Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Interim Pastor
Rev. Millie Myren, Support Minister
11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643
Sermon April 19, 2015
While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 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. Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and 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.
“TOUCH ME AND SEE”
Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
I hope we understand that the Easter liturgical season lasts from Easter Sunday until the Feast of the Ascension on May 17. Easter, in other words, lasts more than one day. It lasts for some five weeks. This is why we are still pondering Gospel stories about the events of Easter.
Today we look at another familiar story – this time from Luke’s Gospel. It is Easter Sunday – the women had discovered the empty tomb and were told by two angels that Jesus was not there. The women went and told the apostles. They could not believe this tale. Peter runs to the tomb and sees the linen cloths lying there and he then goes home.
That same day two disciples are joined on the road to Emmaus by a stranger who walks the seven miles with them. He talks to them about the Scriptures and then stays with them in Emmaus. There the Risen Jesus is recognized for who he is in the breaking of bread after which he vanishes. The two disciples then return to Jerusalem and find Simon Peter and the disciples gathered together.
In this excitement, Jesus comes and stands among them. They think he is some kind of ghost. But he calms the disciples with these words: “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.” Touch me and see!
Sisters and brothers, if the Risen Jesus should appear to us right here – and say to us: “Touch me and see!” How might we respond? Me – I’d take Jesus at his word. I’d do what he asked. I’d touch him! I don’t think Jesus was saying something rhetorical when he told his disciples to touch him. He wanted them to be sure that he wasn’t some sort of ghost. A ghost is typically understood as the spirit of a dead person.
I suspect a lot of people at the time of Jesus believed in the existence of ghosts. After all, the consulting of ghosts is forbidden in Deuteronomy 18:11. And recall that the first king of Israel, Saul, consults the ghost of the dead prophet Samuel through a medium known as “the Witch of Endor.” We read about this in the 28th chapter of 1st Samuel.
In the 29th chapter of Isaiah, we hear God speaking through the prophet about how “a voice will come from the ground like the voice of a ghost.” (Isaiah 29:4) Now certainly such passages don’t prove or disprove the existence of ghosts. I mention these passages, brothers and sisters, just to show us that belief in ghosts has a long history. I’m sure our ancestors have been telling ghost stories around campfires for countless millennia.
We should also recall the account of Jesus’ transfiguration found in Matthew, Mark, and Luke – when the spirits of Moses and Elijah appear on the mountain with Jesus. Would we not speak of Moses and Elijah as ghosts? Now, please understand, I’m not trying to argue either for or against ghosts.
Today 45% of people in our country believe in the existence of ghosts. I found it peculiar, though, that in a recent survey in Britain, 52% of people said they believed in ghosts but only 35% said they believed in the existence of God. Go figure!
Probably a good number here this morning believe in the existence of ghosts. Don’t worry - I’m not going to ask for a show of hands. I’m disinclined to believe in them but I’m not sure. I’ve never had contact with a ghost – with the spirit of a departed person.
But let me relate a story from my own childhood. When my twin brother and I were about two years old, we moved from our home in Englewood to a house on 77th and Peoria. We didn’t live there very long, however.
My mother became convinced our house was haunted. She said she saw a ghost going into my older brother’s bedroom on numerous occasions. We kid my brother that this is why he is the way he is! I’m joking – but we were in the house less than a year before we moved a block away to 76th and Sangamon, where I spent the bulk of my childhood.
While I don’t strongly subscribe to ghosts – I believe God can do whatever God wants to do. I believe the universe is also a lot stranger than we imagine it to be. I take possibilities as possibilities. Our Christian faith is a faith that is rooted in mystery and paradox.
When the Risen Jesus appears to the disciples in Luke’s Gospel, he tells them: “Look at my hands and feet (in other words – look at my wounds!). It’s really me! Touch me and see, for a ghost doesn’t have flesh and bones like you see I have.” (Luke 24:39) Now let me add here that the Greek word used in Luke is pneuma – which is best translated as “spirit.” What the Risen Jesus is saying is that he is human flesh that has been resurrected!
Sisters and brothers, do we ever ponder this reality – that the Risen Jesus will always inhabit a resurrected human body – a body of flesh and bones? The Risen Jesus is not some sort of glorified ghost – not some sort of exalted spirit. The Risen Jesus is flesh and bones – like you and me! This is the central, the core, belief of Christianity.
When Jesus died on that long ago Good Friday, his crucified body was placed in a tomb. Three days later – God raised the broken, crucified flesh of Jesus into a resurrected, glorified body. But here’s the thing – what happened to Jesus that Easter morning is also promised to each of us who live our lives in and with Jesus Christ.
As the theologian John Sachs writes in his The Christian Vision of Humanity: “The only ‘reason’ … for hope that death is not (the end) … is the resurrection of Jesus … (But) (The Gospels point out that) Jesus’ resurrection was not a personal privilege or reward for Jesus but an act of God ‘for us and for our salvation’ (as the ancient Christian Nicene Creed states it).
“Jesus’ resurrection is God’s promise to us. What the (Holy) Spirit accomplished in Jesus is the work of the (Holy) Spirit in all of us. This is why Paul says that Jesus is the first born of many brothers and sisters (Rom 8:29) and why he insisted that Christian faith stands or falls with Jesus’ (bodily) resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:12-19).”
What this means for us, brothers and sisters, is that we will also be resurrected in God’s own good time. We will have the same glorified body as does the Risen Jesus. Why? Because our flesh is precious to God! Because our lives are precious to God! But Jesus’ resurrection was not just God giving life back to a dead body.
Brothers and sisters, the Risen Jesus is substantially different than the Jesus who walked Palestine with his disciples. This Risen Jesus can pass through locked doors as he does in the 20thchapter of John’s Gospel. This Risen Jesus can vanish suddenly as he does in Luke 24:31. This Risen Jesus is not recognizable at first by his disciples. While it is certainly the same Jesus – the Jesus who died on the cross and was buried – there is something very different about him.
As Sachs notes: “He is not a corpse resuscitated, living as he once did. Jesus does not ‘return’ to life in the sense of going ‘back’ to his former way of living. Rather, through the power of the (Holy) Spirit, God brings him ‘forward,’ through death, to a new fullness and intensity of life. It is really Jesus, but it is a Jesus transformed, a Jesus who, though bone of our bones and flesh of our flesh, can no longer ‘be held’ by this world … (as we are).”
Sisters and brothers, we’re called to share in this redemptive process that has taken the Risen Jesus from us. But the Risen Christ is not sitting in heaven watching reruns on celestial television. No - the Risen Jesus is at work – helping bring about the redemption of all creation. This is why our brother Paul speaks so eloquently in chapter 8 of his most majestic letter to the Romans:
“I consider that the sufferings of the present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God … creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved.”
Brothers and sisters, our redeemed and resurrected bodies will be only part of the great fulfillment that is on the way. Creation is also in the process of being redeemed and resurrected. This is what the resurrection of Jesus means. “Touch me and see!” Amen!