Apr18SunA sermon for Easter 3 April 18, 2021 by Sebastian Meadows-Helmer
May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts,
be now and always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Strength
and our Redeemer. Amen.
Today’s Gospel reading is a bit of a goofy story,
that just seems just a little odd,
compared to many of the other appearances
of the risen Christ.
The disciples are huddled together,
two days after the events on Calvary,
And they’d just received word from Cleopas that he had encountered Christ on the road to Emmaus.
Along with Christ’s appearance to Simon Peter, they were all wondering:
just who or what exactly did they see?
What it some kind of ghost?
Some vision or maybe a hallucination?
These are questions we too ask,
Since resurrections don’t exactly happen every day.
What does it mean when we say Jesus was raised?
Was he just some shimmery spirit-like creature like we see in horror movies,
or maybe something more comical from a Halloween cartoon?
Jesus himself, seemingly appearing out of nowhere,
stood now in the midst of them.
He was the centre of the universe, the centre of their universe,
and he was back.
“Peace be with you!
Do not be frightened!” He said.
Now last week, in our reading from the Gospel of John,
We discovered why the disciples were afraid,
and hiding in (the first underground church).
We heard that they were afraid of the quote “Jews.”
But it’s important to remember as we read this story:
that all the disciples were Jewish, just like Jesus was.
It’s more appropriate to say that they were afraid of the Jewish authorities.
And this fear of authorities was justified,
There were some real threats that they faced.
They could be thrown out of the synagogue,
and shunned from their entire community
(like what happened to the man born blind).
They could be accused of treason to the Roman State
and crucified like their master.
The things that happened on Golgotha were so fresh, so real,
little over 48 hours previously,
And crucifixion is horrible,
it’s a painful, humiliating and dishonourable death.
They hadn’t really taken it seriously when Jesus prophesied that he would have to die,
It was only starting to sink in how desperate the whole situation was,
and how fast it had gone from the triumphal entry into Jerusalem when everything seemed possible, to now, when everything seemed destroyed, and all they had believed in had vanished, and they were dejected and demoralized, fearing for their very lives.
The doors were locked and that might stop the soldiers for a few minutes,
but if they were found out,
the doors would easily be broken into and they would be captured.
Fear can paralyze a person, it becomes so overriding that you think of nothing else, like the proverbial deer in the headlights.
You can’t think straight, you’re fixated on your problem,
but you can’t find a way out.
They probably couldn’t even flee to Galilee, that was too dangerous, they’d be discovered even before they reached the city limits.
No, they’d best stay put, out of sight, hidden, underground, for now.
But then suddenly Jesus is standing there in the midst of them.
With his mysterious and transformed body
which can pass through locked doors,
(like Marvel’s “The Vision”).
But his appearance doesn’t immediately reduce their fears,
actually it increases them.
In theory, him just showing up would be all they needed to breathe a huge sigh of relief and say that the victory was won.
Except they don’t.
So Jesus tries to allay their fears:
“what are you afraid of?
Why does doubt arise in your hearts?
Look at my hands and feet; see that is I myself.
Touch me and see: a ghost does not have flesh and bones.”
And the disciples are half joyful and half scared,
with perhaps some nervous laughter.
Disbelieving and still wondering.
Is this an apparition or a collective hallucination?
Of course they’re frightened. I’d be frightened too.
And Jesus wants to bring it to the next level,
Because simply seeing is not enough,
he needs to prove it with a proof they’ll just have to believe.
He will eat something,
because we all know ghosts don’t eat…and he scarfs down a broiled fish, with them all watching with their jaws on the floor.
Now that was something you just had to see.
Jesus reveals himself in a meal.
Now it’s important to take a little step back here into popular theology.
Now when many people think of what happens at death,
they often think of a concept whereby the soul and the body are two distinct things.
