Luke 24:36 While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37 They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 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.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate in their presence.
44 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.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
When the disciples saw Jesus, They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. This figure appears in the room but they saw what happened on Friday, they saw his body stretched upon the cross, they saw the blood and water flow out from his side. They saw his life and their hopes diminish and fade into that empty tomb until they couldn’t see them anymore. So when they see him again, they can only assume that there is less of him than there was before, there is even less of him than meets the eye. It’s not really him. It’s just his shadow, up for the moment from the shadow place, which never bodes well, if you’re familiar with the Old Testament, but Jesus, Jesus is gone and he’s not really coming back. After all they’ve seen they know, there can only be less than there was. His form might have come into the room, but surely there is no weight behind that form. After the cross, there can only be less. He must be a ghost.
There can only be less. That’s what death shows us. That’s what the Powers who deal death want us to know. What you’ve got is as much as you’ll get. From here there will only be less. You will diminish, erode, until all that is substantial becomes shadow. That’s what’s waiting for us after we die. Our souls will escape our bodies and that will be that. For the most part, I think we tend to agree with this. Maybe some of us become happy ghosts in a place we call heaven, but even that agrees that after we die, our souls are separated from our bodies and that is our eternal destiny. Death gets our bodies, God gets our souls, for whatever end God sees fit. We must become ghosts, and the whole of the cosmos will flicker and flame out like a candle. Death means there can only be less. Maybe some will be happy about it, no longer weighed down by the concerns of the flesh, but the fact remains.
This is what the disciples assume when they see Jesus, that obviously he doesn’t really have flesh anymore. Even though they see him right in front of them, the Cross has convinced them that there is no hope for this world, for creation, for matter. After the Cross the end is obviously ghostly. And this is important, not just for our eternal destinies but because what we believe about the end teaches us how to live now. If we agree with the disciples in that moment that even Jesus ends up a ghost, if it is inevitable that death will diminish creation, that the stuff of this world will disappear, then we’re really all just passing through. Whatever goodness you are called to in this world, it’s for the sake of a ghostly destiny, but this world doesn’t really matter in the end. So don’t worry about it too much. Don’t worry about ice caps melting and blowing a hole in the ozone layer. Don’t think about how weird it is that our entire civilization is built upon the ready availability of liquid dinosaur trees. Don’t worry about peace, because there are certain wars (it’s not very clear which, so it must be the wars that you’re excited about) that will signal God is ready for us to jump ship. Don’t worry about gentrification in your neighborhoods, racism in your politics, sexism on the job, cause it’ll all be better bye and bye. There will be less, you’re just passing through on the way to somewhere else.
Isn’t it interesting then that when the disciples see a Jesus who must be a ghost, Jesus answers, “39 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.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate in their presence.” The Gospel writers want us to know that Jesus rose in the flesh. Flesh that they can touch and even taste, flesh that gets hungry and asks for food. When the Son of God rises it is not as purified spirit, free from the limitations of the flesh, but in flesh made new. As Christians we don’t believe in the dissolution of soul and body; we believe in the Resurrection. Not the dissipation of this world but its renewal. Not a disembodied ghostly future, but renewed bodies, new creation, a new world, a world where there is not less, but more.
In that moment, Jesus asks for some fish, which might remind us of earlier events when Jesus fed thousands with only a few loaves of bread and some fish. The disciples assumed there could only be less, but Jesus shows up to remind them that there will always, always, always be more in the abundance that is already here.
Jesus doesn’t rise again so that we can leave behind a diminishing world. Jesus rises in the flesh so that we can go deeper into this world, further up and further in. I’ve always been fascinated by these Resurrection appearances, and how in so many of them, the Gospel writers emphasize that Jesus entered the room even though the doors were locked. So naturally, many of us assume that he must have some kind of ghostly quality that lets him become less solid so that he can walk through things that are more solid. But I wonder if the opposite isn’t the case. In Hebrew, the word “glory” also has the meaning “heavy,” so I can’t help but wonder if Jesus’ glorified body doesn’t become heavier so that the walls are like air compared to the weight of his glory. His resurrected body isn’t less, it’s more. Our hope is not the dissolution of the world, but that creation would drip like honey with depth and beauty and goodness ever increasing, ever more apparent.
