The Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Friends, this is the third week of gospel passages that are centered around the resurrected Jesus appearing to his friends and his disciples. On Easter Sunday, we read about Mary’s encounter with the risen Jesus at the empty tomb. Last week, we read about the disciples in the upper room and Jesus’ appearance first to them and then to Thomas. This week, Jesus appears again to his disciples and even shares a meal with them. Now on Easter Day, Bishop Mariann reminded us that resurrection is a process, not something that happens all at once. And it’s something though that often begins in darkness before the sun rises. Last week, Jan reminded us that the resurrected Jesus meets us in our lives wherever we are. And he brings with him hope and dispels our fears.
This week, we are reminded that resurrection includes both the body and the soul. It incorporates all of who we are. In our lesson for today, Jesus appears again to his disciples. And again, they’re terrified to see him. And Jesus goes out of his way to assure them that he’s not a ghost, that he’s real flesh and blood. “Touch me,” he tells them, “Look at my hands, look at my feet. See the holes there, see the wound in my side.” When they are still disbelieving, he asks them for something to eat and he shares in their meal of broiled fish as if to say, “See, I’m really here. Ghosts don’t get hungry. Ghosts don’t eat dinner with friends.” As Peter Marty wrote in the Christian Century, “They handed him a broiled piece of fish, and he chews and swallows it, right then and there. If the disciples are looking for God to be some wispy spiritual being, or philosophical concept, or metaphor, or ghost, what they get instead is the Lord of heaven and earth chewing on tilapia Galilaea.”
This is an important point for us to note on this third Sunday of Easter. Too often we think of life after death as being purely spiritual, with the souls of the dead floating off to heaven. When in fact, Jesus wants us to know that the resurrected life is very physical. That it includes not only the soul, but the body as well. Truth be told, here is one of the places where the influence of Greek philosophy has been quite detrimental to Christianity. You see, according to Plato and Aristotle and for the Platonists, the soul alone is immortal. And it is imprisoned in the materiality of the body. Therefore, the goal of the spiritual life is to deny the desires of the flesh in order to free the soul. But this is not gospel. In the gospels, it is quite clear that soul and body are a unity. And one is raised with the other.
Most importantly, for my purposes for today, did you pay attention to what the resurrected Jesus looks like? He doesn’t rise from the dead in shiny perfection, without bruises or scars. Rather when he appears to his friends, our Lord brings with him the wounds in his side, the holes in his hands and feet. Luke wants us to know that the Easter Jesus does not leave behind the suffering he has known, the pain and the violence he has experienced. No, he brings the marks of those things with him. They are part of him and part of this new life. As we think about the possibility of resurrection in our own lives, especially as we think about what new life might look like as we emerge from this pandemic, we have to understand that whatever it looks like, it involves all of us. All of who we are. Not only the good, but also the bad. Not only our joys, but also our sorrows. All of it has a place in the new life. That is our Easter joy. What do I mean by that? Let me tell you a story.
When I was a little boy growing up in suburban Alexandria, I only remember one widow who was around the same age as my mom. Her name was Bea, and she was a marvelous lady, despite all the tragedy she had known in her life. You see, her husband took his own life with a handgun, but only after he tried to take hers as well. She survived, but her face was badly disfigured. Every Sunday, just about, we drove Bea to church. The doctors told her she shouldn’t drive, so she rode with us. However, Bea was not in any way some sort of helpless victim, she had suffered greatly in life, but she was proud and determined and deeply faithful. For years, she taught Sunday school and I loved her for her simple faith in God’s goodness. And her love of all of us who were fortunate enough to be her student. She was a special person to my family and to my church.
The church had cared for her during an unimaginably tragic time in her life and thereafter, she spent years teaching the faith to successive generations of young people. By her very presence and her personality, she was a witness to the power of God to heal, to the power of God’s love to bring about a resurrected life. I loved her dearly. And if she taught me anything, it was that new life is always possible. There’s nothing God cannot redeem. You see, Bea didn’t hide the pain she had suffered or the losses that she had experienced. Not only were these realities visible in the scars on her face, but over time through the grace of God, she was able to incorporate these events into her life and transform them into a kind of fuel, that enabled her to be more empathetic, more loving, more understanding than almost anyone I’ve ever known. She knew a resurrected life. But it was a life that included all of her, her joys and her sorrow.
Friends, resurrection is real. It can happen for all of us, not once, but over and over. Not only after we die, but in this life as well. It is indeed a process that often begins in darkness, as Bishop Mariann reminded us. And we can trust that Christ will meet us where we are to dispel fear and bring us hope, as Jan reminded us last week, that we must also remember that this resurrected life isn’t about some kind of spiritual purity. Rather, it incorporates our wounds, our pains, our struggles, our imperfections, all that we are. Just as Jesus greeted his friends still bearing the holes in his hands and feet and the wound in his side. As Barbara Brown Taylor once wrote, “I used to think the incarnation happened just once, in a person, a very long time ago. In Jesus alone, God’s Word made flesh…Relatively late in life, I have decided that incarnation is less a doctrine than a practice, which Jesus did not come to do once for all but to show anyone who are willing how God’s word might become flesh in their own lives too.”
Friends, as we emerge from this pandemic, as we come out of it and look for healing from all that we have been through, we too are supposed to enflesh God’s word in our own lives, to embody Jesus in all our brokenness. Knowing that even our wounds have a place in the resurrected life. Because resurrection in this life involves the reality of being wounded, coupled with the truth of new life. It is about the pain of being human and the love of God that can make us more than we are. It means bringing it all with us, our hurts and our hopefulness, and putting it to work in the world just as Bea did. Bearing our scars without allowing them to define us.
Resurrection is real. It’s possible for all of us. Not only in the life to come, but in this life as well. He is risen. Amen.