Today’s text begins in a similar setting to that of last week, where we read of how the disciples were gathered together in that upper room behind locked doors for fear of possible persecution from their various authorities. Luke places them also in Jerusalem, but we’re not told exactly where – just that they were gathered together ‘somewhere’, when those two unnamed others who had just met the risen Christ on the road while walking to Emmaus joined them, and told them all about that meeting. It must have been deeply unsettling for them. Dare they begin to have hope that Jesus is risen? And 36 While they were talking about this, we’re told Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
That is what he had said[i] always would happen as two or more are gathered in his name – Jesus would be there. It’s what happened in the upper room, it’s what happened on the road to Emmaus as those two were walking and talking about him, and it’s what happened here in today’s text. It’s what is happening now, as we gather to worship even online in his name… He is here. Then we’re told of their reaction as they realized his presence with them: 37 They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost.
Clearly, to experience Jesus’ risen Presence palpably, physically, tangibly actually with them was not at all what they were expecting. Deeply challenging for them – taking them waaaay outside of their expected comfort zones. 38 He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.[b] 41 While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate in their presence.
The question is why did Jesus make such a big deal of emphasizing the physical reality of his presence?Sure he wanted to communicate the fact that he was no longer dead – that something quite wonder-full and miraculous had happened – but why not just let them believe it as a purely spiritual reality? Wouldn’t that have been simpler?
Wouldn’t it have been enough for him simply to let them come into an awareness of him now risen as a spirit: some powerful figment of their imaginations perhaps, purely a rise of their consciousness? Why was it SO important that they NOT believe that? And why his wanting to eat something – that piece of broiled fish: what was that about?
Certainly Jesus’ resurrection body must have been very different in so many ways from his before-crucified body – but, however it was different, Jesus was specifically wanting them – and us – to understand the sheer physicality of his resurrection! WHY? I think it’s because Jesus knows how our very human tendency is always – if not to ignore him, then, superstitiously almost, somehow overly to ‘spiritualize’ him! And I think we do so because we think it’s easier that way.
We reason that if the risen Christ can be confined to being only ‘spiritual’ then it doesn’t really matter so much how we live, physically, how we treat others, even treat ourselves, …so long as we are looking up and away – towards worshipping some elevated something, some spirituality we may call Jesus but who is clearly way above and outside of our worlds: something ‘over there!
That’s what a purely interventionist god would be like. Remote, but who deigns to intervene by occasionally dipping into this world: that would be a god requiring us to bring our various acts of dutiful obeisance in order to keep it happy enough to grant us certain favours from time to time. Dear God: Is that what we allow our faith in you at times to appear to be: us believing that we can continue to live our physical lives however we want because it doesn’t really matter so long as we keep that carefully portioned-off ‘religious’ bit of our spiritual lives clean and in order?
Well, here Jesus is saying to those disciples – and to us all – that we can’t do that. As a risen, physical, presence, he takes all of this – our physical world very seriously indeed.
The risen Christ is not outside of the everyday reality of our living. Remember how in Matthew 25 he actually says it in so many blunt verses – that ‘Whatever you have or have not done to even the least of these among you have or have not done TO ME!’
The entire cosmos is, in this sense, filled with the wonder-full presence of God and as we engage physically with all of it, so we are being given insight here into how we have capacity to be engaging the risen Christ. Isn’t that the point of Psalm 139 which asks: ‘where can I go to be away from your Spirit, your presence?Mountaintops, valleys, even in the utter darkness, O Dear God, YOU ARE THERE! Or how we’re told in the prologue to John’s gospel that the spiritual Word became flesh and dwelt (dwells) among us!
We have to understand this. It is an absolutely key element of our faith. And it is right there, spun all through scripture! I wonder to what extent it was just that which Jesus explained to those disciples on their way to Emmaus…? 44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures…
The way of the risen Jesus Christ is a beautiful and holistic way of living where we are given to see his holiness in everything. Fr Richard Rohr repeatedly points out how[ii] our typical translation of the Greek word the NT writers use to describe our response to the Gospel ‘metanoeite’ or ‘metanoia’ as ‘repent’[iii] is unfortunate as it does not have too much to do with our penitence as to do with the ‘changing of our minds’. “Until the mind changes the way it processes the moment, nothing changes long term. And so ‘Be transformed by a renewal of your mind’ as Paul says in Romans 12:2, which hopefully will allow the heart soon to follow.
Evidence of the reality of the resurrected Christ is all around us, but because we are all so easily obsessed with just the superficial veneer of what we mistakenly insist is most important, we miss it. We miss him.
The holiness of God’s love, poured out in Jesus, made manifest in the risen Christ, and sealed by the Holy Spirit, insinuates itself into all of our physical world. If only we had the eyes, ears, hearts open enough to see and appreciate it!
We sing it at Easter – ‘JESUS CHRIST IS RISEN TODAY! But do we know that? Do we see it? Hear it? To what extent do we actually embrace it? This is the stuff for which we are all created as a Christ-following people of the resurrection! While yes, Jesus Christ certainly is risen today – in me, in you, and everywhere – our sin is the brokenness that we allow from within ourselves and others to obfuscate/smother our appreciation of that most beautiful and God-given, that most Gospel-real reality!
We access that reality through the cross. It’s as we allow whatever gets in our way to die with Jesus as he dies, that a whole new appreciation of God’s holiness, everywhere, is given to rise up in our awareness with the Christ, as he rises.
Imagine with me what more we could be and do as we grow in our appreciation of that wonder-full truth, with resurrection eyes SO open that instead of seeing our world’s so many displaced and homeless refugees as threats, we are given to see them as yet so many struggling Nativity families looking for a home to birth their new lives. Or, instead of seeing our planet, and all the universe in fact, as something simply for us to plunder, abuse or ignore according to our greed or whim, we get to see it as the vessel, the holy sepulcher, the very bearer and revealer of Christ’s risen presence, inviting our engagement and nurturing stewardship.
I think THAT is why Jesus chose deliberately to eat that piece of fish. He was wanting those disciples to have absolutely NO DOUBT regarding the SACRED PHYSICALITY of his risen reality. Our work, then, surely, is to choose to stop whatever is going on within our own lives that traps us within a small and ‘UNHOLY’ view of creation with Christ as a purely spiritual something that exists somewhere else! I think perhaps that’s mostly what we call sin… We can confess that as we ask to be released into a deeper appreciation of this other infinitely more real & Christ-filled risen reality.
And so with multitudes of worshippers down the millennia, we confess our faith that the same Jesus who once lived, and died, has now risen as the Christ and, by God’s amazing grace, calls us to worship by acknowledging his risen presence everywhere!
May that be so,
Dear God, we don’t pretend ever to be getting this perfectly correct.
But thank you that we don’t have to, because in Jesus Christ, you always do!
And that, somehow, as we lean hard into your grace, committing ourselves to grow into ever-deepening awareness of you as Our God – just doing our best – it’s enough.
Thank you, bless you, in Jesus Christ’ Name, Amen.
Rev. Robin Jacobson reserves all rights © 2021.
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[i] Matthew 18:20
[ii] See Center for Action and Contemplation devotion dated 2016-03-29. Also chapters in ‘The Universal Christ’ and elsewhere
[iii] Matthew 3:2, Mark 1:15