The Third Sunday of Easter B – April 22, 2012 – “Easter Imagination”
Acts 3:13-15; Psalm 4:2,4, 7-9; 1 John 2:1-5a; Luke 24:35-48
Have you ever had an experience where you imagined something to be real but it really wasn’t real? You do not have to be a mystic to have such an episode. It is called an alternate reality experience. Interactive narratives, also known as alternate reality games (ARGs), are very popular. Fictional elements of a story contain clues that lead players to discoveries that continue the game. The outcome of the story is altered by the players’ ideas or actions. Books have been written so that young people can skip chapters or create new ones to change the outcome of the story.
Sound confusing? Imagine how the women and men in the gospel today felt about their experiences. They thought Jesus died on the cross. Then they heard he was missing from his grave. Now they are not only looking at him, touching him and hearing him talk, they are also eating with him. Were they having an alternate reality experience or was the risen Christ really there?
All the gospels struggle to depict what the risen Christ looked like in these stories. They seem to be saying Jesus was transformed in some way and was unrecognizable. The bible includes other experiences of alternate realities. For example, the stories about the transfiguration on a mountain and the ascension to heaven both depict Jesus as transformed and unrecognizable.
Scripture scholar John Pilch and others believe that such experiences, imagining things happening when they really are not, were common in the Mediterranean world.  While we may be suspicious of such occurrences in an age where we rely so much on scientific and medical proof we are intrigued by works of fiction including movies like The Matrix, Inception and The Tree of Life.
It is important to remember that the scripture texts we heard this morning were written many years after the timeframe depicted in them. The gospel of Luke was written sometime toward the end of the first century, after the Jewish War and the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and some fifty years or more after Jesus rose from the dead.
Why was this story written so many years later? The obvious reason was to give testimony or witness to the risen Christ, to inspire newly baptized Christians and potential candidates. They also affirmed the belief that Jesus the Christ fulfilled the prophecies found in the Hebrew bible. Those prophets themselves called the people to live alternate realities not governed by power and greed. 
The evangelist, Luke, who also wrote the Acts of the Apostles, was a strong proponent of a divine plan. He believed it was God’s vision that everything proclaimed by those old testament prophets would come true in the person of Jesus the Christ. How is that vision, that plan, coming to fruition? A prophetic church, working with other faith traditions to develop ideas and actions, will shape the future of religious and civic history.
We will never know if these disciples really met the risen Christ or if they were having an alternate reality experience. Did they complete these narratives with their own actions and ideas? What we do know is that their hearts were burning within them (Luke 24:32). Years before any creeds or doctrines were defined, long before the church was institutionalized and charisms were clericalized, these post resurrection believers trusted in and embodied the presence of Christ in their lives.
These Easter stories continue to inspire you and me in our own time. I tried to find a way to connect today’s scripture readings with Earth Day, celebrated today. The slow destruction of our earth’s natural resources is not an imagined alternate reality. It is very real. I offer this connection. Think of environmental issues as an alternate reality game wherein we have the opportunity to change a course of action and determine a different outcome for our planet.
We can choose whether or not to be responsible for the creation entrusted to us. We can make choices about consuming energy and purchasing goods. By taking care of the planet, respecting people, honoring all species, protecting our natural environment, we can embody an altered reality. Just like those first disciples, the church today, you and I, guided by the spirit, can make real the risen Christ living among us.
1 Pilch, John. The Cultural World of Jesus: Sunday by Sunday Cycle C (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1997) 67
2 See Brueggermann, Walter. The Prophetic Imagination. Second Edition (Minneapolis: Fortress) 2001