Something Fishy

Easter Worship 2013 continued at Crafton Heights as we kept on reading through Luke 24 – the story of Jesus’ appearances on the first Easter.  Check out The God Who Pursues Us for the beginning of this worship.

Ok, I am not making this up.  Because, really, if I was making it up, it would be a better story.  But it’s useful for my purposes now.

Five or eight years ago, I was by myself at a restaurant in some western city – one of those indiscriminate Applebees/TGI Friday’s places that is sort of half-bar, half-restaurant.  There were a lot of TV’s, I remember that.  As I’m sitting there contemplating my next day’s travel, I notice a couple of guys across the room who are looking at me and clearly talking about me.

Fouts1This kind of wierds me out, and so I am feeling to make sure my hair isn’t standing up, or that I don’t have some huge stain on my shirt or something.  Nope, I’m clean.  After a few moments, these fellows come over to my table, carrying a camera, a menu, and a pen.  One of them asks for my autograph.  I stammered a bit, totally caught off guard, and the other one says, “Look, Mr. Fouts, we don’t want to interrupt your dinner, but we’re huge Chargers fans.  Would a picture be out of line?”

Fouts2And then I get it.  Five or six times in my life, someone has confused me with Dan Fouts, the 6’3”, ruggedly handsome Hall of Fame quarterback for the San Diego Chargers from 1973 – 1987.  While the first time I understood how easy it would be for them to confuse my own stunning physique with that of a professional athlete, mostly I wonder, “Do all white guys with beards look alike to you, or what?”

When I explained to the gents at the bar that I was only a pastor from Pittsburgh, and their need for my autograph and a snapshot evaporated rather quickly.  It was a simple case of mistaken identity.

Jesus Appears to the Disciples After the Resurrection (Imre Morocz, 2009)

Jesus Appears to the Disciples After the Resurrection (Imre Morocz, 2009)

As I read through the texts that describe the first Easter, I wonder if that’s a part of what was going on.  Our reading for today, which carries on from the one we considered at the earlier service, begins with a gathering of Jesus’ followers.  Cleopas and his friend have just raced back from Emmaus with the news that they shared the road with Jesus.  Peter has declared that he’s seen Jesus.  The women have told their story – the Lord is risen!

But others, it would appear, are not so sure.  They look at their friends and they say, “Look, Pete, it’s been a long weekend.  You need some rest.  Maybe you saw some other bearded guy wearing a long white robe…”

As this conversation is going on, “Jesus himself stood among them.”  And note, beloved, what happens in the room.  The people in this room, many of whom have just claimed to have seen Jesus earlier in the day, are simply terrified.

Why? Because they thought that they were seeing a ghost.  Everything about their reaction indicates that they believed that they were encountering the dead.  They believe that they have been brought into the presence of someone, or something, from another time.  They do not understand what they are seeing – it can only be a spirit from another world.

Jesus, however, does everything he can to insist that they are seeing a living, resurrected body.  They are not in the presence of a reanimated corpse – a body, like their friend Lazarus, that once was dead but then had been resuscitated, only to await the grave a second time.  Jesus goes to great pains to explain to them that they are in the presence of a bodily expression of the Divine being.  The One who stands before them is a living being – a being composed of body, mind, and spirit.  An integrated representation of God the Son, in their living room.

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas, by Caravaggio (1601)

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas, by Caravaggio (1601)

And while they stand there, looking at him with their jaws on the floor, he says, “Look, it’s me!  Prove it to yourselves.  Handle me.  For crying out loud, give me a sandwich!”

Let me point out, particularly for those who were here for the earlier service, how different this is from his conversation on the road to Emmaus.  When he was walking along with Cleopas and the other earlier on that Easter morning, wasn’t he talking with them about the possibility, and perhaps the necessity of the resurrection as essentially an idea?  Didn’t he use the scriptures and the story of his own life to get them to see that part of what God had in mind was the concept that the Messiah would suffer and die and be raised?

