1 John 3:1-7; Luke 24:36b-48
The Rev. Melanie McCarley
The resurrection is extraordinary, outlandish, unique….and perhaps even a bit embarrassing; particularly to those who consider themselves rational and devoted to contemplating only the practicalities of what is possible. And so, the tendency, at least in the postmodern era in which we live, has been to downplay, if not outright ignore the fleshy aspects of how the Gospels speak of Jesus’ return and focus instead upon the faith of the apostles; grounding the resurrection not in the flesh but in the spirit—anywhere other than the scarred hands, feet and wounded side of the crucified and risen Lord. In an attempt to appeal to modern sensibilities many theologians speak of resurrection as solely a spiritual event—meaning, I suppose, that it was experienced in the hearts and minds of the disciples, rather than felt with the hands and seen with the eyes. Perhaps the thought is that by doing this we will garner more adherents to the Christian faith who find this approach more rational, more realistic…more palatable to our modern ideology than a resurrection of flesh and blood. To all of this I say, bah. Such theologians should pick up the Gospel and read.
Because, here’s the reality—even though the Gospels differ in respect to several aspects of the resurrection story, they are entirely consistent about this one fact: Jesus really died, and really rose again…in the flesh. On this point they are adamant. And the post-resurrection stories, such as the Road to Emmaus, they too emphasize this truth.
Listen again to the account of Jesus’s appearance to the disciples in the locked room following the resurrection. Jesus enters into the room and says “Shalom” which is something of a cross between “Peace be with you” and “Hey.” It’s both a meaningful greeting and a casual, everyday form of “hello.” But to those who experienced this moment, it was neither of these things. In a word, it was terrifying. Jesus, who had died and been buried, had arrived among them, and is acting as though nothing strange has happened.
Which brings us to an important point about the resurrection stories contained in the Holy Scriptures. Doubt is a universal response to the resurrection. No one believes the good news of Jesus’ resurrection when they first hear it: not the disciples, not Thomas. Goodness, Mary even mistakes him for a gardener! No one. So, rest assured, if you have doubts about the Easter story, you’re in good company.
But back to the account contained in the Gospel of Luke. Jesus enters into the locked room and the disciples are terrified. They assume—and wouldn’t we all, if placed in their position; that what they are seeing is a ghost. And Jesus responds by inviting them to look at his hands and his feet—to touch him and to see that he is made of flesh and bone as are they.
Today’s reading emphasizes Jesus’s humanness. After three days of being closed up in a tomb, he’s hungry. Who wouldn’t be? His disciples are still terrified, and they forget to show even the rudiments of hospitality. They don’t offer him a place to sit, something to eat and drink or anything that would constitute a traditional welcome. In other words, they are surprised, caught off guard. The resurrection wasn’t anticipated. And so Jesus says: “Have you anything here to eat?” And they give him a piece of broiled fish, which he eats in their presence, underscoring that he is as real as themselves.
You may wonder why all of this talk about the resurrection is important. Why focus on a mysterious event no one comprehends? Why not preach on the teachings of Jesus instead? Why indeed?
Think of the resurrection as the hinge upon which our faith rests. In truth, it’s all or nothing. Without the hinge what you have a tomb that has been sealed shut, with the dead inside. But with that hinge in place, what you’ve got is a door that opens. Without the resurrection Jesus wasn’t who he said he was, maybe he was an interesting teacher or perhaps a good prophet. But he wasn’t the Son of God. As Bishop Robert Barron, in a recent article, phrases it: “The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the be-all and end-all of the Christian faith. If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, all bishops, priests, and Christian ministers should go home and get honest jobs, and all the Christian faithful should leave their churches immediately. As Paul himself put it: “If Jesus is not raised from the dead, our preaching is in vain and we are the most pitiable of people.” It’s no good trying to explain the resurrection away or rationalize it as a myth, a symbol, or an inner subjective experience. None of that does justice to the novelty and sheer strangeness of the biblical message…”
By grounding the resurrection in the ordinary—in the experience of a meal, with the eating of fish and the invitation to touch and feel, Jesus opens our minds to the possibility that everything we think we know and understand isn’t all there is. In light of the resurrection, we can begin to grasp that this world doesn’t hold the final word on human existence. In the light of the resurrection we can begin to see this world as a place of gestation, growth and maturation toward something higher, more permanent, more splendid.
A look at the response of these disciples underscores the reality of this experience for them. They go from being fearful people hiding in a locked room to bold evangelists of their faith. And, almost to a person, this is what they lived and died for from this moment on. And it doesn’t seem realistic to me that they died for a deception, a lie, a group hallucination, a feeling or a dream (depending on which way you choose to phrase it). They died for Jesus—the resurrected Christ, who defeated death and rose from the grave.
From the disciples to ourselves, the resurrection remains a mystery. There is no explaining it. And what a shame it would be to domesticate it. Instead, I encourage you to see in this Gospel for today Christ embodying the resurrection. This story is one of hands and feet, of scars and hunger, of flesh and bone. “Touch me and see” says Jesus. It’s an invitation to the disciples gathered in that locked room, as well as to each of us. Somehow, against all odds, I believe it is an invitation trustworthy to believe—not simply for the disciples, but for all of us. And this is good news. In fact, it’s the best news there is. In the name of the resurrected Christ. Alleluia. Amen.