Psalm 4 | 1 John 3:1-7 | Luke 24:36-48
Our Gospel reading this morning begins with disbelief. Most of the disciples do not yet believe that Jesus has been raised from the dead. While many modern day churches want to get to Easter as quickly as possible – want to celebrate the resurrection and leave behind Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday – the early followers of Jesus weren’t so quick to celebrate Easter. They found it too good to be true. They didn’t believe so easily.
Which is kind of funny, since many moderns and post-moderns make it seem like the early Church was full of a bunch of superstitious, uneducated, naïve people who would believe anything. The truth is, Jesus’ disciples, despite having walked with him for years and having seen him perform miracle after miracle, still found it extremely hard to believe that Jesus had been raised from the dead, even when some of their group claimed to have seen the resurrected Christ.
Our passage today picks up after the story of the road to Emmaus, when two disciples were walking from Jerusalem to the town of Emmaus and Jesus appeared alongside them and walked and talked with them. At first they didn’t realize it’s him, but when they get to Emmaus he broke bread with them and they recognized him, but then he vanished. They then ran back to Jerusalem – 7 miles – to tell the other disciples. This sparked a discussion among the disciples, and it’s in the midst of this conversation about what had happened in Emmaus that our Gospel reading today begins.
Jesus appears to them while they’re talking “about this.” “Peace – shalom – be with you,” he says.
A day earlier, no word could seem so foreign, so inappropriate, to these scared, mourning, lost disciples than the word “shalom,” a word that refers to more than just peace on a social or political scale, but to inner wholeness and completeness. Shalom was and is a common greeting and goodbye in Jewish culture. “Shalom” is a word of blessing from the speaker to the recipient(s). To say “Shalom” is to say peace, wholeness, completeness to you.
May you be made whole.
The risen Christ appears in the midst of a group that feels anything but whole. They feel torn apart, lost, abandoned. The source of their hope, Jesus of Nazareth, had been killed, disgraced, and buried. But now, as he stands in their midst, shalom becomes a possibility.
“Peace, wholeness, completeness be with you,” Jesus says.
And for the first time since Thursday night, the disciples think maybe they can be whole. Maybe they can be complete.
But just as quickly as hope springs up in them, so equally does doubt. “They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost.” They can believe in the spirit of Jesus, but they can’t wrap their minds or their hearts around the presence of the whole Jesus, a Jesus with not just a spirit, but also a resurrected body. They think the Jesus they see is like them – incomplete, but in a different way. They think that they see a piece of him but not all of him – his spirit, but not his body.
If we’re honest, resurrection is equally hard for us to believe, if we really let ourselves dwell on it long enough. At least that’s how it is for me. I’m glad Easter isn’t a day but a season, because it takes time to believe in the resurrection. It takes time for me to wrap my mind and my heart around it. It takes reading story after story of Jesus appearing to his disciples for it to sink in for me. As if with each story the resurrected Christ gets a little bit more real. The outline a little more filled in. The picture of him, the image of him becomes a little more…complete, a little more whole.
It is a complete, whole Jesus who appears to his disciples, and he wants them to understand this. He is present – mind, body, and soul. “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”
Jesus is shalom embodied.
Jesus is wholeness.
Every Thursday for the past 6 weeks, Brie have spent 2.5 – 3.5 hours in a labor and delivery class, trying to prepare for the new life that’s growing inside of Brie. We’ve learned about pre-labor, labor, and post-labored. We’ve practiced labor positions and cleansing breaths. We’ve studied diagrams. We’ve watched rather graphic videos of other people giving birth that make me squirm.
We’re just about as prepared as we’re going to be. And yet, we know that we can’t be totally prepared. The more we try to get ready, the more we know we can’t be ready. Because right now the baby is an idea, a possibility, but we haven’t met them in the flesh yet. We haven’t touched them yet.
“Touch me and see,” Jesus said to his disciples.
But when the time comes, and our baby is born, they won’t be a video or a diagram. We won’t be watching someone else go into labor on a screen while we sip a cup of tea and occasionally look at the clock to see how close the class is to being over. When our baby comes, we’ll be the ones in the hospital room. We’ll be the ones being flooded with emotions. We’ll be the ones making split-second decisions if we need to.
And when that little, messy, purple/blue/gray baby is born, it won’t be someone else’s. It’ll be ours. And the first thing that they do, almost immediately, before the cord is cut, before the weight is taken, before the shots are given, is the baby is plopped instantly on Brie’s chest, where it will remain for at least 2 hours. This is called “skin-to-skin,” and it’s vital to bonding and to the baby’s acclimating to life outside the womb.
The top priority for a newborn baby is touch.
“Touch me and see,” Jesus says to his disciples.
Before Jesus appears to the disciples and stands among them, they had begun to hear rumors that Jesus had been raised from the dead, first from Mary Magdalene and the other women, then from these two disciples who travelled to Emmaus. Then he stood in the midst of them and they saw him, but even then, the reality hadn’t yet sunk in. The disciples were like Brie and I, watching videos, looking at diagrams, hearing stories of other people’s birth experiences. It was a hope, a possibility, but it wasn’t fully realized. But now Jesus invites them know, and there’s only one way for them to know.
