Psalm 4, Acts 3: 12-19, 1 John 3:1-7, Luke 24: 36b-48
It’s two weeks since Easter day, but the buzz and strangeness of what happened continues. This morning’s gospel opens in much the same way as before. The eleven disciples and a few others were still chatting and trying to make sense of it all when Jesus appeared and greeted them in his characteristic way ‘Peace be with you’ They were startled and terrified thinking they had seen a ghost.
They see him, they hear his voice, but they don’t recognise him. They thought they were seeing a ghost. They know Jesus was crucified, died and buried. They know the dead don’t come back to life. This can only be a ghost, a spirit without a body. The tomb is open but their minds are closed.
They are unable to recognise the One who stands among them. They continue to live, think and understand in the usual human categories. They have separated spirit and mater, divinity and humanity, heaven and earth. Whenever we make that separation, we close our minds, we deny ourselves the possibility of the resurrected life which Christ’s death and resurrection offers.
With Jesus’ resurrection however, God shatters the human categories of who God is, where his life and energy are to be found and how he works in this world. Risen life can never be fully comprehended, contained or controlled by human thought or understanding. Jesus resurrection compels us to set aside our usual human understandings of reality and enter into a new reality.
But that new reality begins with touching and seeing, flesh and bones, hands and feet - and boiled fish.
Jesus said to the disciples: ‘Look at my hands and feet; see it is I myself. Touch and see, for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see I have’. Then he showed them his hands and his feet. After this he ate a piece of broiled fish in their presence.
Flesh and bones, hands and feet and broiled fish are things of creation, the natural order. Mary, a woman created by God, gave Jesus his flesh and his bones, his hands and his feet. She also gave him the stomach that would digest the fish that God created. The very same flesh and bones, the very same hands and feet appeared to Cleopas and his companion on the road to Emmaus, and then ‘vanished from their sight’; and now shows up unannounced and unexpected in the midst of their conversation with others. In last week’s gospel passage, Jesus’ hands and feet, his flesh and bones passed through walls and locked doors.
What are we to make of all this? It seems that the resurrected life of Christ, the Easter life experienced by his followers is revealed in and through the created order. It is not however bound by the created order. But the resurrected body and life of Christ unite the visible and invisible, matter and spirit, humanity and divinity. On the one hand, Jesus has a real body. On the other, it’s not subject to the natural laws of it: and space, or so it would seem from all these resurrection appearances. It’s not one or the other. It’s both. It’s a new and different reality.
The resurrected life of Christ reveals that all creation and every one of us have reflections of God, holiness and divinity. Nothing can hind or replace the grace that is. given us through resurrection life - unconditional love, unconditional forgiveness and unconditional life. That is, I think, one of the most difficult things for us to see, believe and live out. It is the divine reality into which we are incited, not at some future time, and place, but here and now.
Christ our God longs and desires to open our minds to understand the Scriptures, to understand all that has been written, spoken and revealed about him in whatever form that happens. That’s what Jesus did for the disciples and it’s what he does for us. This is not some academic or intellectual understanding. That the disciples are witnesses does not mean that they have all the answers. They are witnesses based not in what they know, but in who they are, how they live and their relationship with the risen Christ.
I don’t know how this happens. I can’t give you a set of instructions or a blueprint to follow, anymore than I could give you a set of instructions how to fall to love. The resurrected life- risen life is not acquired - it is received. It happens when we risk unbinding ourselves from the usual ways of living, seeing and relating. This isn’t a rejection of the natural order. It is allowing the natural order to open to reveal something more. That’s what happened for the disciples with Jesus’ hands and feet, with his flesh and bones and that little detail - the broiled fish. They saw and recognised something about Jesus and in doing so, they saw and recognised something about themselves - as being in the presence of the holy, a numinous moment.
Recall for a moment a time in your life when you lost track of time. I don’t mean you forgot what time it was, but when you were so awake, so present, that you entered a new world. A time when life seemed more real than it ever had. Recall a moment when your heart opened, softened, and you knew you/were somehow different. Or recall a time when you sensed something being offered you, possibilities that you did not create for yourself. They just opened up. These are the moments when Christ opens our minds to understand.
These are the moments of awe and wonder that can leave us amazed or in silence. In such moments, the One who is fully alive and risen, the Christ, is calling us to see and recognise him, to be with him, and to discover the new life he promises. This is the self are longing to become - this is resurrected life, which continues into eternity.
Today’s gospel ends with these words. ‘You are witnesses of these things’
Words of the Risen Christ spoke to all who trust in him.
He asks us to tell it, live it, become it. The risen life is yours too - we are an Easter people! Rev Canon Nick Darby
Cover image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay