Not a Ghost – April 18, 2021

Not a Ghost

A Sermon by Rev. Karen A. Mendes

Luke 24 36b-48

April 18, 2021

Main Idea:  Christ’s bodily resurrection shows that God loves our bodies.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

Before we get into the sermon this morning, I invite you to take just a moment to pay attention to your body.  How does it feel this morning?  Is your back or your neck stiff? How do your shoulders or your knees feel?   Look at your hands.  What does your skin feel like?  Do your knuckles pop when you move your fingers?  Are your feet comfortable? Can you wiggle your toes?   Take a deep breath, like we do at prayer time, and feel your lungs and your ribs expand. Notice where your body feels comfortable and where it is stiff or sore.  Virtual church can be a very heady experience, stretching only our mind and perhaps our emotions.   Today we are invited to recognize the connections between our thoughts, our faith, and our body.

I am in an ecumenical clergy group, and one year during the Easter season, a clergy colleague said, very seriously and earnestly, “I believe in Jesus’ literal resurrection in a metaphorical way”.  This, of course, sent the rest of us into gales of laughter.  We love the Easter stories, we claim the glorious mystery of Christ’s victory over death but we sometime skate over the particularities of the stories, especially the specifics of Jesus’ resurrection.  These questions of what specifically happened were also raised in the early church and throughout Christian history.  Today’s text proclaims that the answers to these questions are central to God’s purposes and to our faith.  Today’s text challenges us to claim the physicality of an embodied faith in an Incarnate God who entered into human life, experiencing all that humans do. To claim the Incarnation is to also claim that Jesus’ real body, really suffered and really died, and really lives again.  This claim matters because, through the Incarnation, God declares our bodies as holy.  Through the Resurrection, God declares our bodies beloved.

Our Scripture text this morning happens on the evening of the first Easter Day.  If the story sounds familiar, it is.  It is essentially the same story we explore last week from the Gospel of John.  To have the same story in two unrelated gospels is important because it shows that this account of Jesus appearing to his disciples on that first evening, saying “Peace be with you” and showing his hands and feet (Luke) or hands and side (John) was a profound and well-remembered experience.  

Luke’s version of the story has some peculiar aspects to it.  Although we sometimes call the Holy Spirit, the Holy Ghost, in general ghosts are to be avoided if at all possible.  When Jesus appears, the disciples are “startled and terrified” thinking that he is a ghost.  They are not yet able to see life when they had expected death and so they are paralyzed with fear and revulsion at, what seems to them, a very lifelike apparition. Jesus asks them, “Why are you frightened?”  He invites them to touch him, saying “a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”   Then he shows them his hands and his feet.

Why the hands and feet?  Surely it is not so they could recognize the shape of his toenails.   His hands and feet bear the marks of his crucifixion.   But why do they bear these marks?  Wouldn’t you think that a resurrected body that can walk through walls would be free from all marks and blemishes?   A God who makes all things new could surely wipe away the wounds from Jesus’ body.  But God doesn’t.

Jesus carries the wounds and scars of his earthly life to give meaning to our wounds and scars.  Jesus’ resurrection does not erase the sin that led to his crucifixion nor the suffering endured.   But his resurrection does proclaim that sin and suffering have been defeated.  Think for a moment about a scar that you carry on your body. [pause] Perhaps you don’t like because you think it is ugly and it reminds you of a difficult time. Now think of that scar as proof of your survival.  Whatever caused your injury is past and your body has healed, in fact scars are stronger than ordinary skin. 

It is Jesus’ wounds that help his disciples recognize him. The disciples are overjoyed to see Jesus’ hands and feet, to see him whole, even with the marks of his suffering.  But they still don’t understand.  The text has the wonderful line “While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering”. So Jesus asks them if they have anything to eat.  It seems a universal truism that ghosts can’t eat so this serves as the disciples’ final proof that Jesus is truly alive, truly there, in the flesh with them.    While there are many stories of Jesus gathering to eat with people, this is the only account of Jesus actually eating anything. This request for food does more than just prove Jesus’ reality. It is an opportunity for the disciples to serve him and show hospitality. 

Feeding Jesus jolts the disciples out of their self-focused fear and reminds them of their calling to care for people.  It allows them to listen to Jesus rather than just gape at him.  Jesus then can teach them and equip them to share the Good News.  Jesus claims them as witnesses, participants in God’s work.

This year has been a strange one for our bodies.  Our gatherings have been disembodied.  Our interactions have been limited to little squares on a screen and so much of what is happening in the world we learn about via TV or social media. However, this year we have focused on our bodies more than probably in the past as every tickle in our throat causes us to worry.  In our wider world, bodies have suffered and continue to suffer greatly.  3 million people around the world have died of Covid 19.   Hundreds have been killed and brutalized in Burma and Ethiopia. This week is the anniversary of the Boston Marathon Bombing (4/15/13), the Oklahoma City Bombing (4/19/95), and the Columbine School Shooting (4/20/99).  The epidemic of gun violence in the US continues unabated with 45 mass shootings in the past month, including those in Atlanta, Boulder, and Indianapolis just on Friday.  The wounds of racism continue to fester as people of color continue to be killed by police.  

Jesus’ bodily resurrection means that all of our bodies are precious to God.  And that, as witnesses to the resurrection, we are called to make our faith an embodied faith by caring for every body as holy and beloved.   So how do we do this?   Our text this morning tells us that

First, we recognize our own wounds and the wounds we see around us.  God cares about our suffering and the suffering of all.  Not in a “isn’t too bad so and so is having a rough time” but deeply, intrinsically, God holds us in our grief, despair, and pain.  When we can recognize and acknowledge our own pain, our own issues, we can more honestly help others in a healthy way.  We can empathize with another’s suffering and grief.  We can be empowered to reach out and work to lessen their pain.    There is so much suffering in the world and we can feel overwhelmed by it all and tempted to just close our eyes and ears. “There is nothing I can do so why should I bother?” But it is Jesus who carries the wounds of us all.  We do not need to carry them all ourselves. 

Second, the text tells us, we can feed people.  We can show hospitality to those in pain.  We can send money and resources to those in need.  We can be in fellowship with those who are lonely and afraid.  We can show up and advocate for those who are vulnerable and voiceless.  We can put our empathy into action by joining with others to embody God’s love in the world.

Jesus claims us as witnesses to the resurrection.  Our bodies and our hearts and minds and spirits are called to further God’s work in the world.  We don’t do it alone for Christ is with us!   Bringing us peace deep down in the marrow of our bones.  Thanks be to God.

Let us pray,

Embodied God, we thank you for our bodies and for Christ’s body which lived and died and lives again.  Help us to care for others as you do, sharing the power of Christ’s resurrection joy.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Opportunities for service