Living the Resurrection III

When I was in seminary, one of my professors had several of us engage in an exercise. The group of four went into the hallway outside the classroom and one by one, heard a story about a car accident. As one of the four, I heard all the details—the car color, descriptions of the people driving, the circumstances, who was supposed to be at fault. We were given a minute or two to collect ourselves and called back into the classroom one at a time. The exercise was simple, relate the details of the accident to the class. We were given around three minutes each and told to stick as close to the story as we heard it. For the most part, the only detail everyone got exactly right was that there had been an accident.

The exercise was a way of showing how different gospels could present the details of certain events in different ways. Over the course of a generation or two, these four scrolls were written in various parts of the Eastern Mediterranean by people who heard the Jesus story from different people. This makes the stories a little different with every retelling. For instance, at the resurrection, Mary Magdalene is the only person who consistently shows up every time. In Matthew, she is joined by the Other Mary and later on there are the stories of the guard’s report and the Great Commission. Mark tells us only of Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome having their wits scared out of them. John tells us only of Mary Magdalene and then Peter shows up later with the beloved disciple. It also gives the only account of Jesus appearance to Thomas we talked about last week.

This week, we look at another version of the story. This week, the Gospel of Luke recounts that Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Joanna go to the tomb. Later after they tell the disciples, Peter goes to see for himself. After this, the writer of Luke tells a story unique to that writing, the Emmaus story, where Jesus meets two disciples on the road who don’t recognize him at first, but later Jesus reveals himself. And then, we come to the story today, one similar to Jesus’ appearance to Thomas and the others in John’s Gospel. 

In the story today, the disciples see a ghost. Jesus appears in their midst and the gospel says, “They were terrified and afraid. They thought they were seeing a ghost.”[1] One writer describes the scene this way,

Then suddenly, he is there. No one saw him come in; no one met him at the door or grabbed a towel and offered to wash his feet. He was just there. “Peace be with you.” That’s what he said, and they picked themselves up off the floor and wondered if they’d ever know peace again. They were haunted by him, by the idea of him, by the blood of him. They were terrified of their shame, of how they had abandoned him, of how they wouldn’t believe in what he had told them before or what the women said they saw.[2]

I can imagine they would feel that way. After watching Jesus crucified, essentially butchered by Roman soldiers, I can see why they would be embarrassed at running away. Here is their lord, the one they have sworn allegiance to, standing before them after having been killed before them. What do you say after something like that? “Sorry Jesus, I meant to do that whole martyr thing and die next to you but I’m kind of attached to this living thing and since you were always talking about forgiveness, I figured well…”

But Jesus makes it clear that he is no ghost, no spirit sent to torment their broken, fractured emotions. “Why are you guys freaking out? Why don’t you believe what you are seeing? Look at me, look at my body. It’s really me! Ghosts don’t have bodies. Grab hold of my arms, my hands. It’s really me!” And then to take it one step further, Jesus asks for and eats a piece of fish in front of them. He wants them to know that it is him, in the flesh, the real and risen Jesus—the teacher, their teacher—alive again. 

Touch and see. 

These words, this invitation is one that transcends the time of Jesus and his disciples to us. There is something about the idea of Jesus inviting us to engagement with him. It reminds me of Psalm 34:8 which says, “Taste and see how good the Lord is!” To me, this is an invitation to honestly engage with God, an open, questioning engagement, calling us to seek God in any and all things. No question is too big. Nothing is so sacred that we cannot reach out to God, touch and see as it were. We are called to see God is and is open to us. No some sort of disrespectful, arrogant ‘prove it’ attitude but an honest wondering and curiosity for the purpose of growth and development. 

This is not an unusual thing in the bible. To question God, to affirm belief as Jesus is inviting here is part of the ancient prophetic tradition within Judaism. Abraham questioned God. Moses questioned God. Job questioned God. Elijah questioned God. And in his dying hours, Jesus himself cried out, “My God, my God! Why have you deserted me?” Throughout the bible, God has honored and answered the heart of the honest questioner because within that honest questioning is the desire to know, really truly, know God. If you didn’t care, if it didn’t matter to you, why question God? Why bother with it? Only the person who genuinely wants to know and understand the ways of God would be willing to ask and keep asking, to touch and see.

What about your relationship with God? Are you a questioner, a touch and see kind of person? Are you willing to engage God with the hard questions of life in the difficult moments, willing to seek answers to the hard questions of life and faith? 

[1] Luke 24:37