Third Sunday of Easter
There is something very fleshy about Luke’s version of Jesus’ appearance to the disciples. When they thought they were seeing a ghost Jesus invites them to touch and see and then asks if they have something to eat. Jesus’ resurrection was not in some faraway place. He was flesh and blood. He ate with them and let them touch his hands and feet. Our resurrection, too, happens here on Earth. God cares about our bodies and our planet -especially those bearing wounds and scars. Where flesh and bone do not convince, Jesus asks for food.
At the heart of the Christian story is the claim that God’s love is expressed in the most intimate way possible - by becoming one of us. By being embedded in the human, God is always present wherever we are – present in us. God gets into the world through us. His resurrection appearances are all bodily. He shows his own scarred hands and feet and put them before the disciples and us. The continuous invitation is to reach out and touch, to listen to the underside and be with them. This God, who is flesh and blood, is vulnerable to everything that is human which includes being able to be hurt and shed tears. God revels in physicality. It is a reminder to us how our bodies give shape to the expression of faith.
The message of resurrection is not easy to believe. People may scoff at the ‘idea’ and devise evasive explanations to turn it into a vague ‘religious experience’, rather than the offensive event that it is: a murdered Jesus who rose bodily from the grave. As I prepare these thoughts, I am aware that tomorrow is the anniversary of the execution by the Nazis of Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer in 1945 on April 9, who said: ‘Christianity has adjusted itself much too easily to the worship of power. It should give much more offence, more shock to the world, than it is doing. Christianity should take a much more definite stand for the weak than to consider the potential moral right of the strong.’
So Jesus appears in the midst of distress and confusion and says ‘Peace be with you’ (Luke 24:36). To prove that he is alive and to resume table fellowship with his disciples, he asks them for food (Luke 24:38-43). He intends to widen the circle of inclusion. The good news is that many Christians across the theological spectrum are following in his footsteps today and listen to the underside of the world and make space for them. As Greg Carey writes, ‘Jesus’ message is shocking not because he extends the boundaries to include outsiders. His message shocks because it doesn’t recognize boundaries at all.’ Even when those in power exclude certain groups of people from service and leadership, many others encourage welcome and inclusion. Where Jesus makes the table bigger, politicians, corporate and religious leaders try to make it smaller. But we see that God always breaks open the closed systems that we create in order to let new people in. As the story of Easter morning is at the heart of our faith because it is God’s ‘yes’ to life and ‘no’ to death, the story of the Easter evening in today’s gospel tells how this movement began around a welcoming table. Jesus’ regarding food being available might also be a reminder about the importance of hospitality – a basic rule the disciples forgot in their fear and confusion. They pulled away and kept themselves aloof because they were afraid and suspicious rather than offering Jesus food, water, shelter, or comfort. So Jesus, by leading with vulnerability – ‘I’m hungry’ - reminded them of their most fundamental calling – the call to hospitality. We may also need that reminder as did the disciples. What if pushing past our fears and suspicions we find that this is the best way to reveal Jesus to the world? What if pushing past our fear of the stranger, fear of wasting time or money, fear of experiencing rejection or failure, fear of being irrelevant, fear of scarcity and not having enough ourselves; fear of giving up our power, fear of listening in order to be available to another, we showed another way in which Jesus is present. We see that food and hospitality came before belief.
Sara Miles, a self-described ‘blue-state, secular intellectual; a lesbian; a left-wing journalist with a habit of scepticism,’ in her book Take This Bread, tells when she wandered into a church one day and ‘ate Jesus.’ She was hungering and thirsting for righteousness, and ‘found it at the material core of Christianity: body, blood, bread, wine, poured out freely, shared by all’. She discovered a religion rooted in the most ordinary yet subversive practice: a dinner table where everyone is welcome, where the despised and outcasts are honoured.’ This led her to start a ministry centred on real food, real hunger, and real bodies by opening food pantries all over San Francisco and feeling hundreds of people each week. Her work led her, as she says, to meet ‘thieves, child abusers, millionaires, day labourers, politicians, schizophrenics, gangsters, and bishops.’ Her community widened in many ways.
We recognise in the gospel that the Resurrection is always life-changing. Jesus’ greeting of peace is a recurring gift and challenge. It is the only way to accept the radical message of resurrection. Though following Christ is not always clear, we can live by love and hospitality.… as God has loved us. That love varies and changes depending on whoever we encounter. Jesus’ love was countercultural and is even considered ‘sinful’ by the authorities as is the case Europe, the USA and Australia in recent years. Our actions, our advocacy, our striving for peace with justice, our being with people considered ‘outsiders’ or the underside of the world (refugees, people who are homeless or unemployed or underemployed, gay and lesbian and other genders) might raise eyebrows and lead to problems or conflict. But, the love that Jesus inspires is always about relationship, not legalistic. Pastoral, not dogmatic. Liberating, not constricting or dominating. Other-centred, not self-centred. Embodying these actions in our lives, despite the risks and doubts, despite opposition, shows that Jesus is truly risen. Jesus’ offer of ‘peace’ (shalom) conveys a challenge to each of us: what are you doing to make the world look more like God’s world rather that organised by governments, multi-national corporations, markets, organised religion and the like? These drive the spikes and nails into the hands and feet of our sisters and brothers and are incapable or unwilling to recognise or respond to the wounds - see my hands, see my feet.
Jesus’ hunger is connected (cf. Matthew 25) with hungry people being fed, naked people being clothed, people in prison being visited; people who are strangers, migrants, asylum seekers being welcomed. Their wounds are his wounds! This is challenge not only for our society but also our churches. It remarkable that Jesus choses to share what is most revealing about himself: the unmistakable signs of his crucifixion, defeat and vulnerability which he shares with crucified humanity. Richard Hays asks, ‘If the resurrection has broken into the world, however, why do we still live a world entangled in violence, injustice, and death? Why do innocent people continue to die in bombings, in senseless shootings, in acts of terror? Why the senseless violence, structural and physical, against Black people? Why does cancer continue to eat away at our bodies? (‘This is the day the Lord has made: Living the resurrection in a time of violence and despair’, ABC Religion and Ethics April 4, 2021). When Dietrich Bonhoeffer was being led to his execution, a prison guard found a piece of paper with the words, ‘Only a suffering God can help.’ Paradoxically Jesus’ wounds pulled the disciples out of disbelief into a radical, life-altering faith. Even in the resurrection, Jesus’ witness was a witness of scars. If this Jesus is real, trustworthy and approachable, maybe people need to see our scars rather than our piety and to see our vulnerability rather than our power. ‘Only a suffering God can help.’ We have been given new life by Jesus’s resurrection. Our role is to represent his presence, because his resurrection determines the shape of the life we life now and together we can say to the powers that they will be defeated.