Here we are on the Third Sunday of Easter, and the disciples are still startled and terrified every time Jesus shows up. We probably are too. “They thought they were seeing a ghost,” Luke tells us, but Jesus says, again, “Peace be with you,” and offers his hands and feet for them to touch. This time, though, he asks if they’ve got anything to eat. They offer him a piece of broiled fish, and you can imagine them holding their breath as he chews and swallows it. They watch to see whether, in a kind of first century-post-resurrection upper GI scan, they will be able to see the fish traveling down his esophagus and into his stomach. Apparently they didn’t.
I remember a Syrian Orthodox priest telling a group of us who had come to visit the church where he served, “The one thing that is absolutely essential to believe is the resurrection of the body.” I was a little surprised and, I’ll admit, a little skeptical to hear him pin all of the Christian faith on the “resurrection of the body.” You mean, if, by chance or by intention, somehow we found a skeleton that could be dated to somewhere around 33 A.D. (Or the Common Era), with holes in its wrists and ankles, and maybe even the name “Jeshua” carved nearby, that the whole basis of the Christian faith would crumble? Does it all depend on that piece of evidence?
This story in Luke of Jesus’ eating a piece of fish is meant to let us know that the presence the disciples experienced that evening was more than a ghost. Jesus was embodied, though not just a resurrected corpse. It was a “resurrection body,” as Paul says, the only way he could describe it. UCC minister Elizabeth Goodman warns against “taking on the task of proving the Resurrection of …Jesus in body as well as in spirit” and says such a sermon is “doomed to failure. We simply can’t prove Jesus’ Resurrection in body [she says]. But we can explore the implica-tions of its being so. Resurrection of the body answers the predominant, persistent dualism that claims material things are corrupt and spiritual things are pure and good, spirit rising at death as the body falls away. Christ’s and our resurrection mean body and spirit cannot be so neatly separated. We are matter animated, determined by body as much as by the cultivation of our minds. We can accept ourselves as we are, along with the joys of good food, good sex, the cool of rain on your face, the warmth of sun on your body, rejoicing in these blessings.”
“But,” she says, “Christians, especially in America, remain at best ambivalent about the body. Despite our confession that God intends blessing in our being embodied, Christians don’t seem widely to experience that blessing as lived reality.” (Journal for Preachers, Easter 2012, p. 6) Many of us live with shame about our bodies–they don’t look or act or feel the way we think they should or have been taught they should. And shame is not about something we’ve done or haven’t done–that’s where we might feel guilt and hopefully can do something to change or make up for it. But shame is about who we are–a certain body type, a certain color skin, a gender, a sexual orientation, born in a certain place to certain people, having a body that makes funny sounds or has a certain shape or that ages and wears out. It’s about who we are.
Psychologist John Bradshaw writes that
In itself, shame is not bad. Shame is a normal human emotion. In fact, it is necessary to have the feeling of shame if one is to be truly human. Shame is the emotion which gives us permission to be human. Shame tells us of our limits. Shame keeps us in our human boundaries, letting us know we can and will make mistakes
[*all of us perfectionists, take note!], and that we need help. Our shame tells us we are not God [in and of ourselves]. Healthy shame is the psychological foundation of humility. (Healing the Shame That Binds You, p. vii.)
It may be hard to think of shame as healthy and necessary. But when we say to someone, “Have you no shame?” there is the sense that there are limits, boundaries beyond which we shouldn’t go. Remember the Greek myth of Daedalus and Icarus, who were imprisoned on the island of Crete? Daedalus, the master craftsman, fashioned wings from feathers and wax, and so father and son flew out of their prison. Daedalus warned his son not to fly too close to the sun, but, thrilled with the freedom of flight and being an adolescent boy, Icarus couldn’t resist flying high, where the sun melted the wax and the wings dissolved, plunging the boy to his death in the ocean. To fly within certain limits, they were free. To exceed the limits meant death.