“Touch me and see,” he says.
Touch is a powerful thing. We embrace each other when we hear good news. We give high fives to congratulate one another. We kiss our partners to show affection. We lay hands on one another when we pray. We hold hands in times of uncertainty. We wrap our arms around those who mourn.
But we don’t let just anyone touch us. Touch is reserved for those we feel safe with. Touch implies trust. As a pastor, I’m always trying to read situations. Is this person a hugger, or a hand-shaker? Would they appreciate an arm on the shoulder, or do they need some space?
Jesus invites his disciples – the ones who abandoned him at the Garden of Gethsemane – to touch him. Jesus’ invitation to let them touch him is more than proof of his existence, it’s an invitation into restored relationship. “See me, yes, but more importantly touch me. Skin-to-skin,” he says, “We have been separated by betrayal, by shame, and by death, but let’s bridge the gap, mend the wound. Touch me and see that this is real, I am real. I am not a spirit, a non-being or even a half being. I am flesh and blood, body and soul. I am whole,” Jesus says.
And in Christ’s wholeness they find their wholeness. Before Jesus appears in their midst they are a broken group, they are broken people. The death of Jesus had shattered them. When Jesus appeared to the two disciples on the way Emmaus they were leaving the group of disciples. They were leaving. The group was splintering. But Jesus appeared to them and they hurried back to Jerusalem.
Jesus stands in the midst of them and says, “Shalom – peace, wholeness, completeness – to you.” Jesus is the center that holds them all together – holds us together. Jesus is the one who completes them, as individuals and as a community. It’s Jesus who takes the broken pieces of our lives and binds them together.
There is a centuries-old Japanese art called Kintsugi, where an artist mends broken pottery by binding the broken pieces together with gold, filling in the seams of clay with precious metal. Our lives are broken again and again by betrayal, sorrow, trauma, hardship, and, yes, death. To be followers of Jesus is not to be immune to these things, but to have experienced them like the disciples, and to have met God in the midst of those harrowing places – to be put back together by a God who has flesh like ours, who says, “Look at my hands and feet – look at my wounds,” wounds that look like ours, that bleed like ours, that leave scars like ours. God draws near to the disciples – near to us – through touch, and through wounds. In his flesh and in his wounds we see Emmanuel, God with us.
This has, according to Jesus, always been the plan. Jesus was never meant to avoid the human experience. The disciples had thought the crucifixion was a mistake, that God’s plan had gone wrong.
They thought that the death of Jesus was the death of shalom, the death of wholeness. In the days following his death, Jesus became known to them as a lack. He was known to them by his absence. To think of him was to think only of what was no longer there. The opposite of shalom, Jesus became a negative space in their lives.
But Jesus shows up and stands in the negative space, filling it.
Jesus says that is had to be this way. “Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures….” He reminds them that he told them it would be this way, and helps them reinterpret the scriptures. They had grown up understanding the scriptures in a different way, but the death and resurrection of Jesus forces them to reinterpret the scriptures in a new way – something we’ve been talking about in our book study.
Jesus tells them that they are caught up in God’s great story of redemption, and that, while they stand at a critical moment in that story, the story isn’t over. He says that following the resurrection, “repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem,” then he tells them, “You are witnesses of these things.”
Jesus says to them, “What I’m doing now, you will do.” From now on they will be the ones to stand in the midst of broken people and proclaim a message of wholeness.
We often say, here at Grant Park, that we are the hands and feet of Christ. Until this week, I always just thought that meant that we are to go where Jesus leads us (feet) and to do the work Jesus calls us to (hands), and that by following the leading of the Holy Spirit we become the body of Christ on earth, which is true. But there’s more to it than that. It struck me for the first time this week that Jesus’ hands and feet are the parts of his body pierced by nails. His hands and feet are where his wounds are. We are the parts of Jesus marked by wounds.
Maybe the first step in being the hands and feet of Christ is to appear in the midst of places of hurt and pain, and before we go anywhere or pick anything up, to simply say with Christ, “Look at my hands and my feet – look at my wounds.” Maybe our job isn’t to fix problems or provide answers, but to appear in the middle of broken places, to stand in the breach as Jesus stood in the breach, and to bear witness to a savior who also knows what it is to be betrayed, to suffer, and to die.
We are to be witnesses, witnesses to a God who shows up in the midst of our doubt and pain and eats a meal with us – a God who has flesh like ours, who has wounds like ours.
It’s this God who brings shalom – wholeness, completeness, true peace – into our lives, not by pretending our wounds aren’t there, not by trying to instantly heal them, but by showing us his own wounds so that we can see him in us, and us in him. We are bound to him by our shared experience.
When we gather on Sundays, we gather around this God – the God who was made flesh, who became one of us, who was wounded, and who was raised from the dead on the third day. It’s the person of Jesus who keeps us coming back, binding us to one another, like gold smoothing out the jagged edges of our lives, joining us to one another in one beautiful work of art.