Sunday, April 26, 2009

Today's Sermon: Luke 24:36b-48

If anyone wonders whether or not knowing Christ is a full-body experience, this passage from the Gospel of Luke answers those doubts.

I mean, after all…broiled fish?

It is a little surprising, that line about the broiled fish, isn’t it?

Easter time, all that talk about Jesus’ glorious resurrection, and we’re talking a little halibut here.

Sort of brings it back down to earth. You can smell the rich salty aroma of the fish, can’t you? Maybe a little rice, some pita bread, a cup of wine…Jesus fed the 5000 with some bread and some fish, and now here he is, asking for a bit of what he offered back in the early days of his ministry.

And that’s the whole point of this gospel passage: Jesus wants to bring it back down to earth, to prove that he is back down to earth. And how does he do it? With a little nosh. Some broiled fish, to be specific.

Luke tells us that the apostles already knew that Jesus had risen from the dead – they were talking about it among themselves when Jesus showed up – but even though they knew that Jesus had risen, when he showed up, they were frightened. They thought they were seeing a ghost. They didn’t fully understand that he was real. So he invited them to touch him, to see that he was real, to see his hands and his feet (because in that culture, ghosts were not supposed to have hands or feet) .

He understood that they needed the full-body experience of the risen Christ to understand all that had happened.

Before he addressed their fear and mental confusion, reminding them of the prophecies fulfilled in him, before he opened their minds to the scriptures, before he called on them to act as witnesses to the repentance and forgiveness of sins that his passion and death brought…before he did any of these things, he let them touch him, and he sat down and ate with them.

Knowing Christ is a full-body experience.

It is no wonder that those who are on a spiritual journey speak of their hunger to know truth, to know God. It is a gnawing in the gut, that hunger. It is visceral. It is no wonder that at the important markers of our lives – birth, marriage, death – physical acts like food or dance or even special clothing are a necessary piece of living into transitions. It is not only about the spirit – it is about the body as well.

And since I’m the sort of person who tends to live “in her head,” I need to preach this to myself regularly.

I think of a time when I had to meet someone who had betrayed me. Not surprisingly, I was feeling ill at the very thought of having to be in the same room as him. As I sat in a chair in the room, wondering what would happen next, wondering if I could stand the anger and the pain that I felt, I prayed that Jesus would be with me. I prayed that I could get through the meeting with my dignity and my roiling stomach intact. I prayed for the physical sensation that Jesus was with me, that I was not alone in this time when I felt abandoned and isolated and in the wilderness, much like those disciples, trying to figure out what would happen next.

And Jesus was there with me. I felt his arms around me, a warmth and a peace I hadn’t felt in a long time.

It wasn’t something I’d call a miracle. It was more like an awakening to the realization that he had been there all along. By stopping and asking to be awake to his presence, I made room to feel Jesus with me, in me, around me. Not just in my heart, but the physical sensation of his presence.

Knowing Christ is a full-body experience.

During Communion, on the fourth Sunday of every month, we have the healing rail. If you are struggling with something in need of healing, in your body or in your heart, or if you want to pray for someone you know in need of healing, you come to that rail. You kneel. The prayer team gathers around you and prays with you and for you, laying their hands on you, asking God for healing. Your forehead is anointed with blessed oil, in a ritual that dates back to Jesus and that jar of expensive nard that Mary Magdelene poured on his head, and back beyond that, to the anointing of David. The sign of the cross is made on your forehead. The warmth of those hands, the pressure of them on your head and on your shoulders, the soothing oil, the creaking of your knees, the sensation of Jesus with you, in you, around you.
Knowing Christ is a full-body experience.

In a few minutes, we will share God’s peace with one another. This isn’t a prayer that we say standing in place, our arms firmly clamped to our sides. No, here, we move, we hug, we kiss, we hold hands, we look each other in the eye for a few moments. The physical connection is the reminder of the spiritual connection.

And a few minutes after that, we will share in the bread and wine. We will commune with each other and with God in the sacrament of his body and blood. Real bread, real wine. The taste of it on our tongue, the warmth of it in our bellies and in our hearts.

This Risen Lord is a full-body experience. We cannot try to limit our relationship with God to a mere intellectual exercise. And that is why, as we end this Eucharistic meal together today, we are sent out with a dismissal : “Alleluia, alleluia – Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” Having received the gift of the meal, God in us, we then turn around to face the world, to witness to the living Christ just as Jesus told us to in the Gospel. We do that with our voices when we share the word, with our hands when we help others, with our feet when we walk to help others….

Knowing Christ is a full-body experience. May we rejoice in that, as we approach his altar.


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