Third Sunday of Easter
April 18, 2021
Why is it that we never use most valuable possessions? Let me share this with you – Maggie and I have three complete sets of fine china dish ware. Three. In our attic we have boxes fine cups, and delicate plates, and silver. This is the good stuff. Do we ever use it? Of course not! Heaven forbid we would break some of it. So, instead, all three sets are safely tucked away collecting dust.
So the question almost becomes an existential one – if we never use the gifts that have been given to us, are they actually gifts? Have we actually received them? We can talk about the china, we remember our grandmothers and great-grandmothers who gave them to us. We have fond memories of dinners on those plates from long ago. But if that plate never holds a casserole and if I never drink coffee out of the cup, is it really china?
These are some of the questions that come up when Jesus is raised from the dead. Is this really a body? Is Jesus actually physically, bodily, raised from the dead? The disciples see him and they begin to wonder – is this a ghost? Is it a vision? Are they seeing an apparition? Are they imagining this? I especially love the line – “While in their joy [the disciples] were disbelieving and still wondering.” So question comes up quite naturally – is it really a body if it never eats food? So, to show the physicality of his resurrected body, Jesus eats a piece of broiled fish. He shares the disciples’ dinner and the sheer materiality of the act shows that he is not a ghost. But that he has a real body.
See, the truth of the matter is that words, thoughts, sentiments are not enough for God. Think of it – in his ministry, Jesus heals people. He frees them of their illnesses. He touches them, feeds them. It’s not enough for him to say that their sins are forgiven, he must actually heal them of their infirmities (Luke 5:17-26). And then, to show their gratitude, those who are healed and forgiven give something back that is material (Luke 19:1-10). Words, thoughts, sentiments are not enough for God. For reconciliation to take place on the cross, Jesus died an actual death. There was bodily pain, he bled, he suffered. Jesus did not stand there at the cross and say that we are forgiven of our sins. No, he showed it in his body and in his death. The same with the resurrection. This is not a ghost. This is not a vision. To show that God had defeated death, Jesus got up from the dead and ate dinner. Words, thoughts, sentiments are not enough for God.
This is the radical and sometimes terrifying nature of the Christian faith. Christianity is a concrete, material, tactile religion. We Christians are not only concerned with souls and spirits, we believe that there is physicality to our faith.
Think about it. God created a material world and called it good (Genesis 1). Jesus Christ became an incarnate, enfleshed human being (John 1). He died a real death and rose with a real body (Luke 23 & 24). For two thousand years, Christians have worshipped with bread and wine, with water and oil. We gather in actual places called churches and homes. We do not believe that we are just souls trapped inside of bodies. We don’t say that our souls just fly off to heaven when we die. No, we say that just as Jesus was risen from the dead, so we too will be raised from the dead. This physicality is the real treasure of our faith. We are not anti-materialism. We believe that the material world can and should be redeemed and made holy for God. This would be a great message for the world if only we had the courage to say it out loud. So let’s say it out loud.
We Christians are not opposed to human bodies and what human bodies do. We are not opposed to the scientific process and to medicine. Our purpose is not to leave the physical world but to live and work in such a way that things become on earth as they are in heaven, as we pray everyday. We believe that words, thoughts, and sentiments are not enough for God. This is where the rubber hits the road. And it might be where we break a few china dishes.
A living, vibrant Christian faith must mean something in and for the world. Let’s look at it this way. When you say you’re sorry for something you did to someone, but then don’t do anything to change your behavior or to make up for what you did, you’re not actually sorry. That apology is shallow. Words, thoughts, and sentiments are not enough for God. Jesus is not a ghost. When you say you’re sorry, you need to have some real actions, some actual change to prove it. You need to eat the broiled fish; to show your sorrow, to be reconciled in a way that the world can actually see.
In so many ways, this is precisely what our society is dealing with right now. On issues of race, class, gender – we are so uncomfortable that we want thoughts, words, and sentiments to be enough. But they never have been. Jesus doesn’t just stand there and say, “believe me guys, I’ve been raised from the dead.” No, he eats the broiled fish. Jesus shows, in the most basic and physical of ways, that words, thoughts, and sentiments are not enough for God. So I don’t have any solutions or easy answers about the way forward on any of these topics or so many others. I do not think that I can or should tell you what to think. But I can provide you with the tools to think theologically. And what do we know theologically? Jesus is not a ghost. That singular knowledge informs everything we do, as the First Letter of John says – “Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action” (1 John 3:18).
If reconciliation means that things have not really changed, is it reconciliation? If Jesus doesn’t eat the broiled fish, is he even risen from the dead? If we’re never eaten off my great-grandmother’s china, is it really a plate? And, to put it in the starkest possible terms, if we never do anything in the name of Jesus to make the world a better place, are we really one of his disciples?
Rather than saying, “they should really do something about those public schools,” it is time to show up and help out. Rather than saying, “kids these days don’t have any good role models,” show up and be that example. Rather than saying, “they should do something to make society less polarized” or “they should do something to make workplaces more equal,” or “they should do something about those unjust laws,” we are the ones to do it. The world is desperate for some good news. The world is tiring of all our talk about heaven when the whole earth is crying out for help.
And in that way, we are the china dishes collecting dust in the attic. You, as disciples of Jesus, are the world’s most valuable possession. It is time for us to come down out of the attic, dust ourselves off, and offer ourselves for this physical world in the name of Jesus. Sure, a few dishes might get broken. A cup here or there will get chipped. But it will be worth it, so that more and more the earth will becomes as it is in heaven. Now is the time to eat the broiled fish and to show the world that words, thoughts, and sentiments are not enough for a Christian.