And that at the moment of death, the soul separates from the body,
and floats off into space, into heaven or whatever,
just like how in cartoons, a little white ghost in the shape of the deceased floats away gently with a sound effect of a harp.
So at death, many people think,
the soul leaves the body to move on with God.
The problem here, is that this isn’t actually—a very orthodox Christian perspective.
In the Creeds, we don’t say, that we believe in the resurrection of the soul,
We say, we believe in the resurrection of the body.
That is, Christians shouldn’t be saying that the soul separates from the body and all we have left is this immortal soul,
and the body is completely cast off like a useless banana peel.
When we say Jesus was raised, and we too will be raised,
We say that Jesus was raised in the body,
and we will be raised in the body as well.
Jesus’s body could be perceived by the senses: touch, smell and so on.
Not to say of course that the resurrected Christ’s body was the same as a normal human body, because, of course,
human bodies don’t pass through locked doors.
But it was a body nonetheless, as strange as it sounds.
It was as Jesus said, a body of flesh and bones.
An incarnated body. A resurrected en-fleshed body.
Weird, yes, goofy perhaps.
Now this is so incredibly important because,
we sometimes as Christians have the tendency to just think in spiritual terms and dismiss the real physical nature of human existence as irrelevant.
When we just concentrate on the soul divorced from the body as floating off to heaven, we ignore the real-life impacts of real down-to-earth, embodied existence.
When we think that only our souls have eternal worth,
then we cheapen the value of our bodies.
How does this play out?
For example, something that has become so apparent during this pandemic:
As we have been living these past thirteen months mostly isolating from each other, communicating via video screens and telephones,
we are increasingly living a virtual, mediated ghostly experience,
where we never see each other in the flesh.
I have this incredible sensation when I finally see some of you St. Matthews members, for real, in the flesh,
when I haven’t see you for real, in so long.
I can hardly believe it, and I exclaim..”you actually exist”…as if I somehow doubted (perhaps a little jokingly) that you do exist.
It definitely is a very strange experience to see you, for real, again.
And perhaps you experience that too.
We have taken “seeing each other in the flesh” so for granted,
until the pandemic hit.
We have taken hugs and handshakes and wet kisses on the cheek for granted.
How we miss that real flesh-and-blood interaction with our loved ones, and even the causal encounters in the pews with other members.
Another way we have to remember humanity as being enfleshed,
with real flesh and bones, is to realize that we all have a specific skin colour.
As Black Lives Matter and other anti-racist speakers have reminded us in recent years, so-called colour blindness is not the antidote to racism.
We have to recognize that skin colour, ethnicity and race do play a huge role in power dynamics, distribution of resources, and the application of justice.
We need to remember that Jesus was not some pale blonde ghost,
but a swarthy brown-complexioned person of colour,
someone who would be a marginalized person in our affluent North America, and would likely be carded on the streets and unduly singled out by law enforcement for hanging out with his dark-skinned buddies on the streets.
Thinking about the flesh and bones marginalized we so often forget
brings me to the next example.
Sometime between Friday and Saturday, our church building got vandalized,
with all the Cloister Walk windows splattered with paint (or at least a chalky liquid).
Now the vandalism could have been worse,
and the paint will likely come off relatively easily.
So my first reaction was relief, that it wasn’t that bad.
But my second reaction was anger:
why would someone do something like this to our beloved church building? What sense was there?
But next, I tried to envision the most courteous or empathetic reason for someone do this act.
I tried to be as generous as possible.
I remembered reading somewhere that spray painting tags and graffiti for some folks is a way of pointing out to their community, to society at large: “hey, I’m still here. I exist.”
So many people are forgotten and ignored.
Our media focusses on the white and attractive and thin,
but if you don’t fit those three characteristics, you are invisible.
I thought maybe the person who did this was just “Seeking attention” to tell me and other members,…hey I exist.
