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“Taste and See”
Sermon on Luke 24:36-48
3rd Sunday of Easter, Year B
There is a remarkable similarity in the different Gospel accounts of Jesus’s post-resurrection appearances. The accounts begin with the disciples in a mood of despondency; then Jesus appears among them, but they don’t recognize him; he then reveals himself but they are still doubtful; and finally they respond with wonder and joy.
There is one other interesting feature of many of these accounts: they involve a meal as the occasion for the disciples to recognize who it is that is eating with them. In John the risen Jesus invites the disciples to breakfast on the beach, a meal of bread and grilled fish. Luke describes two post-resurrection meals with the disciples: one in the village of Emmaus, when two depressed disciples don’t know who Jesus is until they sit at the table together and he blesses and breaks the bread; and the other, the one we just read about, in Jerusalem with all the disciples, when he asks them for some food.
Luke gives special attention to the physicality of Jesus. “Look at my hands and my feet,” Jesus says. “Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And then he asks them for something to eat. The point is clear: Jesus’s post-resurrection existence was not as some vaporous spirit, but as a person with form and substance, and still bearing the marks of his suffering. In his risen body, he didn’t leave his humanity behind – the risen Christ was not too spiritual to eat a broiled fish!
In his earthly life, Jesus apparently enjoyed his food and drink. In fact, he was accused by some of being a glutton and a drunkard. In the meal at the house of Levi, the Pharisees complained that Jesus and his disciples did not fast; Jesus addressed their complaint by comparing any meal in his presence to a wedding feast. “You can fast when the bridegroom is gone,” he said.
Meals were one of the primary ways Jesus connected with people. Much of his teaching seems to have been done over a meal, and many of his parables involved meals and eating. He talked about the kingdom of heaven as a great banquet, where the host sends his servant out into the streets to invite as many people in as possible, especially the poor and disabled. Jesus himself ate at the tables of notorious sinners, sometimes even inviting himself – and he returned their hospitality by letting them know that the kingdom was for them, too. When he taught about the need to be generous, he told a story about a rich man who feasted sumptuously but wouldn’t even give the crumbs from his table to a hungry man who waited at his gate. He fed 5000 people on a hillside in Galilee with bread and fish, turning another teaching occasion into a revelation of the grace and goodness of God. The most famous meal of all, of course, is the one he shared with his disciples on the night before he died, letting them know he was about to lay down his life for them.
In all of these meals, Jesus connected with people. When you think about it, meals are also one of the primary ways in which we make connections with each other. Sharing food is an act of intimacy. Think of what we do when we are making new friends – at some point early in the acquaintance that may become a friendship, we get together for a meal. It’s true in romance, too: if two people are beginning to date each other, the dinner date is what signals real interest in the possibility of a relationship. Putting two or more people at a table together with nothing to do but eat and talk can open the way toward deeper connection.
Meals and food are also the way we show care for each other. The early months of motherhood are centered around feeding. When children come home from school, their first question is usually about what there is to eat. Families who scatter during the day reconnect with each other at the evening meal. When a traveler returns from a journey, the first thing we do is offer food and drink, and then we hear his stories.
When Jesus got together with people at meals, he connected them with God. He revealed the divine life in himself through his hospitality to them and his acceptance of their hospitality. Meals with Jesus were where the presence of God was known.
And here he is now, meeting up with his disciples, those men with whom he had shared so many meals, and asking them for something to eat. What a strange detail this is – it would seem that Jesus would now be beyond the need for food – but maybe in his new, risen body he remembered what it was like to feel hunger, to enjoy the taste of food, and to desire companionship. It is poignant to think of him seeking out those simple human pleasures. Even now, in his resurrection life, he is not too spiritual for this world.
This has not always been evident to the church, so the Gospel writers, especially Luke and John, are insistent about Jesus’s bodily life after his resurrection. “See that it is I myself, that I have flesh and bones…” The whole idea of bodily resurrection was offensive to some of the early Christians. It seemed crass and unspiritual. How could a frail, limited human body, with its various needs and appetites, its failures and betrayals, be a suitable object for resurrection? In the ancient Greco-Roman world, salvation was seen as an escape from the physical body, which was considered just a shell to be discarded.
The Bible never says anything like this, though. The body is not just a package for the spirit – it is the means by which we experience God’s revelation in the world. The Bible talks about resurrection as a transformation of the physical body, not an escape from it. Bodies are intrinsic to being human, and have a God-given dignity.
What all this means is that Christian spirituality, Christian witness and Christian service, are a matter of flesh and bone, embodied persons connecting with each other and reaching out to other embodied persons in their need. We meet the risen Christ not just at the communion table, but also in soup kitchens and shelters, refugee camps and disaster relief sites, anywhere in our own communities where there is human need.
“See my hands and my feet” is Christ’s word to the church.[i] That means that any form of Christian spirituality that doesn’t involve some kind of sacrifice or suffering for others, that doesn’t engage with life in this world, is not really Christian. We see Christ in the needy, hungry person or we don’t see him at all.
“You are witnesses of these things,” he says to his disciples. We witness to his resurrection and his presence among us in the way we encounter the world. To serve others is to serve God, who has taken on flesh and bone and human vulnerability, to meet us in our need.
Manassas Presbyterian Church
April 15, 2018
[i] Fred B. Craddock, Luke (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990), 290.