The title of a book by Anne Robertson, God With Skin On, comes from a story though the source is unknown.
A little boy reached that fearful time of day when his mother would turn off the lights in his bedroom and leave him for the night. Afraid of the dark and of being alone he cried for his mother. She assured her son that God would be with him through the night. "But mama," he cried, "I need God with skin on!"
Our Gospel scriptures give us the stories of a God with skin on from the birth in Bethlehem and only brief accounts of his childhood. Then as a young man baptized, followed by amazing stories of ministry, teaching, preaching, healing and miracles with the end coming in humiliating death and glorious resurrection.
I think, for the most part, we can more easily approach the stories of Jesus as a physical presence, a God with skin on, the human presence of Jesus living in Galilee in relationship with his disciples and followers, a person of flesh and bones. Even one who is finally identified as God's beloved Son and named as Lord and God, especially knowing the miraculous accounts attributed to him--we can accept that.
But humiliation and death? Why would God wish that upon himself? To be stripped naked, whipped, dragged through the streets then crucified at the hands of humans? The followers of Jesus could understand their Lord putting up with some worldly adversity but to die in this shameful way? And how could they have left home, family and jobs only to have it end like this?
It's no wonder they didn't believe the stories of the empty tomb told by the women, and didn't recognize Jesus as he appeared to them on the road to Emmaus. They were still trying to make sense of all of this as in our story today where he suddenly appeared to them, out of nowhere--he came and spoke to them, "Peace be with you."
Someone said, "It might have been a lot easier if Jesus had just stayed dead." But he didn't!
Sometime ago Corby offered the Easter story of Christ's death and resurrection to our Church School children. In the Godly Play curriculum the story is told in a simple manner with no explanation, then the children are encouraged to express their ideas, or wondering questions are put to them, i.e. I wonder what you think of this? Or I wonder what you heard in that story? After a few minutes of silence one of the children spoke up. You could see that he was struggling to find the words, then he finally said, "Well, I think Jesus was dead-ish."
The disciples themselves seemed to know how to handle the death of Jesus but they didn't have a clue as to what to do with this risen Jesus! What would we do if a dead guy showed up at our home or one of our potluck meals asking for a piece of fish to eat? This is way beyond any normal experience.
To those frightened and confused followers Jesus offers reassurance. "Peace be with you. Why do you doubt? Look at my hands and my feet, see that it's really me. Touch me. Look me over from head to toe." Jesus does not force a belief in his physical presence upon them but only invites them to accept that proof. What is clear, however, is that Jesus wants them to know that he is fully in their midst and they and we can understand that.
We are invited to experience the presence of the risen Christ among us wherever we are, in our church, in our community, wherever life takes us, in the celebration of Holy Communion or whenever we break bread with one another. We do not need to understand the mechanics of Christ's presence but we are invited to enjoy it, to bask in it, to be renewed and refreshed by it.
We are Easter people--we celebrate the risen Christ. Christ's church was born in a graveyard but that baby grew quickly beyond anyone's imagination.
"We are called to be witnesses, Jesus said, entrusting the world to our care.
We are called to proclaim the message of repentance and forgiveness, to turn from old ways and embrace new ones, to forgive others as God forgives us.
We are called to be God's hands and feet in the world, to be God with skin on. By doing so we may be the only opportunity for another to encounter the presence of the risen Christ.
Thanks be to God, Alleluia, Alleluia!