April 22, 2012

Have You Anything To Eat?

Passage: Luke 24:41-43

While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, "Have you anything here to eat?"  They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.

“The exclamation point is singular among all punctuation because it has no true grammatical function in English except to amplify a feeling ... presumably not adequately conveyed by the words selected,” writes Pamela Haag in The American Scholar. “It wasn’t even a standard feature on typewriters until the 1970s. Before then, you had to be judicious about that exclamation point because assembling it required that you type a period, backspace, and type an apostrophe above it. Today the exclamation point is used with unprecedented, hyperventilating frequency in correspondence, deployed to soften underlying hostilities or to gin up excitement when no true reason for it suggests itself. ... the exclamation point is the grammatical mascot of an age that values the public projection of sunny emotions and feeling.” I gather, by the tone of the paragraph, that Ms. Haag considers this a mistaken use of the exclamation point.

Similar to Ms. Haag’s complaint; do you find yourself bristling at the incorrect use of some words?  When I hear a sports analyst speak of an “unbelievable” play or an “incredible” save I want to send them all back to the classroom to read the dictionary.  “Believable” means “capable of being believed especially as within the range of known possibility or probability”; “unbelievable” means something not to be within the range of known possibility.  I just saw the supposed “unbelievable” play on the highlight reel—it is, therefore, really quite believable.  Similarly, something is credible because it offers reasonable grounds for being believed; if it is incredible there is no reasonable ground offered for being believed.  I saw the “incredible” save made by the goal tender; the save was really very credible because the puck was not in the net.

Somehow these words have been turned into a kind of superlative to express something exponential in grandeur—it still isn’t correct.  I recall a theology professor handing back papers to his class and making a few general remarks.  One of them was on the prevalent use by students of “incredible” as a modifier for the love of God.  God’s love is indeed credible as the cross of Christ shows; to be incredible is to say that the assertion that God loves has no credibility. (I am sure some are already thinking what they will say to me at the door—that was an incredible sermon.)

There is, however, something that God has done that it would be correct, in some measure, to say was “unbelievable” and “incredible”; something that God has done to which you cannot add enough exclamation points to express our shock and surprise and wonder.  The resurrection of Jesus Christ is in a category completely outside the realm of any (previously) known possibility or probability; we have no reasonable ground from our experience of life to speak about it.  It creates its own brand new reality.  Its shock and surprise still reverberates today seen in the fact that so many—even among Christians—view it as some sort of ethereal, unworldly (ghost-like) event.  I invite you to reflect with me on the bodiliness of Jesus’ resurrection; “Have you anything to eat”, asked the risen Jesus.

1.  “We are all captives of the picture in our head—our belief that the world we have experienced is the world that really exists”, wrote Walter Lippmann an American writer and political commentator.  It is clear, in the disciples’ first experiences of the risen Jesus, that the world they experienced and believed existed screamed at them, “This can’t be happening”.  “They were startled and terrified, and thought they were seeing a ghost.”  “Seeing a ghost” was the category they reached for to speak of what they were seeing. “No”, asserts Jesus, “this is not what is you see”.  What they are seeing has never been seen before.

Luke recounts six episodes in the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus to assure us of Jesus’ resurrection.  The text we read is the fifth of those appearances.  The disciples have gathered; the room is chaotic yet there is excitement; Peter tells of seeing Jesus; the two from Emmaus tell how they recognized Jesus when he broke the bread; the women give their account; Mary Magdalene tells of taking hold of him—they are trying to put together their experiences and suddenly, though the doors are locked, Jesus is there among them.

Take note that Jesus insists that he is no ghost.  He asks the disciples to use their physical senses to know that he is bodily alive; they can hear him speaking (audible voice); they can see him (as they see each other); they can touch him (he is quite solid).  The risen Jesus possesses a functioning body—albeit with some special abilities—full physicality nonetheless.  To further make the point Jesus asks, “What’s for dinner?” (Have you anything to eat?)  They gave him a piece of boiled fish and he ate it.  Usually we offer even surprise guests to our home something to eat or drink; Jesus had to ask for food.   The risen Jesus is in a category never seen before; thus the disciples’ blanking on the courtesy of offering food is understandable.

It is hard for us, with the influence of Greek philosophy in our education system, to set aside the notion that we possess a soul that is eternal; the idea that the real you is inside, your body is merely a casing that will one day be discarded.  This is not the Biblical view of the human.  The Apostle Paul, in speaking of the resurrection we look forward to in Christ, said, “what is sown perishable is raised imperishable. ... It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body”.  We tend to hear that through the lens of our education and thus think of the life to come as some kind of ethereal existence.  The mistake we make is importing ideas into Paul’s though that he does not share.  When he speaks of a “spiritual body” he means physicality; he means a body that is possessed of a new principle that he speaks of as “imperishable, spiritual”.

The scripture affirms that the resurrected body our Lord possesses is the bodily life that believers look forward to in him.  In first century Judaism, the framework of thought for Jesus’ disciples, the resurrection was viewed as a sudden event that happened to God’s people at the end of time when God’s kingdom would finally come on earth as in heaven.  What Christ’s followers began to declare—after the resurrection of Jesus—was that this One particular person Jesus was raised in advance of all the rest.  They affirmed that the resurrection of Jesus, happening in the middle of history, anticipates and guarantees the final resurrection of God’s people at the end of history.

