This Sunday—the Third Sunday of Easter—should be called “Surprise Sunday.” In all three years, the gospel lesson has to do with surprise encounters with Jesus. This year, Year A, is the story of the Road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35), when two disciples are shocked to discover that they had been talking with Jesus all afternoon. Next year, we will read the succeeding story in Luke (24:36b-48), in which Jesus startles the disciples and asks for some fish. In Year C, we read John’s account of the disciples failed attempt at fishing and Jesus’ instruction to cast the net on the other side of the boat, which results in the surprising and revelatory catch of fish (John 21:1-19).
Maybe surprise is supposed to be the theme of Easter. It shows up elsewhere, too. In fact, the gospel accounts make it seem hard to meet the risen Jesus—even after seeing the empty tomb or meeting the resurrected Jesus firsthand—without being surprised. They’re always a little jumpy when he shows up. What about us?
We know the story too well. Alleluia. Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia. What’s new about that? Where’s the surprise there? Maybe I should stand up and declare, “Merry Christmas!” just to catch people off-guard.
No one is ready to meet the risen Jesus. Think about it this way: if you encountered the risen Christ, would you let him out of your sight? Yet he always disappears and reappears when they least expect him. What about us?
Faith needs a little surprise—otherwise it’s just rehearsed facts that require no faith. Resurrection is supposed to surprise us. Easter is supposed to surprise us.