April 15, 2018: Easter 3 (English)
Easter 3, April 15, 2018. Zion, Baltimore.
Acts 3:12-19; Psalm 4; 1 John 3:1-7; Luke 24:36b-48
There are rules for everything. There are rules for registering as a member of a political party. There are rules for going to college. There are rules for becoming a pastor. Unless you decide to go off on your own and start your own church and be your own pastor, but I can guarantee you that as soon as there are two or more people involved in the endeavor, there will be rules.
There are rules for how we get our food. You can’t just walk into a store and take whatever you want, nor can you walk into some random farm field and just start picking corn, or beans, or whatever. You pick any subject and I can guarantee you that there are rules for it to be found somewhere. And it turns out that, in Antiquity, there were rules for testing whether someone was a ghost. But let’s rewind a little bit, first.
In Luke’s resurrection account, the women go to the tomb early in the morning. The stone is rolled back, and two men in dazzling clothes announce that Jesus was raised. The women return and report the news to the disciples and the rest, but their report seemed to be an “idle tale” and was not believed. Interestingly, our translation seriously waters down the disciples’ response to the women’s report. The original Greek communicates that they thought the women were delirious. Peter, however, runs to the tomb and confirms that it’s empty.
On that same day, two from the group of followers of Jesus are going to Emmaus when they encounter, but don’t recognize, Jesus. They express their disappointed hope that Jesus would be the one to redeem Israel, but Jesus explains how everything that happened was necessary according to Scripture. The two invite Jesus to spend the night with them. During the meal, when Jesus blesses and breaks the bread, their eyes are opened, and they recognize Jesus, but he vanishes from their sight. They rush back to Jerusalem and report to the gathered believers what happened and discover that Jesus has already appeared to Simon.
“While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you’”.
It’s the same greeting used by Jesus in his post-resurrection appearances in John. It’s appropriate considering the disciples’ fear. More than just a greeting, “peace” is a repeated theme in Luke, beginning in the hymns of Zechariah, the angels, and Simeon. As the first words of the risen Jesus in Luke, it promises the immediate relief of fear. But is also presents us with the over-arching theme of the post-Easter life in Christ. It’s also the scriptural foundation for one of the oldest rituals in the Church, which is the sharing of the peace. It’s more than just a friendly ritual. It’s physically sharing with one another the same peace that the resurrected Christ offered his disciples.
But this transcendent moment is interrupted, by the disciples’ doubts. They think they are seeing a ghost. To convince them that it’s really him, Jesus shows them his hands and feet, because them’s the rules! Jesus is providing proof that he is not a ghost according to the accepted rules of the time. There were several ghost tests in antiquity: One could check extremities where bones were evident (namely, hands and feet). One could make sure that a person’s feet were touching the ground. And one could check for someone’s teeth and witness them eating food.
More significant than his hands and feet, however, is Jesus’ revelatory statement: “I am myself”. After eating the broiled fish they gave him, he once again reminds them that everything that happened to him happened in order to fulfill Scripture. The result, Jesus says, is that “repentance for the forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”
Luke emphasizes the physicality of the resurrected Jesus. Clearly, Luke wishes to demonstrate a flesh-and-bones Jesus, not a mere spiritual presence or apparition. But the point is not the physical, resurrected body, in and of itself. Luke himself would not have seen the resurrected Jesus. The point is that Jesus is really real and truly alive! So, how is Jesus is really real and alive in our world today? Where do we touch the hands and feet of Jesus? How can we provide food for the world through which others will experience Jesus’ reality? The answer is us.
Why so much emphasis on the physicality of the resurrected Christ? Because even after the resurrection, the emphasis is on the incarnational presence of Christ. Even after the resurrection, God continues to be enfleshed in the person of Jesus. God in human form does not cease to exist after Christmas. God in human form does not cease to exist after the crucifixion. God in human form does not cease to exist after the resurrection. Touch my feet. Touch my hands. I’m hungry. Do you have anything to eat?
Jesus says to the disciples, “Peace be with you.” The word Jesus would have used would have been the Aramaic derivation of the Hebrew word “Shalom”. Shalom is a concept which is far greater and all-encompassing than simply the lack of conflict, which is how we typically understand the idea of peace. Shalom conveys peace, as in the lack of conflict, yes. But also, harmony, wholeness, completeness, prosperity, welfare and tranquility. In other words, “May all things be as God intends them to be.” “…the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them.” (Luke 7:23) The Kingdom of God has come near.
