Luke 24:36b-48 – Second Sunday of Easter 2018.
I once knew a young woman who was looking for the perfect church in which to get married. The right “venue” she called it. But she nearly drove her fiancée and her mother crazy, scouting out every sanctuary in the area, looking for just the right one…the one with all the right amenities, the one with the prettiest stained-glass windows, the one with a center aisle that was just the right length.
Her final choice, however, was surprising. She ended up getting married in an old, cinder block, rectangular building with beautiful Barbie pink walls and 70’s orange shag carpeting. Why the change of heart? Well, she finally realized something very important. She realized that the church of her childhood was the place where she had been baptized and gone through confirmation, it was the place where she had met her husband and where her grandparents’ memorial services had been held. This was where she had come to know something of the love and grace of God. She realized that the building wasn’t as important as what it represented.
Now, this has been a realization, dare I say a transformation, that has played itself out across the entire history of the Church. When Luke began putting together his account of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, he was living in a time in which the sacred center of religious life had been taken away. For the Jewish people, the Temple in Jerusalem was that sacred center. It was the dwelling place of the Most-High. And in a very literal way, they believed the closer you got to the center of the Temple, the closer you got to the Holy of Holies, the closer you got to God. The temple represented the very presence of Divine in this world.
But when the Temple was destroyed in 70 C.E., the Jewish people were left without a visible, tangible sign of the presence of God. And as you might imagine, this sent a shock wave through Hellenistic Judaism, causing them to eventually rethink their entire Temple theology. Christianity however, had chosen a different course. We found our sacred center not in a temple, but in the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. So, you can imagine, then, the shock that was felt when Jesus was crucified. It appeared that the sacred center for the early followers of Jesus had been destroyed. The people who at first centered their relationship with God in a temple, and who had later found that center in a person, were left with neither temple nor person. So, where did they turn? When one’s sacred center is destroyed, then what?[i]
This seems to be the question that Luke is addressing in this strange little narrative we have before us today. Okay. Jesus appeared to his disciples, and they thought he was a ghost. But when he showed them his hands and feet, when he invited them to touch him, all this ghost talk ended. And then he told them to give him some fish, broiled fish specifically, and he ate it. Strange story! But it begins to make sense when we focus-in on the question which Luke is seeking to address. Remember, the issue is, where do we find our sacred center? When we want to find God, where do we go? If the temple is gone and Jesus of Nazareth is gone, where do we find that situation, that place, that occasion in which we can center ourselves and our lives in the living presence of God?
Now, Luke begins to give us an answer in this funny little vignette. Obviously, Luke wanted his hearers back then, and us still today, to see that a resurrected Jesus was not, and is not, a ghost or a specter of some kind, but rather, a physical being. You see, it was important, crucial, for Luke to make this point and to make it as strongly as possible because there were people in that day who believed that God could not become a human being. The popular notion then, the predominate philosophical and religious understanding was that flesh was evil and spirit was good. So, that meant God couldn’t possibility become a flesh and blood person, because the material and physical world was inferior to the “spiritual realm.” And we see this concept carried-on in the writings of Paul, Augustine, Martin Luther and John Calvin among others. So, it’s important for us to understand that this “dualistic” view of humanity has been firmly planted in the psyche of Christianity.
But you can see the disconnect here, can’t you? Most contemporary scholars agree that the resurrection of Jesus’ body affirms the goodness of the human body. Our culture is beginning to recognize that we are whole beings, body and soul, mind and spirit; and that somehow our healing, our restoration and reconciliation with God, gets worked out here, on earth, in these bodies just as much as our souls. So, “to insist on the reality of the resurrected body is to demand that we accept our present reality as the place where transformations of ultimate significance take place. This makes us embodied creatures and a people of hope.” [ii]
Barbara Brown Taylor beautifully describes this embodied experience of Jesus, by drawing our attention to Christ’s hands and his feet. She poetically recalls the ways the hands and feet of Jesus had been important in his ministry, healing people, breaking bread, traveling around with the good news. Now, wounded and bruised, those same hands and feet were proof to the disciples that “he had gone through the danger and not around it.”
Through the danger, and not around it. Much of our time and energy is spent on finding a way around things, rather than living through them. We don’t want to experience pain or danger, or even to come face to face with the suffering of other people, or the suffering of the earth. “What can I do?” you might say, “the world’s problems are overwhelming and I’m only one person.”
And yet, yet, Taylor says we bear hope for this world because of the commission Jesus gave the disciples and the whole Church long ago, for we are the Body, and the Image, of the Risen Christ in the world today: “Not our pretty faces and not our sincere eyes,” she says, “…but our hands and feet [and] what we have done with them and where we have gone with them”[iii]
My friends, the sacred center of life is still in this world today. It’s found in the lovingkindness, in the grace, and the presence of the Risen Christ. Luke is begging us to understand that THIS world is where God is active and alive; that THIS globe is where people can know God and where God lives with, heals, and empowers people. People, like you and I, to be God’s hands and feet in this world. THIS is the place and NOW is the time. We are called, challenged, and commissioned to be agents of God today, in service of our neighbors near and far. We ARE the hands and feet of God when we welcome the stranger, open our home to the refugee, and our heart to the immigrant. We are the hands and feet of God when we seek justice and equality for all people and when we seek to preserve and restore the beauty of nature. We are the hands and feet of God when we visit the lonely, feed the hungry, house the homeless, lift-up the downtrodden. We are God’s hands and we are God’s feet whenever we speak words of kindness and participate in acts of compassion. Compassion. I learned this week, that in Latin, compassion means “to suffer with.” …to suffer with.
“Here,” Jesus said, “touch my hands and my feet.” And “Here,” Jesus still says to us today, “Touch the hurts and ‘suffer with’ real people across the globe, who are really struggling, right now.” And when you do,” he says, “when you demonstrate compassion for the least of my beloved children, when you love those the world deems unlovable, when you touch those others have written-off as untouchable, you touch me. And here’s the thing. In the process, because you chose the way of love, you will be transformed.” You see, transformation finally isn’t found in the Temple and nor can it be found in even the most beautiful of church buildings. Transformation of our whole-selves, the true, deep, healing of our bodies and souls, comes, when we discover the presence of the Sacred at the center of our being and then share that presence with all our neighbors and all of creation.
Friends, as we continue this journey together, may the presence of the Risen and Living Christ guide us along the way and may we ever-seek to continue to be Christ’s hands and feet, his heart, and his voice in this world. And it’s to that end that I say, Amen.
[ii] Stephen Cooper. Feasting on the Word Year B, Vol. 2. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor eds. (Westminster John Know Press, 2008) Pgs. 424-428
[iii] Barbara Brown Taylor. Home by Another Way (Cowley Publications) 1997