Luke 24:36-53 NRSV
I often wonder what people mean when they say they are “spiritual.” I hear people say: “I am not religious, but I am a very ‘spiritual’ person.” “I don’t attend church, but I am quite ‘spiritual.’”
As a Christian, I sometimes find this odd as not even the risen Christ seemed to be all that spiritual. In fact, as our scripture lesson points out, the gospel writes, especially Luke, seem to go almost out of their way to point out the very physical, not spiritual, nature of the risen Lord.
Luke points out that Jesus asked the disciples to touch him and see that he had flesh and bones; not some spirit or ghost. Jesus showed his disciples his hands and his feet which were scarred from his crucifixion. And then to still prove that he was there in the flesh and not in some spiritual form, he asked the disciples for something to eat. Then they give him a a piece of broiled fish that he eats in their presence.
The question that I want us to ask together this morning is: What is Luke trying to tell us by giving us this unusual and somewhat strange presentation of Jesus to the disciples? Why does the risen Christ eat broiled fish?
I have heard some preachers say that Luke was giving us a clue of what heaven is going to be like and what we will be like when we, like Jesus, are resurrected.
When I was growing up, my home church had a week of revival every August. We had services Sunday Night through Friday night and we would always conclude the revival with a fish fry on Saturday. Six long nights: 30 minutes of singing, one hour of preaching, and then thirty more minutes of altar call. I remember that these annual revival services used to scare me to death. The guest preachers would come into town and preach that heaven or hell was right around the corner and we better get ready. Although I’d never feared going to hell, as a nine, ten, eleven year old, going to heaven was not a place I wanted to visit anytime soon.
I used to hate going to revivals. On top of being frightening, it was hot, had to dress up, wear a tie, for six long nights, two hours a night. The only thing that got me through the week, and I suspect a few others, was the big, delicious fish fry that awaited us on Saturday.
Every year, without exception, preachers would come and scare me with their heaven-or-hell-is-right-around-the-corner sermons. However, I remember that one preacher preached a particular sermon that made me feel a lot better about going to heaven. It was Friday night, and bless his heart, he was trying to connect the revival service with the fish fry that everyone was looking forward to the next day. He said that one of the most appropriate things we can do at the end of these services is to have a fish fry. He said, “After all, most all of Jesus disciples were fishermen. It also seems like Jesus himself liked to fish. And when we all get to heaven at the resurrection, we are all going to sit down with Jesus and eat fish, because after he was resurrected, Jesus ate some fish with his disciples.”
I wanted to shout, “Amen!” Because that preacher answered one of those tough theological questions that no one could answer for me, a question that was more important than where did God come from and who was Cain’s wife: “Are we going to be able to eat in heaven?” For all of us who live to eat instead of eat to live, this was good news. The answer is yes. We are going to be able to eat fish. For someone who loves seafood, it took the fear of dying right away.
I love this idea; however, I believe Luke is trying to tell us something more. I believe the fact that Luke tells us that Jesus offered his physical body for examination and eats fish in the disciples’ presence, tell us something very important about who the risen Christ is and who we are called to be as Christians.
First of all, Luke wants us to know that the risen Christ is in fact the same Jesus who died. The Christ the disciples saw was the same Jesus who suffered and died a horrible, degrading death on a cross. We need to get this for the risen Christ’s identification with the suffering Jesus is critical, not just for sound theology, but for defining the nature of the Christian life and who we are to be as Christians.
If the risen Christ the disciples now follow is not the same as the Jesus who suffered and died, then the Christian life takes on forms of spirituality that are without suffering for others, without a cross, without any concern for the suffering of this world. If the risen Christ is not the Jesus who died, then our eyes would be focused only on heavenly matters and not on the problems of this world.
Even Paul, who makes few references to the historical Jesus, insisted in his letters on joining crucifixion with resurrection. Paul always proclaimed “Christ crucified.” The risen Lord that we worship has nail scars in his hands and on his feet. Thus, Luke points out that Jesus said, “See my hands and my feet.” The empty tomb is directly tied to the cross. The wonderful message of Easter is forever joined to the suffering of Good Friday. To follow the risen Christ is to follow the one who bore the cross.
Ok, preacher, I get that, but what does that really mean to us and how should that affect the way we should live as Christians? Here it goes:
I think it is perfectly fine and healthy to think and dream about going to Heaven one day. It is fine to have the hope that someday, somehow, some way there’s not going to be anything more to fear or dread. It is wonderful to know a time is coming when there is going to be no more crying, no more pain, and no more death. It is great to sing those great hymns of faith, the ones we sang during our six night revival services, such as “When We All Get To Heaven,” “In the Sweet Bye and Bye we Shall Meet On that Beautiful Shore,” “When the Roll is Called up Yonder,” and “Shall We Gather at the River,” but if Heaven is the only place our hearts are, if going to Heaven is the only reason we are Christians, then we have missed the whole point of who Jesus Christ is and who we are called to be as Christians.
As Christians, our eyes are to always be focused on the suffering of this world. Our Lord is not only the one who is exalted and glorified, but our Lord is the one who was rejected, suffered and died.
When we look at the frail bodies of the hungry, we are looking at the frail body of Jesus.
When we see the parched lips of the thirsty, we see the parched lips of Jesus.
When we walk by the homeless beggar on the street, we walk by Jesus.
When we meet people who are disabled, physically, mentally, and socially, we meet Jesus.
When we encounter minorities who have been oppressed for their religion, for what country they’re from, for their sexuality, or for the color of their skin, we encounter Jesus.
When we visit the sick in hospitals, the forgotten in prisons, the elderly in nursing homes, the widows and widowers who sit all alone day after day, we visit Jesus.
When we reach out with grace and forgive and love even those who have committed unspeakable sins against us, we reach out to Jesus.
When we make the church a place of grace for all people, especially for those who have been marginalized or demonized by society, culture and bad religion, then we make a place of grace for Jesus. When we do it for the least of these our brothers and our sisters, we do it for Jesus.
And there’s more, much more…
Since we know that the risen Christ we serve is a Christ who knows suffering, who knows what it is like to be a human being, and experience the evils of this world, when we find ourselves overwhelmed by the suffering and pain of this world, we can have faith that Christ is there suffering with us and feeling our pain. And giving us hope and understanding and grace as only a loving God who knows suffering can give.
When we are overwhelmed by grief and loneliness, Christ is there.
When we reach the ends of our ropes and feel that we can not take it anymore, Christ is there.
When we hear words from our doctor’s like: heart disease, cancer, diabetes, pneumonia, Alzheimer’s, inoperable, and terminal, Christ is there.
When human mistakes seek destroy relationships with the ones we love, Christ is there.
When it seems there is nothing holding together our marriages, Christ is there.
And when we are faced with the knowledge of our own imminent deaths, and feel abandoned, even by God, when we want to cry out with a loud voice, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” Christ is there.
This is why Luke places so much emphasis on Jesus’ physical nature. This is the reason the risen Christ ate a piece of broiled fish with his disciples. Although it is a good thought, Luke does not write this to tell us that when we all get to heaven we will all get to stuff our faces with seafood. He is telling us a more important message: a message that the disciples got and gave their physical lives proclaiming.
This is why every disciple, except for John, who experienced the risen Christ were killed for preaching “Christ Crucified.” John died for his preaching all alone on the island of Patmos in prison after writing the book of Revelation.
May each of us, like the disciples, hear Luke’s message this morning. And may each of us, like the disciples, give our physical lives, our bodies, broken, our life, outpoured, proclaiming with our words and by our deeds, “Christ Crucified.”