Today’s passage begins where last week’s left off. The two disciples from Emmaus have returned to Jerusalem and are telling the other disciples about what they saw.
Suddenly, Jesus appears among them in a locked room. Now in normal circumstances this would be strange enough, but when you’ve watched the one who appears among you die, is it any wonder that their first instinct is to think there is a ghost in the room?
But Jesus calms them. He says “Shalom.” Peace be with you. He proves that he is not a ghost by offering out his hands for them to touch. As a form of reassurance. And beyond the reassurance of being touched, Jesus asks for something to eat. What could be more physical or more comforting than a meal shared?
There is a part of me that wonders if that is why we seem to specialize in plentiful potluck dinners. I can’t remember ever going to a church potluck and not finding an array of taste sensations and calorie-laden goodness spread out like a banquet of acceptance and comfort. All are welcome to the table and there is always more than enough food.. When we lack words, we often bring food instead. When we wish to offer comfort and care, it often comes in the form of casseroles and hot dishes, bread or brownies, all seasoned with the spirit of love and compassion..
It is precisely the sense of food as comfort that makes the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus so appealing to me. Wherever there is food, you’ll find God. Jesus breaks the bread after walking the Emmaus Road, and Jesus shares a shore-side fish broil with his still dazed and confused disciples. Here, he proves his reality by sharing fish with them. Jesus shares fuel for the body with the disciples and gives them fuel for the faith. Both hunger of body and soul are satisfied in the presence of the risen One. Jesus provides both comfort food and true soul food—a plate of plenty for the hungry heart.
There are those that argue that the physical is just temporary. That this body is just for the time being, and what we really need to focus on is the spiritual life that is beyond this life. The argument goes something like: since the world and human flesh are inferior and filled with evil, the goal of life is to rise above the world and eventually to escape from this world into the realm of the spirit where we really belong. If that’s true, it means that we can ignore the physical aspects of life in the world and focus all of our attention on spiritual matters, for that was where ultimate value was found. Therefore, physical hurts and suffering and pain of human beings–such as hunger, disease, slavery–can be ignored as long as we save their souls.
Luke is dead set against this argument and makes it clear that Jesus is bodily resurrected for a reason. Fred Craddock says “And Luke is saying no to those notions of spirituality that view the body and all things physical as inherently inferior or evil. Those who view themselves as just passing through this evil world tend to neglect the physical, economic, and political needs of other human beings. Luke reminds us that the risen Christ said, “Look at my wounds,” and, “Do you have anything to eat?”
No one can follow this Christ and say that discipleship means only concerned with “souls.” For Christ, what happens in the here and now matters just as much as what happens afterwards. Why else would Christ have spent so much time healing and feeding others? Why else would have he come back in his body?
Between these very physical offering of hands and the eating of fish, the disciples are convinced, it’s really Jesus who rose from the dead. It’s not a spirit. Not a vision. Not a hallucination.
You can’t reach out and touch a hallucination. Visions don’t eat broiled fish. Jesus has been made new, somehow, but Jesus has a body. His body may be mistaken for someone else at first, but he is corporeal. The disciples can touch him. They can eat with him.
Then the text says “While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering.” I just love this idea of being full of joy even in the midst of disbelieving and wondering. I mean, come on, Jesus was dead and now he is appearing to his friends in all kinds of places. Who wouldn’t still be filled with wonder and some feelings of disbelief that it is all just too good to be true?
There is a story, about a man who not seen his family in over 20 years. There had been conflict. He had been hurt and decided to leave home and never return. More than 20 years later he had a change of heart knowing that he needed reconciliation with his family. He gathered up all his emotional strength and returned home. His mother and sisters who had not had any word from him during the long period of separation and had on occasion even wondered whether he was dead, responded like the early followers of Jesus who first saw his resurrected.
When the man arrived at his home the family was startled and fearful. They had not expected to ever see him again and they remembered the conflict that had separated them. Was it really him? Was he back for revenge? They wondered. But finally, their pain became joy, the joy of disbelief this son and brother lived and had returned to them. Throughout their visit the mother and sisters would say to him, “We can’t believe its you,” and would touch him and hug him for a sense of verification that it was him.
For the disciples, even though he died, their Lord is back again. And he appears over and over to the disciples, eating their food, allowing them to touch his wounds, to help them believe. That alone would be incredible enough, but Jesus offers even more.
Not only has Jesus been resurrected, now he is saying that the disciples can be forgiven for all that they have done wrong. That with repentance, they can truly be forgiven for all of the dark parts, all of the mistakes. All of the hurts done to others. And so can everyone else.
This is a radical concept at the time. Forgiveness came only through a number of deeds and sacrifices that varied dependant on the sin. Instead, all they need to do is repent. And the awful things will be forgiven. Wiped away so that they can begin anew in Christ.
No wonder they had trouble believing in everything through their joy. I think there are days when we still have trouble believing. There are days when the story seems so incredible we can’t help but be doubtful, even as we are filled with joy.
We are experiencing the resurrected Christ, but it feels too good to be true. No one then and no one now really knows how to explain the Resurrection, so, like the disciples long ago, we can only try to describe our experience of it. When we read the story of the two disciples whose eyes kept them from recognizing him on the road to Emmaus (even though their hearts were mysteriously burning as he spoke), followed by this picture of a growing little community of questioning, wondering believers, we’re reading about ourselves, too.
This week’s passage speaks of an offer of peace, a request for food, a blessing and a commissioning. In both stories, Charles Cousar writes, the disciples experienced Jesus’ presence as “mysterious but real. It eludes human perception, and yet is no human fabrication.” Both of these stories describe the very earliest Christians hearing and doing the very same things that 21st-century Christians do: journeying, questioning, fearing, but also feeding and being fed, listening for and receiving God’s call, and, of course, like many church communities, doing Bible study.
We are reminded through this passage and our first lesson from 1 John that forgiveness and life that is really life can be ours, but we sometimes hold our breath waiting for something to go wrong. Like the disciples who were able to be filled with joy while struggling through their disbelief and wonder, we journey with Jesus as we struggle through our own disbelief.
Jesus comes to us after the resurrection still today. “Peace” he says. Let us respond in joy, even on days we struggle with our disbelief. Amen.