And if there is more, not less, but ever more, than Resurrection of the body also teaches us how to live now. Your body is not just a receptacle that you must tolerate until you can leave it. Your body will rise, with it’s scars but without pain, with its memories but without tears. And if we believe in Resurrection, then Creation is not a factory, mechanically producing objects for our consumption until it is time to outsource that work; it’s a garden (where else have we heard creation compared to a garden?). A garden can produce much of what you need, but only if you treat it as a garden. You can use your apple trees for fire wood, but then you’re not going to have any more apples. You can plant the same crops year after year, but you’re going to deplete the soil. But if you tend your garden, if you care for it and grow it, then it will put out an abundance. There will be more.
And when there is more, you don’t have to hoard and stockpile, you don’t have to stuff your face like Esau slurping his lentil soup, because there is enough. No one is going to take from you what you need. There is enough for all of us and there is more where that came from. Believing this, really believing this, moved the early Christians to give up their possessions and hold everything in common. That’s what life hoping for the resurrection of the body looks like. God’s abundance means that whatever is needed, there is enough for everyone (so if there’s not enough, there must be some problem in the distribution).
The grace of the resurrection does not destroy nature but perfects it, opens it up, accentuates what God made in the beginning. And so the resurrection opens up possibilities for now, too. All of creation pulses with the grace that multiplied those loaves and fishes. That’s what we find out when Jesus rises in the flesh and asks for some food, that in the stuff of this world we will and can taste and see that the Lord is good.
But this doesn’t always seem obvious. Many of you find yourselves in situations where there is not enough. Not enough money. Not enough time. Not enough power. We testify to an abundant creation and yet our imaginations are conformed to scarcity rather than abundance. Money’s running out, time’s running out. “There is always less” seems like an accurate description of the world to you. If you don’t see abundance, if you don’t think it’s possible that there will be more, that’s OK. If the disciples thought Jesus was a ghost back then, you don’t have to fake it today. God wants to train us to find new possibilities, to see depths unfolding in creation that we’d never noticed before. When there are not societies and communities living in hope of the resurrection, God is always calling new groups to try, to touch each other’s flesh in healing, loving ways, to start feeding each other from the abundance that is already here.
After Jesus eats his fish, he says to the disciples, “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.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures…”
When we can’t see the abundance of creation for ourselves, when the hope of the resurrection seems like folly, God has given us the Scriptures to preserve the memory of that abundance. Through the Scriptures the Sprit teaches us to live as though resurrection is our hope. Jesus looks into the Scriptures, the Torah and the Psalms and the Prophets, and finds words about himself. This means that the words of the Bible have to mean more than one thing: there is an abundance of meaning there. The Psalms are about the people of Israel, and their hopes of return from exile, of vindication before their oppressors. And they never stop being about that. But at the very same time, Jesus finds words about himself in those poems and songs. The words of the Bible mean more than one thing. They contain within them an abundance.
When we read, not with the pride that we know everything they have to teach us, but looking to be surprised, we can find that these words, which are just words, in the Spirit open up into great depths. They teach us that creation is abundant and growing, that the people of God are most themselves when making Jubilee offerings, and caring for the alien, the orphan, and the widow. They make us ask “Who is our neighbor?” The Hittite, the Moabite, the Egyptian are called enemies and yet each of those tribes has someone marry an Israelite and become a crucial part of the story. The Scriptures invite us to say what we think and then they make us question it so that we come to a deeper understanding. In the Scriptures, these stories and poems and cranky prophecies, we can begin to taste and see life renewed.
That’s why when Jesus wants to teach the disciples about the resurrection, what resurrected life looks like, he talks about their Bible, or rather he teaches them how to read it. So when we read the Scriptures, we’re not supposed to be just repeating to ourselves comforting stories, confirming all of our opinions about how the world works. We read the Bible, asking God’s Spirit to show us the abundance of meaning and possibility and hope that exists because Jesus is risen and New Creation will rise, too.
So my friends, my prayer for us is that we will live now in hope of the Resurrection. That we will tend and care for our bodies and our neighbors bodies and creation as gifts that will grow and flourish beyond our wildest imaginings. I pray that we will be a community of abundance, sharing bread and fish with our neighbors trusting that there will always be more, not less. May the ghosts of scarcity no longer haunt us, but instead may our love become heavy with the glory of God’s overflowing abundance. And if that does not seem real or even possible to you, may we read the Scriptures together, asking God’s Spirit to attune our hearts to resurrected life, calling us not away from the world, but ever deeper into its depths. Amen.
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