After Jesus eats and the disciples’ initial fears have abated Jesus begins to teach them what it all means.  It was surely shock enough to their minds and hearts to embrace the actuality that it was Jesus very much bodily alive among them.  As that shock abates Jesus begins to teach then from the scriptures what it means.  The disciples have seen in Jesus the fulfilment of God’s plan for the world’s salvation and restoration.  What God has done in Jesus, raising him from the dead, is what he intends to do for the whole world.  This—resurrection—God’s insists is what the whole world has been waiting for, longing for.

Put another way these followers declared, in light of Jesus’ resurrection, that Jesus is the “End-of-all-things” in person; he is “God’s-future-arrived-in-the-present.”  They believed that those who belonged to Jesus and followed him and were empowered by his Spirit where charged with transforming the present, as far as they were able, in light of that future.  Luke summarizes the heart of the mission that arises from Jesus’ post-resurrection teaching this way: “that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”

“Repentance and forgiveness of sins” is proscriptive of what to do in the present.  We are to declare God’s amnesty with respect to our sin and turn from sin in every aspect of life; sin which by definition destroys life.

The resurrection means that Jesus Christ has tasted death so as to drink it all down, swallow it all up—all to the end that we may find ourselves freed to live in the light of this truth. Living in the light of this truth, we are free to embrace life fully and joyfully. We are free to be life-affirming unreservedly, without having always to be looking over our shoulder for the contradiction and cancellation of what we are doing and are enjoying now. Since, in the profoundest sense, our death is already behind us, we are free to live—which is to say, we are free to give ourselves away, since to live is to love.

2. “Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself”, said our Lord to his frightened disciples.  Why does Jesus direct our attention to his hands and feet?  This is where the nails were hammered through to secure him to the cross.  Why are Jesus wounds visible?  So we will know that the one raised was the one crucified.  Will we bear our scars in the resurrected life: I would say no because he bore our wounds for us.

Jesus made it plain both that he was no ghost and that he had nevertheless truly died. There had been no play-acting in his death. It had been real and it had been necessary. It really was Jesus; the same one who had walked with them in Galilee.  This is not a case of mistaken identity; “see that it is really I myself.”  These followers of Jesus soon after are proclaiming that it really was Jesus of Nazareth who was raised.

I invite you to reflect on what this implies for the resurrection promised by Jesus to his followers.  If, as the Apostle Paul declares, “we will be united with him (Jesus) in a resurrection like his”, then it really will be you!  Even through death and decay will overtake each of us we are never lost to God and you will be able to say as our Saviour—it is I myself.

The day Jesus went to the wake of his friend Lazarus he met Martha, Lazarus’ grief-stricken sister.  He said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”  When Jesus said “everyone who lives and believes in me will never die” he didn’t mean that we would not experience death.  He means that we are never lost to him—even though we die.

Not only has Jesus defeated death he has done it in such a way that death will never overtake him again.  I know of no greater comfort in facing my own mortality akin to knowing that the conqueror of death accompanies me.

3.  ‘Have you anything here to eat?’, asked our risen Lord.  There is more to be said about the bodiliness of our risen Saviour.  One of the things that this witnesses to is that the body is a good thing; our physicality is to be enjoyed.  This is, of course, consistent with the creation account in the Bible; God created the human with bodily existence and declared it very good.

This is why it is a Christian response to both work and pray for healing of disease in this life.  The body is essential to our existence and to promote good health is a direct implication of the resurrection of Jesus to bodily existence.

It also teaches us that the physicality of life is to be enjoyed.   As always, children can help us here. A survey asked children what brought them their greatest delight. Here are some of the things the children mentioned: eating ice cream that has real ice chips in it; kicking through “crunchy” autumn leaves; stroking a pet cat; sleeping in a tent when it’s raining; smelling supper cooking; feeling flannelette sheets against your skin on a cold winter’s night. What do all these have in common? They are delights of our bodily senses. The delight that children find everywhere in God’s creation we older people should find as well.

One accusation that our Lord’s enemies levelled against him was: “drunkard and glutton”. Certainly he wasn’t a drunkard and glutton. The accusation says far more about his mean-spirited accusers than it says about him. Plainly they resented the rollicking good times he had. He had far more fun at his meals than they had at theirs. He ate with losers, misfits, ne’er-do-wells; the marginalized, the despised; the neglected; the least and the last. These people in turn found in him a welcome, an acceptance, a healing they had found nowhere else. Together they rejoiced in the love and truth and wonder of God their Father even as they relished all that God had provided them.

On the other hand we must not reduce life to merely its physicality as our materialistic culture would have us believe.  I read recently an article that detailed the story of teenage girls posting video of them self on YouTube asking viewers, “am I pretty or ugly”.  It is instructive to note that we have no physical description of Jesus as to his appearance; this tells you that the goodness of your body can never be reduced to mere appearance; that you bodily life is ever so much more.

You and I are not reducible to our body. There’s more to me than my body, as there’s more to you than your body. Who we are is more than our body; but who we are is never less. While it’s true that I have a mental life and a spiritual life, both my mental life and my spiritual life presuppose my bodily life. My mind is more than my brain. But without my brain (a body part) I have no mind at all. My spiritual life isn’t the same as my body. But without my body there’s no “me” to have a spiritual life. To be sure we’re more than our body; but the “more” that we are is impossible without our body. In other words, our body undergirds and supports everything we are. Our body makes possible everything about us that’s more than our body.

While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.  I know of nothing that compares to the good news of Jesus risen to life that underlines the joy of life.