The Rev. Stephanie Chase Bradbury – Resurrection Body

Sermon Preached April 30, 2017 – “Resurrection Body”

Year A, Easter 3

St. John’s Episcopal Church

Beverly Farms, Massachusetts

The Rev. Stephanie Chase Bradbury

In the name of God, Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Amen.

Have you ever seen a friend from far off, waved and called to them, only to realize, once they turned around, that it wasn’t them at all? The Road to Emmaus story is like this, except in reverse. They see a stranger and don’t realize that he is their friend.

Two disciples are walking along the road, Jesus joins them, but they don’t recognize him, even as he talks to them all afternoon. The disciples are likely a husband and wife. They are on their way home from Jerusalem the Sunday after the crucifixion of Jesus. They had heard stories about the resurrection, but didn’t believe them. But now they’re spending hours with their beloved teacher, talking with him all afternoon, expressing their despair at Jesus’ death, and yet don’t recognize that it is he! It is only after reaching their home in Emmaus, and inviting the stranger to dinner, that the couple suddenly see him for who he is, in the breaking of the bread. And then, in that moment of recognition, Jesus vanishes. How can someone not be recognized? How can someone disappear into thin air?

Interestingly, this is not the only resurrection story where Jesus is not recognized, or where he suddenly appears or disappears. Somehow, Jesus’ physical body is not the same after the resurrection and three of the four gospels tell unusual stories about him.

In the gospel of Matthew [MT 28:17] when the disciples finally see Jesus for the first time after the resurrection it says, “When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.” In other words, even when looking at him directly, some were unsure it really was him.

In the gospel of John, Mary Magdalene is weeping outside the empty tomb, but when she sees Jesus, she doesn’t recognize him. She thinks he is the gardener. It takes her a few minutes to understand it is him. When she does, Jesus won’t let her touch him, saying, “Do not hold on to me because I have not yet ascended to the Father” [Jn 20:13-17]. He seems to indicate that his material form is different and cannot yet be touched.

Also in the gospel of John the disciples are in a locked room, hiding out for fear of the authorities, when suddenly “Jesus came and stood among them.” [Jn 20:19]. How did he get in? Jesus seems to have floated through the walls. The following week the disciples are again gathered, and again the Bible is very clear that Jesus arrives somewhat mysteriously. It says, “Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them.” Two weeks in a row, Jesus passes through locked doors.

Later in the gospel of John, even after the disciples had already seen him twice, they still fail to recognize him on the beach. Several of them leave the beach to go out fishing all night. Scripture says, “Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.” [Jn 21:4]. He then proceeds to have a conversation with the men on the boat, but they still have no idea who he is. After a while, many of them figure it out, but not all of them are sure.

In the gospel of Luke, after the Emmaus story and Jesus’ disappearance, the two disciples hurry back to Jerusalem to tell the others. While they are all together Jesus, again, just suddenly just appears in the midst of them. The Bible says that, “They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost.” But Jesus insists he is not a ghost saying, “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.” [Luke 24:39] He then proceeds to eat a piece of broiled fish to prove it. He does something similar in the gospel of Matthew when he is on the beach with the disciples and they all eat a meal of bread and fish together, proving that he is a corporeal, solid body [Jn 21:13-15a].

From these unusual resurrection stories we learn that Jesus looks like himself, but also doesn’t quite look like himself to some. He seems to be able to be recognized, or not recognized, at will. He is also somehow not quite solid as he is able to pass through doors and walls, and appear or disappear instantaneously. He also does not want to be touched immediately after the resurrection, as though he hadn’t quite transitioned to whatever he is transitioning to, yet a short time later is happily welcoming doubting Thomas and the others to poke and prod at his crucifixion holes. And despite being able to travel through walls, Jesus is a solid being and is able to eat a meal.

Scholars have puzzled over these post-resurrection stories for centuries. Many note that this is resurrection, not merely resuscitation. Jesus’s body is somehow different from before. The theologian N.T. Wright notes, “It seems that Jesus’ body, emerging from the tomb, had been transformed. It was the same, yet different.”[1] Richard Rohr has a wonderful Star-Trekkie quote. He says, “At present, our human nature in its physical form is limited to a space-time continuum. My current body is a limited presence; if I’m here, I can’t be there. That’s not true of Jesus any more. What the gospels seem to be trying to say is that in the resurrection of the body we’re getting into a new kind of bodiliness, a new kind of presence which is unlimited.”[2]

There are lots of theories and ideas about the larger implications of this, but the one which I find compelling, especially in light of the Emmaus story, is what this unusual resurrection body means for our understanding of the Eucharist. Because if, as we learned today, this resurrected body is not confined to time and space, then it is always here. It is always now. So when we eat the bread and wine, Jesus is here. He is not confined to 2000 years ago, but is as equally present to us today as he was to the disciples in Emmaus. We can kneel in St. John’s at the altar rail, and in a flash, can just as easily come to know Jesus as the disciples did in the breaking of bread – and our hearts will burn within us.

As we celebrate communion today, take special note of the consecration prayer where we hear the words “Let the grace of this Holy Communion make us one body, one spirit in Christ, that we may worthily serve the world in his name.” and we answer, “Risen Lord, be known to us in the breaking of the bread.”

May it be so.

Amen.

[1] N.T. Wright, Luke for Everyone, p. 295.

[2] Richard Rohr, The Good News According to Luke, p. 191-192.