“You are Witnesses” Colchester Federated Church, April 18, 2021, Third Sunday of Easter (Luke 24:36-48)

Eastertide continues on with the story of Jesus appearing to the disciples after his resurrection in the Gospel according to Luke.  The story begins in a similar way to what we heard last Sunday in John’s Gospel with Thomas’ encounter of the risen Christ.  Now in today’s resurrection appearance, Jesus shows up among his followers and says, “Peace be with you!”[1]  The disciples are terrified, wondering if they are seeing a ghost.  Jesus asks why they are startled and why doubts are arising in their hearts.  Jesus says, “Look at my hands and my feet.  It’s really me!  Touch me and see, for a ghost doesn’t have flesh and bones like you see I have.”[2] 

Okay, so far this should sound similar to how John shared Jesus’ resurrection appearance among the disciples last week.  But then Luke goes in a completely different direction when he talks about fish.  Jesus asks the disciples if they have anything to eat and they give him a baked fish.  Luke tells us, “Taking it, he ate it in front of them.”[3]  This whole thing just cracks me up.  Jesus shows up, declares “peace be with you”, offers for the disciples to take a closer look at his hands and feet, and then asks for a snack which he eats in front of his bewildered disciples to prove that he’s not a ghost.  So we modern believers have food and the nature of Jesus’ resurrected body to contemplate together.

First of all, what’s up with the fish?  Remember that Luke’s Gospel mentions food frequently.  New Testament Professor Mark Allan Powell wrote that one of the unique characteristics of Luke’s Gospel is that it displays “an unusual interest in food.”[4]  That’s not an exaggeration.  There’s 24 chapters in the Gospel according to Luke and 19 meals are mentioned!  Luke’s interest in food is all over the pages of that Gospel.  We are on Chapter 24 today and Jesus is asking for something to eat—a fitting end to this Gospel.  Jesus appears to be eating all the time.  Jesus talks about food, tells parables about banquets, and he even gets criticized for eating too much and eating with the wrong people.  So what does Jesus do after his crucifixion and resurrection?  Naturally in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus asks his disciples if they have anything to eat! 

Food may just be a metaphor for life.  When food is shared with one another that means that we are sharing our lives.  Think about when we sit down and have a meal with people we love.  The pandemic may have caused us to realize how important those moments truly are with one another.  The restaurant industry has been hit hard because of covid.  The truth is that we share our lives over meals at home and in restaurants.  We talk about our days.  People cook special meals and will say that the secret ingredient is cooking with love in one’s heart.  We pass down family recipes from generation to generation.  We even have church cookbooks! 

Jesus eating the fish is just classic for how Luke told the story of Jesus’ life.  Sharing the fish is part of how he is trying to get the disciples to see that it’s really him.  Jesus is present with them declaring peace—not as a ghost, but as the resurrected Christ in their midst.  They witnessed how he often shared his life with them.  Jesus seems to be saying, “So what are you waiting for and why are you so hesitant?  It’s actually me!  Pass the fish.”

This Gospel story can also serve as a reminder that bodies (our bodies and Jesus’ body) matter.  There is always debate about the state of Jesus’ resurrected body.  Debate about if we understand the resurrection to be a literal bodily resurrection or if we understand this as a metaphorical spiritual resurrection.  Though this resurrection appearance from Luke’s Gospel does show that bodies matter.  However we understand what the resurrection was and what it means in our lives, we can understand that it matters that Jesus had a body just like we have bodies. 

Now you and I might say that this is a no-brainer.  But there were some Christians (like some of the Gnostics) who maintained that Jesus was a spiritual being and messenger who came to earth to bring special knowledge.  But he didn’t have a body like our own bodies.  Because for the Gnostics, the spirit was good and the body was bad.  The material world was evil, and we needed to be freed from this evil world. 

That belief was strongly refuted.  But ask some Christians to talk about bodies, and folks may still get a little uncomfortable going there.  In today’s text we see that Jesus’ body was wounded.  Jesus bears the marks of crucifixion.  Those marks have not disappeared as if his suffering never happened.  That’s one of the ways Jesus knows his disciples will recognize him.  He is asking them to examine his wounded body in an act of vulnerability.  To look at the scars that he bears.  To see that this is their teacher and friend who suffered and died on a cross.  To have a human body means that we also may bear scars or have wounds.  In this way, Jesus was just like us and we are just like him.

To have a human body also means that people will judge our bodies based on what they see when they look at us.  In Bible Study we are reading Valarie Kaur’s book See No Stanger: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love.  She writes about loving others, loving opponents, and loving ourselves—and does so through the lens of telling her story as a Sikh activist, filmmaker, and civil rights lawyer.  When sharing how she learned to love herself Valarie Kaur wrote, “The world sends a barrage of signals that our bodies—as women, people of color, women of color, queer people, trans people, and disabled people—are not beautiful or strong or worthy of love.  Taking the time to breathe—literally and metaphorically—is a way to assert that our bodies are worthy and beloved.  Loving our bodies is the first and primal act of loving ourselves.”[5]  Some people more than others (because of sexism and racism and homophobia) are inundated with messages about our bodies being less than and not good enough.  Messages about our bodies not being beautiful or strong or worthy of love. 

Our Christian faith has something to say about this.  Our Christian faith teaches that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine.  Today’s Gospel story can make us wonder what the human side of Jesus thought about his body and the scars that he bore even in his resurrected form.  It’s worth wondering what Jesus thought when he looked down at his hands and feet and side.  The beauty of our faith is that in Jesus, God came to us and shared our common lot as human beings.  Jesus shared meals with his friends.  He walked and talked and breathed and cried.  He suffered and died.  Jesus experienced the good, the bad, the beauty, and the terror of a human life.  Knowing the humanity of Jesus can help us on our way to loving our bodies and loving ourselves. 

In the end, it matters that Jesus actually had a body.  A body that bore wounds and scars that did not disappear after Jesus rose from the grave in whatever form his body happened to have post-resurrection.  It matters that Jesus asked to eat fish with his friends when he stood among them declaring “peace be with you.”  Because sharing meals with those he loved was one way that Jesus shared his life with them.  Remember that you are also created in the image and likeness of God.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

[1] Luke 24:36, Common English Bible.
[2] Luke 24:39.
[3] Luke 24:43.
[4] Mark Allan Powell, Fortress Introduction to the Gospels, 92.
[5] Valarie Kaur, See No Stranger: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love, 216.

Photo by DICSON on Unsplash