A Sermon by The Rev’d Peter Jin
We tend to think that ancient people were simple, naïve and pre-scientific, so they were willing to believe in anything. I can’t imagine the following conversation would occur in the ancient time. Someone says to his friend ‘you know, the guy died yesterday was risen this morning. ’ His friend replies in a very calm manner. ‘Sure. Why not?’
My point is that ancient people are pre-scientific, but they are not stupid. Ancient Jews knew as we know dead people stay dead. They were not expecting a dead man to rise in his body.
Jesus himself stood among the disciples and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. This reading proves that they knew about visions and halluci-nations and the appearance of ghosts. What they were not expecting was a dead man would come back to life in his body and paid them a visit. But this is precisely what they are trying to communicate in these strange texts have come down to us.
Notice they are not simply talking about the resuscitation of a corpse, about returning someone simply to this life in an ordinary sense. As we hear for example, the story of raising the daughter of Jairus or the raising of the Lazarus. We are not talking about that. Because the daughter of Jarius and Lazarus died again. They are not talking about someone who is return provisionally to ordinary life. The fact that Jesus passes through doors gives that away. Jesus is somehow belongs to another dimensional system. His body is transformed and transfigured. To use biblical language he belongs to the realm of heaven. But at the same time, they are not talking about a ghost or a disembodied spirit.
Notice how shockingly realistic the language of Luke’s account is. Jesus says to them ‘look at my hands and feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost doesn’t have flesh and bones as you see I have’. It is extraordinary claim, isn’t it? He is not saying ‘Oh, you know I am a symbol and may my legend and my cause go on.’ No, no, he says look at my hands and my feet; and it is I myself.
Please notice the next account, it brings attention to the physical reality of the risen Jesus. When the disciples are overwhelmed, they are still disbelieving, Jesus asks them a comical question ‘Have you anything here to eat? They gave him a piece of cooked fish. He took it and ate in their presence. Ghosts, symbols and disembodied spirit don’t ask for a lunch and that is the point.
Symbolically speaking, our trouble all began with a bad meal. Adam and Eve grasped the food of tree of knowledge of good and evil. They grasped what was forbidden to them. They want to become like God. They want to set the agenda for their own lives. It all began with a bad meal.
What God wants to give to us as a grace but they want to seize as a prerogative. That’s what the trouble began. Now look, the risen Jesus reverses this momentum. ‘Do you have anything here to eat’? He is now inviting them into the rightly ordered meal. How often Jesus sits down after his resurrection and eats with the disciples. That’s the eschatological banquet. That’s the fulfilment of our hope in heaven. The momentum of the Garden of Eden might be reversed. We will be invited to this properly ordered meal.
Why did Luke add that little odd detail? Because he wants us to know something. This proclamation of ours is not an idle dream. It is not a lovely hope. So we don’t have to use subjunctive mood to express a wish: Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could conquer death? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could see our loved ones in heaven? Yes, human being has been dreaming those things from the beginning. What is distinctive about Christian faith: that dream has come true. It’s come true in the most vividly factual way. Jesus, risen from the dead, announcing shalom stands before them in the flesh. Christianity is not a proclamation of hope, not the entertainment of a wild dream. They are facts and the realities. That is the essence of the good news.
Why does the bodily resurrection matter so much? Because this is a full scale rescue operation. God didn’t want to separate us from the matter. God didn’t want to save us in an abstract. God wanted to save us in our totality. I confess that it is still difficult for me to love my body especially when I was sick. You all know I was supposed to preach last month, but I didn’t show up. The Saturday night my fever went to 39.5 degrees. After taking the magic pill: Panadol, my fever was still very high. I was very frustrated about my body. I started to complain to God, ‘Heavenly Father, can’t you design something better than this?’
Listen now what Jesus says: ‘These were my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you. That everything written about me in the law of Moses, and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled’. The fulfilment of the psalms, the prophets and the Torah, that was the first Christian saw in Jesus. Indeed he said I have come not to abolish the law but fulfil it. The story of Israel was like an unfinished symphony. It was like a novel without climax. It is unfinished and incomplete. The longing of Israel is now fulfilled in Jesus, who gathers the tribes, who creates the church, who gives peace, who reverses the momentum of the evil. Jesus now is the capstone in the building, Jesus now is the completion of the story, our job now is to announce that message to the world.
Peace be with you!