Ernest Kurtz says that “to be human is to know shame, for ‘to be human is to be caught in a contradictory tension between the pull to the unlimited, the more-than-human, and the drag of the merely limited, the less-than-human.’” (cited by Goodman, op cit.)
“When I look at your heavens, [the psalmist writes] the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? You have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor. You have given them dominion over the works of your hands..” We are “caught between the pull to the unlimited, the more-than-human, and the drag of the merely limited, the less-than-human.” And it is in that place that we find ourselves given the responsibility to care for the earth, the humus, of which the 2nd creation story in Genesis says we are made. “The Lord God formed the earth creature (the adamah) from the dust of the ground,” the humus, which is the same root as our word humility.
On this Earth Day, it is good to go back to our roots, to the humus from which we were made and to reclaim the humility with which we are to “have dominion” over the works of God. Cynthia Lano Linders writes that the Resurrection of Jesus’ body is “God’s affirmation that creation matters, that love and justice matter, that humanity, in all its ambiguity and complexity, is still fearfully and wonderfully God-made.” (Cited by Kate Huey, in Weekly Seeds, 4/22/12) Creation, in fact, has been called the Second Scripture, revealing to us God’s Word and intention just as the first scripture, the Bible, does.
What can we learn when we study creation or nature, this Second Scripture? Certainly we can learn of beauty, of abundance, of complexity and diversity, of wonder. We can also learn of limits, of consequences, of life and death. We are learning how integrally connected we are with nature and the real dangers of disconnecting from it–as books like Last Child in the Woods warn us of the effects of removing children from nature and immersing them in strictly human-made environments. Brain research reveals that we are actually altering brain chemistry and structure with our digitally-controlled and -dominated toys, work environments and pasttimes. And of course, rising rates of cancers in toxic environments, in the air we breathe and the food we consume, are but the canary in the coal mine. Climate change impacts us all.
Creation matters. How we live together in this creation– with love and justice or without it–matters. “To insist on the reality of the resurrected body,” writes Stephen Cooper, “is to demand that we accept our present reality as the place where transformations of ultimate significance take place.” (Cited in Huey, op cit.) Luke’s story of Jesus’ resurrection appearance to the disciples, in which he shows them his wounded hands and feet and joins them in table fellowship sharing broiled fish, tells us that bodies matter–hunger and homelessness and illness–matter and are concerns of those who would follow in Jesus’ way. One in two or three Americans are now poor or near poverty, with all the physical implications that has. One in four families in Bennington get food from the Kitchen Cupboard. That should matter to us.
Table fellowship was still at the core of Jesus’ resurrection fellowship, as it was before his crucifixion. Sunday Suppers, potluck suppers, Sunday Social, and the Sacrament of Communion remain at the core of our fellowship. Study of the Scripture was at the core of Jesus’ resurrection appearances, both on the road to Emmaus and here in today’s reading. We continue to wrestle with the scriptures here on Sunday morning and in Bible conversations, and we must also be committed to studying and learning from the Second Scripture, from caring for and immersing ourselves in nature. And finally Jesus tells his disciples that repentance – turning back to God’s ways– and forgiveness of sins are to be proclaimed in the power and energy of God that is with them. “You are witnesses of these things,” he tells them.
At our “Re-thinking Church” task force gathering last Thursday evening, we affirmed that “We are Jesus in this time and place. What, then, should we be doing?” We invite you to consider that as well, to join in conversation about that, invite your friends to offer their insights. “We are Jesus in this time and place. What, then, should we be doing?”
Christ is risen in resurrection power. I now think I understand better what my Orthodox colleague from St. Elias was talking about when he said the most important thing to believe is the resurrection of the body, with all its senses and needs and weaknesses and wonder. Embody me, Jesus says. Creation matters. Bodies matter. This is the place for transformation. Now is the time to be part of the New Creation. And, while we’re at it, have you got anything to eat?
Rev. Mary H. Lee-Clark