But here in that locked room, it’s not an idea, a concept, or a theory…It’s HIM!  Jesus!  The real deal!  The one who has walked with them and eaten with them and taught them and served them…  Jesus pulls off a “show and tell” lesson to convince his friends that it is really he who has been resurrected.

Allow me to point out two reasons why this is so significant.[1] First, everybody in Jesus’ day – and many, many people in our own, have this notion that at the core of human existence is something called a “soul” that is immortal.  This line of thought is essentially that there is some sort of indestructible form of human existence that is installed in a body when a baby is born and lives on in a place called “heaven” when that person dies – unless the soul is recycled, or reincarnated, into another shell.  When we think about that very long, we see that fundamentally such a view devalues the physical creation.

But how often have you – or have I – fallen into that?  How many times have you walked by a body in a casket and said, “Oh, that’s not old Jim.  Jim is up in heaven now, doing whatever Jim liked to do best on earth.”  As if that body in front of you didn’t contain some Jim-ness.  We sometimes act as if the “soul”, whatever that is, is all that God’s really interested in, and the body is just an unfortunate piece of baggage that the soul has to lug around for six or eight decades.

Friends, there is something fishy about a gospel that proclaims that the body doesn’t matter; there is something that is not right about a gospel that says, “Well, you may not like it now, but it’ll get better.  Bye and bye, there will be pie in the sky…”

Jesus’ insistence that it was HIM who had been raised – a bodily resurrection – smacks that kind of theology in the face.  It shows us that God values creation, and that physicality and matter are important to Him.  God’s future for creation, as shown in Jesus, is not a bunch of spirits hovering around in some undefinable netherworld filled with harp music.  Jesus was the first, but you are included. We will be next.  His invitation for his followers to feel his wounds and to watch him eat lunch is a plea for them to realize that He is who he is – a whole person with a body (although a body that has been transformed by resurrection), a mind, and a spirit.

The second reason that Jesus is so intent on ensuring that his friends know that it is really him is to ensure that they make a vivid connection between the dead Jesus and the risen Christ.  “Look at my wounds!  Do you remember that scar? It’s me!”  The Jesus who died is in fact the Lord who was risen.

So?  Why is that so important?

So if the Jesus who died is in the past, and the Christ who has risen belongs to the present, then we are free to leave buried with Jesus all the things he taught us about honoring the poor, caring for the sick, or suffering for others. If the Jesus we knew and followed is dead and therefore belongs to the past, then there is no imperative for us to engage life in this world.

There is something really fishy about a gospel that is only concerned with the so-called “spiritual life”.  When a person wants to know whether I believe that their soul will make it to heaven, I want to scream that they’re missing half the story.

christ-sending-his-apostles-02The resurrection is God’s declaration that THIS matters.  The three years that Jesus spent healing people, feeding people, caring for the lost, the last, the least, the little, and the dead – they were not some sort of “opening act” for the “real” spiritual message that he was getting ready to give us.  In many ways, they were the message – the message that God, in Jesus the Christ, opens up a whole new way of living in which the blind see, the lame walk, the poor have good news preached to them, and God’s favor is poured out on all nations.  The resurrection is the indication that this way of living is so powerful that nothing – not even death – can quench it!

That way of living began in Jesus, but now, according to Jesus, “You are witnesses of these things.”  We are not spectators.  We have a voice.

Listen: your life is not some sort of preparation period for eternal harp lessons.  You are not here wasting a lot of time doing things that don’t matter (like working, having kids, cutting the grass, baking bread) until that day when your number gets called and you get to die and then your soul can finally get in on the good stuff.

No, you and I are called now – today – to participate in the eternal.  To share in the life that Jesus lived and that he gave to his followers.  Are we limited in this?  Of course we are!  There is sin in the world.  There are fractures.  There is brokenness.

But none of those things are eternal.  None of those things can pass the resurrection test.

But Jesus did.  Love will.  Justice will.  Peace will.  You will.

Let us live that way – as if we are participating in the eternal life of God in Christ, right now – body, mind, and spirit!  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

[1]   I am indebted to Fred Craddock in his Interpretation commentary on Luke for much of this insight.

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