Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago
At times, like today, the lectionary can be confusing. We’ve jumped into the middle of a longer story. You and I are two weeks from Easter Sunday, but in the gospel, it’s only a few hours since the resurrection. Let’s review.
The women discovered the empty tomb, saw two angels, and become the first to hear the good news: Alleluia! Christ is risen (Response). These faithful women are apostles to the apostles. Peter ran to check it out for himself, but he and the small band of Jesus-followers dismissed their story as an idle tale.
Later, the risen Christ accompanied two former followers as they head home from Jerusalem despite hearing the good news. In their grief, sense of failure, and fear of violent reprisal, the Jesus comes to walk beside them. They don’t recognize him, and instead of recrimination, he opens their minds to understand the scriptures on the road to Emmaus. These intimate friends finally recognized him as he broke bread with them at suppertime.
Just as suddenly as they realized it was Jesus, he disappeared. Immediately they hurry back to Jerusalem, and discovered that day Jesus also appeared to Peter, who had convinced them all that Jesus was indeed alive!
It’s at this very moment that we join today’s gospel. All the disciples are noisily and excitedly still talking about these things when Jesus startles and terrifies them. He says, “Sorry, did I scare you? Peace be with you,” and showed them his wounds, invited them to touch him, then went rummaging for food, found a piece of broiled fish and ate it.
In recounting the details of their packed and busy day our gospel records this incredible line. In their joy, the disciples were “disbelieving and still wondering.”
It is striking to me that centuries later, how much we’re like those first disciples, gathered here today, still wondering about the things we’ve heard, and wrestling with the fundamental question, as Martin Luther put it, “What does this mean?”
I wonder what does it mean for us living in a world of climate change, gun violence, chemical weapons, and the threat of nuclear war that Jesus offer them his peace? I wonder how it makes a difference Jesus showed them his wounds? Or that after three days, descending to the dead, and rising again that Jesus was hungry? Or that he required the disciples’ hospitality?
In March of 2009 sociologist and theologian, Nancy Eiesland died. She was just 44. At 13, she had had 11 operations for the congenital bone defect in her hips. She lived with pain her whole life. In her 1994 book, The Disabled God: Toward a Liberatory Theology of Disability, Nancy told us what she thought it means for all of us that Jesus came back to life with his body visibly broken. She wrote, “The foundation of Christian theology is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Yet seldom is the resurrected Christ recognized as a deity whose hands, feet, and side bear the marks of profound physical impairment.” “In presenting his impaired body to his startled friends,” she continues, “the resurrected Jesus is revealed as the disabled God.” His injuries remain an essential part of his resurrected identity, neither a divine punishment nor an opportunity for further healing.
“What would it be like for us to follow in the footsteps of a disabled God? What would it be like to lead with our scars, instead of enslaving ourselves to society’s expectations of piety and prettiness? Jesus proved that he was alive and approachable by risking real engagement. Real presence. As in: “Here is how you can recognize me. By my hands and my feet. See? I have scars. I have baggage. I have history. I am alive to pain, just as you are. I am not immune; I am real.”” (Debie Thomas, Scarred and Hungry, Journey with Jesus, April 8, 2018)
As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “Only a suffering God can help.”Supposedly a prison guard found the line scribbled on a piece of paper and smuggled it out of Bonhoeffer’s cell shortly before his death.
Jesus invites us to follow his way of the cross through the testimony of his wounds. He showed them his scars. “The paradox of resurrection is that Jesus’s scarred body comforted his disciples. His wounded hands and feet pulled them out of disbelief and into radical, life-altering faith.” (Debie Thomas) Lo, here is a great mystery. As theologian James Alison puts it, Jesus didn’t simply erase death, he carried death’s “shell” on his living body, rendering his scars a trophy — a sign of life’s ultimate and lasting victory. “What type of life is it,” Alison asks in awe, “that is capable not of canceling death out, which would be to stay on the same level as it, but to include it, making a trophy of it, allowing it to be something that can be shown to others in order to diminish their fears?”
In their joy, the very first Christians still wondered just as we do. They were journeying, questioning, fearing, but also feeding and being fed, listening for and receiving God’s call, and, of course, like any good church community, doing Bible study.
There were about 120 Christians crowded around Jesus that first day—wide-eyed, their mouths open. Today’s gospel means our 21stcentury experience of the resurrection is not second-rate. We too have encountered the wounded and risen Christ while gathered at his table, in the living waters of baptism, and in his ever-present word proclaimed by brothers and sisters. We are witnesses to these things.
God reversed the course of human history. Because God in Christ Jesus, endured all the violence and rejection that can be wrought from human hands and did not rejected us, we are a community fueled by joy. Because the resurrected Christ was wounded and hungry we are a community grounded in loving and serving human bodies, without denying the reality of suffering, without embarrassment, without apologizing for our mortality, yet also no longer afraid to live life to its fullest. It is a joy that challenges us to wonder, to question, and playfully explore. How shall we extend to this generation the spirit of God’s blessing upon all people and upon all life?