Tuesday in Easter Week


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Almighty God, who through thine only-begotten son Jesus Christ hast overcome death .
Acts 13:26-41
Luke 14:36-48

One of the mysteries of the Resurrection to whose core we will never fully penetrate is the physical nature of the risen Jesus. It is a subject which clearly confused the Evangelists: in today’s Gospel Luke has Jesus eating and drinking (referred to by Peter, cf Monday in Easter); Matthew says the women held Jesus’ feet (Matthew 28:928:9[/passage]); and John describes Thomas putting his hand into Jesus’ wounds (20:27) but confuses the issue by telling how Jesus warned Mary Magdalene not to touch him (20:17). It also confused the Disciples: a person whom they had served constantly is killed and then re-appears in a way that, if he wishes, they can recognise. He appears through locked doors—unnerving enough in itself—but he is somehow a physical presence.

This issue is crucial to our understanding of the Resurrection whose physicality is not just a metaphor; it is a precise pre-figurement of our own trajectory of existence. It is an aspect of Christian doctrine, included in the Creeds, which is frequently avoided or fudged, mainly because we have been contaminated by dualism which leads us to think that parting with our bodies will be a fitting reward for earthly self denial when in fact celebrating with our bodies is a fitting pre-figurement of eternal life. When we die we will lose our physical bodies but when time comes to an end we will get them back; in Tom Wright’s crisp phrase (Simply Christian): “there is life after life after death.”

We tend to drift away from an integrated view of our state into dualism, separating our body from what we call our ‘soul’ because even as he is trying to combat the dualistic tendencies of gnosticism, Paul, living in a pagan world of self indulgence and narcissism, too easily descends into anti materialist diatribes. The passage in Acts is the second half of Paul’s first reported sermon, preached at Pisidian Antioch, which Luke barely differentiates from Peter’s sermon to the family of Cornelius (cf Monday in Easter). There is an egregious contrast between the state of the risen Lord and the corruption of earthly things which are all doomed to be wiped out in death and destruction. Far from affirming the physicality of creation, Paul seems to think in this passage that the Resurrection trumps physicality; but in conquering death, the Resurrection guarantees our life after death in Christ and it does not characterise the physical as degrading. The spiritual is in a different category from the physical and to rank them is as absurd as saying that a Bach Cantata is more worthy than a carrot. Such ranking is profoundly unhelpful and misleading but, driven by competitiveness, we frequently fall into this trap.

Against the assaults of romantic, self abasing dualism we must always bear three points in mind: first, God created the physical world so it is as perfect in its way as everything created must be; secondly, God chose to live among us not by appearing as a wraith but in the incarnate person of Jesus; and, thirdly, neither did our risen Lord appear as a wraith but, the Evangelists, Peter and Paul all attest, was a physical presence.

In Luke Jesus not only eats, he also invites the Disciples, full of fear that they are seeing a spirit, to touch him because, he says: “a spirit hath not flesh and bones”. There is something overwhelmingly touching about this invitation, under-written by the very basic request for food which, again, leads one to wonder who was present. It was uncharacteristic for men to cook fish and prepare honey-comb in a domestic environment. They might have to barbecue at the beach, as they do today, but indoors was different. Whatever the answer, Jesus, beginning with those emblematic words: “Peace be unto you”, transformed a situation from cosmic fear to domestic familiarity. He then explains, yet again, as he had to Cleopas and his companion (see Monday in Easter), precisely how his mission and Resurrection conformed to the Scriptural framework with which they were familiar; and, finally, in a typically Lucan touch, Jesus marks out the beginning of the new mission in Jerusalem, the focal point for all of Luke’s writing until the emphasis radically shifts to a Roman axis in the second part of Acts.

What Luke reports Paul as saying is an understandable aberration, given the contrast between Judaic fastidiousness and pagan abandon but we know so well from Paul himself how careful he was to underline the concept of the body as a spiritual temple, as a vessel which must be worthy of God (Romans 12:1). This raises some questions for our body conscious generation. These are usually framed around sexual conduct with the obvious condemnation of power-based and/or trivialised physical relationships but we tend to think much less, even in this age of mounting obesity, of greed and laziness. Just because the emphasis moves, as we grow older, from the genitals to the stomach and from the human object to the inventory of possessions, this does not mean that our self indulgence is somehow less venal. That being the case, we would be in danger of confining sinfulness to the young and the sexually active, a stance which many glibly adopt to their own complacent self satisfaction. In an age where excess of the kind which Paul confronted easily lures us into misunderstanding God’s creation, we need to make a special effort to understand how we must, commemorating the Resurrection, fittingly celebrate the physical.

Starting Points for Sermons or Discussions:

  1. Does it matter whether Jesus had a physical presence after His Resurrection?
  2. Explain the Christina doctrine of the after life
  3. Compare Acts 10.34-43 (Monday in Easter) with Acts 13.26-41
  4. Distinguish physicality, sexuality and lust
  5. If Jesus appeared again would you prefer a spirit or a body?

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