Because in a way our church building has been locked up like a fortress for a year, we have’t been inviting people hardly in for meals, fellowship and so on. It’s like a dead building much of the time.It’s too easy to ignore the forgotten,
it’s too easy to just keep on scrolling past the disturbing images, to close my eyes, I’ve got enough problems as it is.
But there are people out there, maybe some of you listening to this broadcast right now, who may be saying:
has society forgotten me, am I still noticed by anyone,
does anyone still care if I live or die?
And perhaps our vandal was one of these people saying:
my body is still here…notice me.
I can show I still exist and leave a mark.
Here’s a good story I read from a pastor:
Every day when I walked down a street in Rio de Janeiro, I saw a man in his prime crouched down, and leaning against a wall, asking for a gift with an outstretched hand.
He couldn't walk.
His legs were mutilated.
Too often I had walked past him without really considering
what it meant to be unable to get up, to be so disabled.
One day, however, I became aware of this man's fate and all its harshness, because I saw how many people passed him by without paying any attention to him, let alone giving him anything.
Immediately I went up to him and asked him if he wanted to get up,
if he wanted to be able to walk.
He eyed me suspiciously for a while, but then he must have noticed in my face that I didn't want to mock him and he began to speak.
He still was hoping for a turning point in his life.
But I was the first passer-by in a long time to speak to him.
“I am so alone in my fate,” he complained,
“because for many people it is embarrassing to stop and they are ashamed to talk to me, I can feel it all too well. Thank you.”
I would love to be able to walk and move about, but nobody helps me because what I need is unaffordable for me and my relatives.
I guess I'll just have to forget it. ”
I shook hands with the man and promised him,“ I'll help you to walk. ”
Then I went home.
At the Sunday service, in my sermon, I only spoke about this man and his life circumstance and what we could do for him.
A spontaneous offering brought in more than was necessary for crutches and artificial legs. I was glad.
Even happier and more surprised, however, was the man on the street who couldn't believe that he was being helped.
He practiced really hard for the next few weeks until he could walk without help.
Soon Easter was approaching.
I invited him to the main service and gave him a seat at the very front, beside the altar.
Again I preached about him and said, “Jesus is risen to new life. He also gives us new life.
It is also up to us that a whole new life may begin for our fellow human beings. It was through you that it started for our friend who is sitting next to me.
Stand up and show yourself to the community you are now a part of!”
He got up and showed that he could walk.
Enthusiasm filled the church.
That was my most beautiful Easter celebration.”
In this story of a lonely, man in Rio de Janeiro forgotten and passed by,
We hear how the simple act of remembering,
and treating him like a human and actually asking what he wanted,
treating his hopes and dreams seriously, was so powerful, and led to the logical next step, of doing something concrete and useful to help the man in need.
“We are physical, material, flesh and bone kind of people”,
And by remembering the least of these, the people not always present in our minds, or on our screens, who all have a story, a past, present and future,
We start to realize what the resurrection can mean if we want to help it become reality in our communities, in our streets and societies.
And as we ground ourselves in the realness, the messiness, and the weirdness of Jesus Christ’s resurrection we need to remember that the risen Christ very much had a body, and wasn’t just a ghost.
That the Christian story is about real people, people with skin, muscles and sinews.
As David Lose puts it:
“From the pains of Mary’s childbirth and Jesus’ messy birth, to his grief over losing a friend, to both his joy in and disappointment with his disciples, to his isolation in Gethsemane and despair on the cross, the picture of Christ’s life, ministry, and death is one of God embracing all that we are, so we would know God understands us as we are, embraces and accepts us as we are, loves us as we are, and redeems us as we are. … in the story of the resurrection. God comes for real people, redeems real people, and promises to resurrect real – and so also physical – people.(David Lose)
And so we are the body of Christ pointing to the power of Jesus.
As we live our lives following our Lord and master,
not just with thoughts and prayers but also with actions,
Recognizing the flesh and blood characteristics of our neighbours,
And helping out in real and tangible ways, as best as we are able.