It is Easter Sunday evening. The day is nearly over, and two disciples are barreling back down the road to Jerusalem. They have just seen Jesus-or at least they think it was Jesus. At first they didn’t recognize him from any other stranger wandering down the Emmaus road. But then at supper, this stranger took a piece of bread, and he blessed it; and maybe it was something about the way he broke it and offered it to them so freely… or the way their eyes met for only a moment… "Jesus!" they almost cried out, but before they could utter a word, he was gone.
Not an hour later, where our passage opens for us today… these two disciples have arrived back in Jerusalem to tell the others: "The Lord has risen! We have seen him!" And as they are talking excitedly amongst one another with all measure of joy, Jesus suddenly appears among them again-but this time, they are terrified. They think their eyes are playing tricks on them-that at this point perhaps they are going crazy or are simply exhausted by grief. Suddenly this stranger, who they just spent the whole day travelling with, and who they recognized to be Jesus–they suspect to be nothing more than a ghost??
"Peace be with you," Jesus says. "Why are you afraid? Why do you doubt? Look at my hands and my feet. Touch me and see, for a ghost does not have these flesh and bones."
Even the disciples who were there, even those who got to not only see, but touch, Jesus’ resurrected body… were joyful, yet disbelieving… How is this possible? I mean, wouldn’t we all kill for that? To see his resurrected body? To know for sure? To see and to touch those hands and those feet that we confess here every week are the hands and feet that have saved us? The hands and feet of the man we claim to be God.
Even the disciples who get to touch and to see, struggle to believe.
I wonder… if perhaps they just aren’t ready to let go of Holy Saturday.
It is Easter Sunday evening. The day is nearly over. I am barreling down the road, not headed toward Jerusalem, but back toward Durham, having celebrated Easter with my family at home in Wilmington… but Easter morning already seems miles away. Just hours before, like many of you, I had shouted, just as those first disciples did: "The Lord is risen!" "He is risen indeed!" and the whole congregation with me.
But only hours later, my mind begins to wonder… I too, am wondering and disbelieving, because my mind still hasn’t left Holy Saturday.
On Holy Saturday this year I found myself in the hospital room of a dear friend. I met Camilla when I was just 13 years old. She was my confirmation mentor. I went over to her house every week one spring and we studied scripture together and prayed for one another, preparing me to reaffirm for myself the faith that was signed and sealed in my baptism. Last summer, the tables turned so to speak, and I had the humbling experience of learning what it meant to now become Camilla’s pastor; but really not much had changed. We still met every week, studied scripture together and prayed for one another, preparing me to affirm God’s ongoing call on my life, and preparing her for the same.
Even in those blissful summer days, I watched as Camilla’s body continued to fail her-her vision deteriorating to the point that she could no longer read her Bible. But this visit she was different; one respiratory infection had made all the difference; it was the reason why I had come.
Camilla was slumped in her chair; her wispy white hair unkempt, her mouth pursed in tension, mustering the strength it took to take each small breath; her legs poking out from beneath her nightie, were almost completely black, an ominous sign that her congestive heart failure was only getting worse.
I was joyful, to be there, with my precious friend, for what I realized could be the last time; I was grateful to experience her presence, fully alive and fully herself, even within her weak and suffering body;
But my mind was also wondering & disbelieving… and very afraid. Death is real. Suffering is real. And it is something that we all face, even me, even you, even those close to us. And I saw my friend suffering, and I was angry. Angry at this earthly body that in its years of labor and weakness and gradual deterioration, was causing my friend to suffer. I wanted her to be at peace.
It’s no coincidence then, that the first thing the resurrected Jesus offers to the disciples is peace. "Peace be with you," he says as he stands there-stands there! In the flesh! In his resurrected body! "Peace, Jesus? You’ve got to be kidding me!!! We are freaking out here! For all that we knew you were dead five minutes ago! We just watched you suffer horribly, watched all our hopes and dreams get nailed to a cross… Frankly, I don’t think we can ever go through that ordeal again!
And what do you mean do we have any broiled fish??? Are you seriously thinking about food at a time like this?
