Third Sunday of Easter
A Bodily Affair
April 17, 2021Revised Common Lectionary
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As I read again stories of Jesus’ resurrection appearances, I am reminded that the biblical narrative insists that our faith is received and communicated through our five bodily senses.
Spirituality & Psychology
Eastern Mennonite University
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Business & Technology
Business Justice and the New Global Economy
Institute for Sustainability Leadership
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What are your bodily experiences of the resurrection?
Jesus himself stood among the disciples and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, “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.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.—Luke 24:36-43
I have sometimes longed for one more day with those I love who have gone before me. My mother, my father, a few very close friends, children in my circle of close family friends whom we lost too soon. I have imagined what it would be like to have them back, even for just one day. I’ve considered what I might say, what we would do, what they might say. How it would feel.
What those imaginings do not include is the shock and terror I would doubtless experience were any of those beloved ones to walk into the room where I sit contemplating their return.
And what they do not include is my touching them, their eating with me—the physicality of it all is missing.
Luke tells us when the risen Lord appears to his friends and offers them God’s Peace, they were startled and terrified.
It’s not the way first century people referred to the common experience of seeing visions of those who had died. In those instances, people report receiving insight from experiences we would call mystical. They saw the hosts of heaven, angels, deities, animals. They had dreams and visions revealing the truth of their lives. There was sometimes fear concerning the message, sometimes awe, occasionally hope. But these were not occasions of physical terror.
Jesus’ resurrection was unexpected, terrifying, and physically intrusive. There was no arms’ length distance appearance of a beautiful memory. The one who appeared was immediately present, asking to be touched, expecting to chew and swallow a piece of fish. That’s terrifying. That would surely startle you to see in the midst of your day.
The disciples had watched Jesus be tortured along with two other human beings—for long, agonizing hours. Those who remained until the end had seen his dead body lowered from the cross and carried to the tomb. I suspect they had lain in bed in the nights immediately following this gruesome display of state violence with nausea, throbbing heads, and a certain numbness. I imagine they had awakened the first day of the week with eyes swollen and necks and shoulders racked. I believe some were hung over or felt that way even if without wine. I suspect they were moving through the kind of days we endure in the immediate hours after unimaginable loss. And then, they had begun to hear rumors. His body was missing. And more rumors. People were having visions of him—seeing him appear. Such visions would not have been uncommon.
But this—appearing and speaking with his full voice, asking them to look directly at this flesh and bones, to touch him so they could see he was real, asking for food to eat—this was not anything they were prepared to encounter. Physical responses of shock and terror make sense in this moment.
Our nation has moved once more into days not unlike those following the resurrection. With mass shooting after mass shooting, we pray with those who are filled with nausea, racked with pain, numb with disbelief as they endure the sudden loss of their beloved ones to a gruesome, violent, shockingly unexpected death. How can we proclaim and expect resurrection in these circumstances?
What changed for the disciples? How did their soul sickness give way to terror and then to joy?
The change occurred as they took in the risen Lord’s presence in their bodies. The reality of resurrection sunk in when they saw and touched him. When he ate food in their presence. Our entire faith is inextricably linked to our bodies. Incarnation is at the heart of the truth of resurrection.
This fact has important implications. To me, it suggests that the best way to practice faith in our Risen Lord must always include grounding in our physical, bodily reality. We take in faith through our five senses. This is the wisdom at the heart of our sacramental practices. Sight, Sound, Touch, Smell, and Taste—are each portals through which we encounter our Lord and proclaim our hope of the resurrection of the dead whom we love and see no more.
As our social distance lingers on, we do well to remember that we have had to absorb much terror absent the usual ways that terror is translated into hope and joy. We have had to say goodbye to too many beloved ones without gathering and employing our five senses sacramentally so that our Lord could translate our own terror into joy. We proclaim resurrection with our lips, but we have not gotten to reaffirm our experience of it with our lives, gathered in community.
Our new online reality has given us significant gifts. Technology has kept us connected in meaningful ways and, in some instances, increased access to the welcome table by some and deepened our bonds of affection.
Yet, there is something missing. Something of paramount importance. We need one another’s bodily presence in order to take in the majesty, the magnitude, the mystery of the empty tomb. Our faith is embodied. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection all affirm this truth. In life, he demonstrated over and over his care for the physical experience of those whom he encountered. He did not waiver in his attention toward the physical needs of the poor and the oppressed. His death was a gruesomely bodily experience. And in his resurrected life, as we see in this week’s texts, he was clearly fully physically present and engaged. Such physical manifestation of God’s presence compels us to care for the physical realties of those we encounter.
In today’s Business and Technology lesson, leaders from the University of Cambridge's Institute for Sustainability in Leadership identify six markers for justice in the domain of business. These include: equitable distribution of costs and benefits, full recognition of needs and rights, equal participation in decision making, and equal capabilities to function and fulfill potential. In addition, there is growing recognition of the need to consider the dimensions of justice over time (across generations) and space (across locations). These offer us scaffolding for translating gospel values into our workplaces.
Our faith drives us into the streets to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and free the chains of the oppressed. And our embodied faith makes us able to rise up singing after the long night of despair in the wake of unspeakable loss. We receive and give our faith through our bodies.
As Krista Tippet is quoted in today’s Spirituality and Psychology lesson by Meg Brauckmann, “I have not seen anyone who became more aware of their body in its fragility and grace without also becoming more compassionate to all of life.”
Faith is a bodily affair. It is when we are gathered with all of our bodily senses in play that we can fully encounter the risen Lord. Until then, we rely on memory and the witness we and our ancestors have borne to what we have all seen, and touched, and heard and smelled and tasted.