Reading: Luke 24:36b-48
When the Risen Jesus appeared to the disciples they thought he was a ghost.
They thought that his spirit – released from his wounded, suffering, now-dead body, was now somehow hovering and appearing to them in some dis-incarnate way, before leaving for good to the realm they called Abraham’s Bosom – where the just are rewarded, those who suffer unfairly in this life are compensated, and all is put right by God in some kind of after-life world – a world other than this sad, ill-fated Earth.
Is that still how people see things? That Jesus is kind of a ghost? That his message and promise of heaven-on-Earth, and of the kingdom of God appearing in human affairs and already being among us isn’t really meant for real life? That faith in God is a private and personal matter that really has more to do with the after-life than it should be allowed to have with how we expect life to be lived in the here-and-now?
Except … the disciples find that Jesus is not just a ghost. He’s not just a private and personal memory. He’s not a dis-embodied spirit who lives just in their hearts and in heaven. Rather, he stands and lives and moves and breathes in the real world of the here-and-now as much as when they walked together through Galilee and saw the promise of heaven-on-Earth and the good will of God lived out in the midst of human affairs, come true.
But how does Jesus convince them of it – that it really is him? That he really is still the same union of body and soul? That heaven and Earth are still one in him and through him? That the powers of this world, and the evil that has been done have not un-done the union of divine and human, of heaven and Earth, of promise and fulfilment that are revealed in him?
“Look at my hands,” he says. “And look at my feet.”
He doesn’t say, “Look at my face, look me in the eye. Don’t I look like me?” Nor does he say, “Listen to my voice; don’t I sound like me?” Nor does he pull out an ID card or a membership certificate with his name on it, or give them some secret handshake.
He says, “Look at my hands and my feet. They are flesh and bone. My hands can handle what life brings. I can reach out and touch others. I can do what’s needed to make a real and practical difference. And with my feet I am grounded in the day-by-day life of this world. Instead of soaring above problems, or skating over and around life’s constant realities, I walk through this world with others. Through my soles and in my soul I know the hardness of life. And that’s why the wounds and the scars. Just look at my hands and my feet.”
And isn’t that how the world still is able to believe in something other than a ghostly Jesus and an other-worldly God? When they see believers who reach out to others? People of faith who let themselves be led in a way of self-sacrificial giving? Who open themselves to the sorrows and needs of others, and accept the risk of being hurt and wounded themselves? Even when it hurts and asks more of them than they thought they could give?
It’s interesting that in raising Jesus from the dead, God does not bother to heal the wounds that Jesus suffered in his dying. Does God forget? Not care? Not have time? Or is woundedness actually one of the essential signs of the real presence of God in the world?
And not only woundedness but also, it seems, hunger and hospitality. Because after chatting for a while and seeing the disciples still lost in their wonder and contemplations, Jesus says, “Um … you wouldn’t happen to have any food around here, would you? A little piece of fish, maybe?” as he eyes the fish they have grilling on the fire.
At which point they kind of come to, and realize their obligation of hospitality. “Oh my goodness, we have a guest! We should be offering him something to eat!”
And this, too, is a sign of how bodily, how physical and how here-and-now-on-Earth the real presence of God is. It consists of eating and drinking, of sharing what we have, and of making sure that others have what they need, too. Especially of making sure others have what they need.
This too is probably something the world needs to see, and that we are happy to provide – a living witness to the real presence of God through a lifestyle of hospitality and generosity. A way of seeing the kingdom of heaven appearing, and heaven-on-Earth being fulfilled as we and other believers hear the call and respond to the opportunities all around us, to share what we have and ensure others have what they need, too.
It’s not hard. It’s not rocket-science. It’s not something we’re told is done just on some test track by professional drivers, and that we shouldn’t try at home. It is in fact, something we all are called to be part of, and that we’re also all good at in our own ways, in our lives apart from this place, and in what we do here together.