The God of Surprises

I speak to you in the name of one God, Creator, Christ, and Holy Spirit. Amen +

From today’s Gospel, “While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering.”

People experience surprises in different ways. Some people love surprises…they love the anticipation of knowing something is about to happen but not exactly what that is. They love the thrill and exhilaration of the reveal, finally knowing what the surprise was all about. But generally speaking, most people don’t like surprises, even if that surprise is something that will make them happy or change their life in a positive way. When given a choice, a lot of people would choose to keep things the way they are, in the ways that make sense to them, even if the surprise would reveal something great and life changing. Often, it is our emotional state and how we are currently feeling that can also affect how we experience surprises. For example, I had a friend who planned to propose to his girlfriend on a hike. He had arranged for a beautiful picnic to be laid out at the top of an overlook (the end of the uphill hike) to be the perfect scene for him to propose. The only problem was that his girlfriend hated to hike, and this was not her idea of fun. After complaining the entire hike and being in a foul mood, once they reached the top and saw the picnic, she was oblivious to what was about to happen. Even as my friend got down on one knee, the thought that this was a wedding proposal never entered her mind. It wasn’t until she saw the ring and heard the words “will you marry me?” did she start to understand what was happening, although even then she confesses that she was massively confused. The idea of engagement was not new to my friend’s girlfriend…they talked about it all the time…they had looked at rings, talked about what their wedding may look like, and even had the name of their first child picked, but based on her current mood and how she was feeling, she was unable to see and understand the surprise that was right in front of her. Her personal reality didn’t match the great surprise that my friend had lovingly put together for her. She didn’t recognize the surprise that was right in front of her!

Context matters. What is going on around us matters, and our emotional state impacts how we receive information, even if that information is wonderful and expected.

Last week we heard a post resurrection story from the gospel of John. We heard about Jesus making himself known to the disciples and how they believed he had been raised from the dead and were “rejoicing” at this news. But today we hear Luke’s account of what happened. The disciples were in a locked upper room, just like in John’s account, but here the disciples had just finished hearing an unbelievable story about how two men were walking to Emmaus when they encountered a stranger on the road…a man who was wise and opened up the meaning of Scripture. This man had such an impact on them that they invited him to stay and eat, and in the breaking of bread it was revealed that this man was actually Jesus…alive and risen! The two men ran back to Jerusalem to tell their story to the disciples, and that is where our gospel reading begins this morning.

It begins with Jesus surprising his disciples. He appears to them out of nowhere!  And unlike in John’s account, the disciples were not rejoicing…they were confused and frightened. And who could blame them!?!? Their master was dead. They saw him crucified. It made senses to believe that once you die—once you are killed—you stay dead and that death is the end. This is the way it is. This is way life works. It didn’t matter that Jesus had told them he would rise from the dead on the third multiple times before he was crucified. It didn’t matter that they had just heard of a firsthand account of seeing Jesus alive. All they could feel and experience was the grief and fear that came with Jesus’s execution. Their savior, their master, their friend was gone and they were consumed with hopelessness. No, this surprise, this sudden appearing of Jesus among them didn’t leave disciples rejoicing…it left them disoriented, confused and in disbelief. But why? They had been told this was going to happen, and they had literally just been told this already happened, Jesus is standing right in front of them showing them his wounds from the cross, saying to them “touch me…see me. This is real…I am not a ghost” and still, while joy was starting to creep into their consciousness, they were disbelieving and still wondering. The disciples didn’t see the surprise that was right in front of them! Their personal reality didn’t match the surprise that Jesus had lovingly prepared for them. In this moment, Jesus doesn’t get mad or frustrated…no. Instead he meets them where they are and offers them an opportunity to reflect… “let’s have a meal a together…let’s do the thing that we’ve done hundreds of times together over the last three years…let’s sit with what has happened and discern together what this means…let us take this moment to quiet our minds to what we have known to be true in the past and begin to believe to in the possibility that there is something much more wonderful and true and good that does exist.”

During Jesus’ life, he constantly used surprises to help people believe that through him anything was possible. Yes, he surprised by making the blind to see, and the deaf to hear, but he surprised by flipping over tables, eating with tax collectors, and letting women wash his feet with their tears. The message was clear: we can be healed and relationships can be forged with Jesus’s help. But some surprises are bigger than others…some are more believable than others, and some require more time for us to believe what is true.

What is going on around us impacts how we receive information, and often times we need space to understand the surprise—to even begin imagining a different reality.

Our God is a God of surprises, and just like Jesus during first century Palestine, God uses surprises still to help us believe that anything is possible. But like those disciples on that third day after his death, it is easy…it is human to forget or disbelieve that transformation is possible and we don’t recognize the surprise that is right in front of us. Whether it is the hike up the big hill you’d rather not take, the grief of one who you thought would make everything right but is now dead, or the innumerable things that the evil in this world continuously makes known to us (racism, pandemics, gun violence, healthcare inequity, and white supremacy just to name a very few), these things disorient us to the truth that nothing is hopeless with God. Not even death.

The truth that was revealed to the disciples ultimately transformed their fear and disbelief into action. It was this surprise, this action of seeing the alive and risen Christ, experiencing this unthinkable reality that moved them out of their disorientation into being Christ’s agent of transformation in this world. But this didn’t happen immediately. It took time and it took time with Jesus at their side.

Easter is a season, a time to sit and discern what God has revealed to us. It is a time to sit with, and experience all the feelings that come with surprise—the disorientation, the disbelief, the wonder, the fear, the joy and eventually…the hope.

While our personal reality may seem hopeless, especially in the midst of such pain, violence, and uncertainty in this world, God’s reality is full of surprises!

In this season of new life and hope, what surprises in your life are you ready for God to transform? What disbelief are you carrying that God is ready to transform to truth?

God gives us surprises all the time–they are there to help us change the world for the better. They are right in front of us. May our reality be part of the beautiful surprise that God has laid out for us.