In Luke’s account, however, confirming the physical reality of Jesus is not the ultimate goal. In the reality of Jesus, the reality of God’s plan is revealed. That reality is two-fold in nature. First: The reality of God’s plan is that God’s continued presence in the world, the event of the Kingdom of Heaven coming near, shall continue to be incarnational in nature. Second: The reality of God’s plan moves us forward into the future.
Jesus charges the disciples to be witnesses, proclaiming repentance and forgiveness to all nations in his name. In the Apostles’ Creed, we confess that we believe that Jesus rose from the dead and that we believe in the resurrection of the body and the forgiveness of sins. Like the first disciples, we have also experienced Jesus’ real presence. These statements, which we confess, are not just doctrines we affirm but the basis for our calling to be witnesses of these marvelous things.
We’ve become so wary, especially as of late, of touching others or of being touched. And not without reason. Because there is a real vulnerability in permitting another to have physical contact with you. And, as we’ve seen, ad nauseum, over the past several years, the trust in permitting the vulnerability of touch has been abused by others.
Like everything else in this world, the power of human touch has been corrupted by sin and evil. Which is all the more reason to reclaim it for ourselves as the Church, the Body of Christ, the incarnational presence of God in the world today. Because nothing is more fundamental to who we are; besides food and water, no need is more basic than the need for being touched by another. Newborn babies that are held and touched, all other things being equal, are the babies that thrive. Newborns that are not, tend to languish and fall behind developmentally. In an article in the most recent issue of the AARP magazine (yes, I get it because I’m over 50 and I want my %10 off at Duncan Donuts!), an article noted that athletic teams that touch and embrace more, also win more. When we share the peace, we share the healing touch of Christ with one another.
In his book “Now That I Have Cancer, I Am Whole” (2007), John Robert McFarland a Presbyterian pastor writes: Now that I have cancer, it’s a touching time.
My friend Bill came to see me, a week after I was out of the hospital. He drove a hundred miles each way to spend an hour with me. We’ve been friends for almost thirty years…
When he was ready to leave, he sat on the sofa beside me and put his arm around me. I held on to his leg, like a little boy might wrap his arm around a father’s knee. We prayed together. He told me he loved me. I tried to tell him I loved him, too, but I couldn’t get it out. I believe he understood, though. Other than shaking hands, I think that’s the first time we’ve touched in thirty years.
Now that I have cancer, there seems to be an unspoken word of permission for people to touch me, for me to touch them. It’s funny, that a broken body should somehow be more touchable than one that’s whole. Or am I touchable because my spirit is broken? … In all the stories of Jesus, there is only one instance of anyone touching him while he was alive in the body. He, of course, touched many… The only time anyone reached out to touch Jesus was to betray him, Judas with a kiss, the authorities of his own faith and people with a slap.
Somehow, we seem able to touch one another in our brokenness in ways we never can in wholeness. God likes to use broken things: broken bread, broken ointment jars, broken bodies, even relationships broken with a kiss.
My body and my spirit have been broken by cancer. That means I can touch and be touched. I’m thankful for the cancer.
"Here, touch my hands and my feet," Jesus says to his disciples. “Touch the hurts of real people, and you touch me."
There is no doubt that things like our church buildings are important. This is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful sanctuaries in which I’ve ever served. I love the symbolism of the windows, the artistry of the woodwork, the faith and passions that have gone into this building. It is sacred space.
But Luke reminds us that the sacred center of life is not a building or a program. The center of our lives in Christ is found in our daily ministry as the incarnational Body of Christ. The spiritual center of our lives as the hands and feet of Jesus is found where we are armpit deep in the physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, human hurts of people in our church, our community, and our world. Our spiritual center is re-established every time we gather around Word and Sacrament, and continually re-discover the living and true God, who meets us and continues to empower us for ministry in this world.
"Here," Jesus said, "touch my hands and my feet. Touch the hurts of real people and you touch me." God touched the real world in the real life of Jesus, the Christ. In him we find our center, our meaning, our refuge, and our strength. May we touch others as he has touched us with his love. AMEN