scripture, making it relevant in new ways, or at least acknowledge the presence of its reflection in our current context. It is an experience of expansive interaction.

And so I want to invite us into another season of seeking and recognizing scripture in the world around us. As we go forth from this place, start to seek out allusions to, reflections of, and even literal references to scripture in your day to day living. Capture photos of them when you can, and share them – hopefully with me so we can share them with this community – at the very least with someone else so you can share the encounter and expand their understanding of a moment as well.

Jesus told the gathered followers “you are witnesses of these things.” Scripture spotting is a way we can join in being witnesses of the Holy in the world around us. It is a practice of resilience and hope that reminds us and invites us to seek and find the sacred in the world around us, even, and perhaps especially, in spaces and moments when encountering a reflection of the holy seems unlikely or unimaginable.

There is no wrong way to spot scripture – you can either illustrate a text you are reading with images in the way I did for this sermon – and you can also capture one off instances of scripture connections you find as you move through the world. You can see many examples of scripture spotting in these books which we keep in the foyer here at the church. I will also offer you a small sampling of newly found scripture spotting now to get you thinking about this practice.

Since we just came through the lenten season, those texts have been fresh in my mind and brought them easily to mind:

John 12:13
So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”

Luke 23:31
For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?

Luke 23:44-45a
It was about noon, and darkness fell on the whole land until three in the afternoon, because of an eclipse of the sun.

Matthew 18:21-22
Peter came up and asked Jesus, “When a sibling wrongs me, how many times must I forgive? Seven times?” “No,” Jesus replied, “not seven times; I tell you but seventy-seven times.” 

Matthew 5:41
Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go two miles.

2 Corinthians 1:3-4
Blessed be the God and Abba of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 

Psalm 100:5
For God is good; God’s steadfast love endures forever, and God’s faithfulness to all generations.

Just like the followers of Jesus gathered together and were surprised by the presence of the risen Christ, we too are witnesses to the mysteries, signs, and presence of God’s love in the world. We are invited to engage our capacity for wonder as we move through our days – keep your spirit and eyes open and on the lookout for reflections of scripture in the world around you. Ground yourself in scripture – look for it and let the things you encounter remind you of it. Take pictures, send them to me so we can share them with each other. Be full of wonder and wonder more as you seek and encounter signs of the Holy. Let wonder stretch your perspective, move you to new spaces of connection and meaning, and offer you hope. May the encounters you experience ground you, encourage you, and fill you with joy in the days ahead.