And now you want us to touch you? To touch those hands and those feet that we watched suffer? To touch those hands and those feet whom we betrayed? To relive the horror we experienced that Friday? To relive that sorrow, that despair, that guilt? To touch those hands and those feet, that remind us all of our own frailty, our own weakness, the suffering, the death, the pain that awaits us all? That we know too well already? That we have brought on ourselves? That we have caused others?
"Peace," Jesus says. "Peace." As he continues to hold out those hands. "You must touch me. Only then will you see."
But we don’t want to touch, and we don’t want to see. Even when the resurrected body of our Lord is right there in front of us.
Believers and non-believers alike have always struggled with the idea of a resurrected body. Historical-critical scholars continue to debate over the validity of the resurrection accounts-whether the disciples saw a ghost, or a hallucination, or some figment of their traumatized imaginations.
But Luke tells us that even the disciples who not only saw, but touched Jesus, doubted. Even if we have seen it, and perhaps especially because we have touched it, we don’t want to believe in a resurrected body.
If we are truly honest with ourselves, we would rather Jesus were a ghost.
Because a ghost we can keep at a safe distance.
A ghost, we can refabricate with our minds, retelling the story as we want to remember it, the same story of pain, despair, and shame that we told on Holy Saturday.
A ghost we can control.
A ghost can’t interrupt our lives, take us by the hand, and lead us where we would rather not go.
A ghost means… or so we think… that we will never have to face the suffering of this life ever again.
But Jesus’ resurrected body catches up with us as we barrel down the road;
Jesus’ flesh and his bones block our wayward path when we try to run away from whatever it is in our life that keeps us imprisoned in our doubt, in our disbelief, in our fear, in our shame.
Jesus’ resurrected body will not let us bypass this earthly life, but redirects us; his cross and resurrection offering to us a path through suffering and death that leads to transformation; to a new yet no less embodied life.
Jesus’ resurrected body shows us that he is the same person he was before he died. That our Lord and our God, even in His resurrection, in his most divine and exalted position, is completely and utterly with us, in all the beautiful and broken complexities of our human life, and offers us nothing less than Himself. His very hands and feet.
This is the promise of the resurrection: that life after death is not the overcoming of our physical existence, but the transformation of it.
"Touch me and see" Jesus says. It’s okay to be afraid; and it’s okay to struggle as you disbelieve. Even those marks I have borne on my body. And they have been transformed.
You can touch my scars, and you can touch your own. Because they have been transformed.
This is the promise of the resurrected body: We have been transformed.
And so Jesus stands before us on the road of our lives, in His flesh and bone, and says: "Touch me and see." "You are witnesses of these things."
"But Lord, where have we seen you? Where have we touched you?" we ask.
"Truly I tell you, just as you have done to the least of these, who are members of my body, of my resurrected, broken yet transformed body… just as you have touched them, you have touched me."
Is the resurrected body real?
It is as real as the flesh and bones, the blood and the sweat and the sinew that is sitting next to you in the pew-with as many questions, hopes, dreams, and doubts as you have.
It is as real as the last time you cradled an infant, bandaged a wound, served a hot meal, or embraced your loved one.
And it is as real as the children who haven’t been held; as the wounded body that still bleeds; as the body that sits at table alone, or doesn’t eat at all; as the body who has never known a loving embrace, or a tender, compassionate touch.
It is as real as the bodies that we are afraid to go near; that look different than our own; that remind us of our own weakness and woundedness. It is as real as the wounds of others that we don’t understand; that aren’t fair; that we don’t know how to fix. It is as real as the wounds that we inflict upon others; and the ones we inflict upon ourselves.
We are tempted to worship a ghostly Jesus, who leaves the complexities of our human existence lying in the grave.
Because it is easier to die than to be transformed. Easier to look away than to believe; than to reconcile; than to heal; than to embrace.
But the resurrected Jesus tells us, that it is in touching that we see.
That on the other side of death, our God still has a body. That He has not and will not ever give up on us. That our God has not overcome us, or left us behind in His glory; but in His great love has touched even this broken and confused and disbelieving body, and has and is transforming us.
I grasp Camilla’s gnarled fingers, and I gently lay my hand on her blackened legs; And listen to her pray. And we are both transformed.
May Christ Himself give to us the courage to touch, and in touching, to see. Thanks be to our resurrected and embodied God.