Jesus resurrected was just as real to his disciples as I am to you.
Last week Lorraine and I attended the clergy conference on Hood Canal. On Wednesday at the Eucharist, the person who read the Gospel chanted the words we just heard and I was greatly moved. I had been thinking about this Gospel reading for a few weeks-in my head and when I heard the words sung, they touched my heart. I was visited by this living, breathing Yeshua, the son of Mary and Joseph. The wounded and dead and now scarred but living man suddenly appeared in a room of people who were confused and frightened.
It was the first Easter and the two disciples who had met Jesus on the road to Emmaus had returned from there. They were relating their story of meeting a stranger on the road who turned out to be Jesus the man who had died a public death and then left the tomb a living, breathing person who could walk and talk and sit down and eat with them.
Jesus’ disciples were confused-what should they do now? How would things change now that Jesus had returned alive? Would he continue with his ministry? Would the authorities arrest him again-would they come for his disciples? How should they continue-how could they continue? Was this risen Yeshua real? Was it really Jesus people had seen? The two men who had just come in from Emmaus were sure when they saw him but, faced with the skepticism of the others now they weren’t so sure. And, what sort of relationship would they have with Jesus if he was not always recognizable and if he could disappear before their very eyes?
Just then as they were discussing the strange walk to Emmaus and the meal that followed, Jesus appeared in the room. One moment he was on their minds and the next moment he was there right in the middle of them. “Shalom,” he said, and they were frightened-they thought he was a ghost.
He asked why they were frightened. “Look, see my hands and feet-it is I. Touch me and see, a ghost does not have flesh and bones as I have.” They were happy to see him-joyful that he was with them once again. Jesus asked them if they had anything to eat. It was past the dinner hour but, they offered him leftover broiled fish which he took and ate. Often these post resurrection stories include food and eating meals together-sometimes Jesus cooked the food. Ghosts don’t eat.
They were excited that Jesus was with them and Jesus was focused on the mundane: having a snack.
It makes me think of how Jesus ate with anyone and everyone. We often say that Jesus didn’t care with whom he ate. That is wrong; I believe he cared very much about his dinner companions. I believe he was intentional in being inclusive. He ate with his family and neighbors in Nazareth. He likely shared mealtime with all kinds of people when he sat down for the midday meal on a workday with his father, Joseph. His back ached just like the other workers as they shared a meal and talked about the walk to get there and who didn’t show up that day and the project they were doing. He shared many meals on the road as he traveled between Nazareth and the lake district and West toward the Mediterranean Sea and South to Jerusalem. He shared meals in boats on the lake and in Peter’s house and in the houses of those in power and people like Zaccheus and in the houses of friends like Martha and Mary and Lazarus. He ate food he bought from street vendors in small villages and in cities like Jerusalem. He ate with family and friends with Romans and Jews with the righteous and publicans and sinners. He cared very much about his meal companions-he wanted to eat with every sort of individual there was because he knew it was important that someone was willing to eat with them. He knew that God wanted to be present to them all.
And he was hungry like any man or woman who lives. By eating after the resurrection he could show them that he was just as alive as he had been before he died and it was just as important to him to eat with all who would share a meal with him. “Yes, it is I-see my scars-touch me and see. Do you have anything to eat?” And after he ate, he set about to instruct them. He spoke of the scriptures and the things he had told them before his death. He opened their minds to be able to understand the scriptures and told them, “a total life-change through the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed in his name to all nations-starting from Jerusalem. You’re the first to hear and see it.” And that was the beginning of many meals, centuries of meals with the risen Christ at the center of them all.
The disciples were wondering first, how do we go on when our leader has died? Then it got really complicated: how do we go on when our leader has risen from the dead? Jesus spent time with them teaching them how to interpret scripture and how to invite people into forgiveness. He ate countless meals with them-anyone who would come. He sent them the Holy Spirit to guide them and to be with them when they shared food with one another.
Eating a meal together is about trust and sharing and love. And it is also about forgiveness. With the living Christ at the center of our meals together we can forgive one another, we can forgive ourselves and we can invite anyone to join us even if they are not like us-we can forgive them, I guess, for being different. Being forgiven and forgiving is life-changing. The disciples opened their hearts to the living Christ and this made it possible to go on when he left them behind. Once their hearts were open, they could accept anyone who came to receive this life-changing forgiveness.
Who is hungry for forgiveness? The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, said in a sermon, “it’s the truly hungry who can smell fresh bread a mile away. For those who know their need, God is immediate-not an idea, not a theory, but life, food, air for the stifled spirit and the beaten, despised, exploited body.” Most everyone is looking for some kind of forgiveness-either how to receive it or how to give it. Jesus told his disciples how to continue his ministry when he was no longer with them-offer radical forgiveness to people. He told Peter at another meal to feed my sheep and the early church did feed one another. The way they lived was not a theory but action because they knew people were coming to them seeking God and they offered them God’s forgiveness.
The way they lived that forgiveness was in sharing meals with one another with the risen Christ at the center. Just like they did with Jesus, they sat down and ate together-men and women, Jew and Greek, slave and free, publicans and sinners. No one who came was turned away-all were welcome. As our presenters at clergy conference said about their modern-day church, this wasn’t done because it was a nice thing to do-it was done because we all need acceptance, we all need forgiveness and we all need to be fed-why not eat together? God is here and now-touch and see.