The Third Sunday of Easter
Luke 24: 36b -- 48
The Five Senses
In the Gospel text there is an opportunity to meet Jesus using every one of our senses. The disciples have an opportunity here to see him, to hear him, to touch him, to smell and taste with him. Every one of the senses is used for recognition of the Lord. Perhaps in this text we might also look to heighten and enliven our senses as we also seek to receive the wonder of his resurrection.
Telling our stories to one another is a natural and very human thing to do. The disciples are telling their stories in awe and wonder. They are amazed at what there experience is opening to them. Telling stories with one another allows them to put into words and to try to make sense of the overwhelming news and circumstances of Jesus resurrection. Something so unexpected has happened in their lives that they seek to find a way to make sense of the events and thus they talk with one another, share with one another, and tell their stories.
It's often the unexpected event, the unplanned experience that attracts our attention and makes a story come most alive. Clearly the fact that Jesus had been seen after such a horrendous and excruciating death was an unexpected event for the disciples, for everyone. A story, telling stories is a way to process the unexpected and that's exactly what the disciples were doing when Jesus appeared again. They were processing, making sense of the events after the crucifixion, reorienting themselves to the wonder that was around them by the sharing of their stories with one another.
Stories remain a wonderful way for us to process the extraordinary. One of the miracles that continues today to happen around us is the miracle of two becoming one. The miracle of a wedding, when a man and a woman make promises and vows to one another an invisible miracle takes place. There are outward and visible signs which the congregation sees during the wedding ceremony but there's also an inward and spiritual truth which is invisible to us all -- the two become one. I think because of the high level of mystery which occurs during a wedding ceremony we often attach ourselves to the humorous and human mistakes which seem to happen at almost every wedding ceremony. We take hold of the concrete events and use them to shape the story in which we seek to communicate the wonder of a deeper truth. Recently at the end of a perfect wedding ceremony the minister introduced the couple mistakenly using the bride's last name, the congregation roared in laughter, the father of the groom and the father of the bride walked across the aisle and shook each other's hands, the minister embarrassingly tried again, this time getting it right using the groom's last name. A week later the bride came into the church office to share this story with the parish secretary; somehow this little mistake became a way for her, for them to describe the joy of what had happened in their lives. Stories give us a way to understand the unexpected and the wonderful.
The disciple’s eyes betrayed them. Even in the midst of telling their stories to one another, in the midst of seeking to recognize the wonder and glory of Jesus resurrection, when he shows up again and they see him in front of them with their own eyes, they think it's a ghost. Perhaps as human beings we need more than one sense to confirm the wonder of a miracle. They still seem to have little or no context in which to make sense of what has happened to their lord and friend. Even though Jesus is right among them and they see him before them they are still unable to process the wonder of it all with their eyes alone. When Betsy, the mother of my two children died, it was in the middle of the night, 2:30 in the morning. I lit a number of candles to soften the light not wanting to turn on the glare of the fluorescent lights which were present in our kitchen/family room where her hospice bed was placed. I got the children out of their beds and brought them into the room so we could have prayers at the time of death for their mother. After the prayers both of them went back to bed and I stayed and waited for the gentleman from the funeral home to come and take her body to prepare it for burial. The next morning my son Nathan did not believe that his mother had died the night before. He wondered why she was no longer in the house. Even though he saw her with his own eyes he could not take in the awful truth of that event. Perhaps it was the flickering candlelight that made his mother look as if she might still be breathing, perhaps it was the fact that death felt so unreal as he looked upon his very young mother, whatever it was his eyes betrayed him and he could not believe that his mother had died. A few days later he and I opened the closed casket so he could see again for himself what he did not believe when he saw her the first time on that very shadowy night. The disciples did not trust their eyes -- the only way they could make sense of what they were seeing, was to say that they were seeing a ghost. How could it be real that Jesus was among them? How could it be real Nathan wondered, that his vibrant and young mother had died.
The disciples needed to hear the words of Jesus. They needed to hear his voice and experience his challenging words that were so familiar to them. "Peace be with you." They needed peace as their minds were racing to make sense of what they were experiencing. They had no context to receive the wonder of what was before them. This was all new. Jesus visits them with the familiar, by challenging them as he had challenged them throughout the entirety of his ministry, their ministry together. "Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself." Their eyes have betrayed them, thinking they were seeing a ghost, but upon hearing him speak they appear willing to go a little farther in their understanding. One can imagine that like Mary who heard her Lord's voice at the tomb, who heard Jesus say her name and then recognized that it was Jesus speaking with her, one can imagine the disciples fearful hearts and racing minds, beating more easily and slowing down.
But still, seeing and hearing is not enough for them and Jesus knows it. He uses another one of the human senses to help the disciples make sense of this magnificent and transforming miracle. Death is conquered life has triumphed, Jesus is risen and our Lord uses every human method possible to communicate the glory of what has happened to his disciples. He says to them, "Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have."
They see him, they hear him speaking and now they have the opportunity to touch him but they still find themselves disbelieving. What will it take for the disciples to believe the wonder of their Lord's resurrection? Perhaps we could ask the same question of ourselves. What does it take for us to know and believe and allow the truth of Jesus Christ rising from the dead to impact our lives? In a sense our Lord is moving from the abstract to the concrete as he directs the disciple’s attention and focus towards touch, then smell and taste. Vision and hearing are senses that are outside of us. Both of them are somewhat abstract. We see and process the world around us, bringing what we see inside our minds to hold against other images that we have seen throughout our lives, and we make sense of the images through our past experiences of sight. Hearing is also an abstract concept. We hear the sounds of the world around us and bring them into our minds and make sense of them, interpreting them by the rest of the experiences of sound that we have had throughout our lives. Touch on the other hand gets us more involved. In a way touch is a more intimate sense. Our Lord invites his disciples into a continuing intimate relationship with him. No doubt he had touched them and they had touched him as they gathered in prayer, walked together throughout the land of Israel, and embraced when they had been apart and greeted one another again on those occasions when they were away from each other, and we may imagine countless other opportunities as touch allowed for greater intimacy between Jesus and his followers. And now in resurrected form our Lord invites his disciples to reconnect with an intimacy that they had known with him in the past. Through touch the disciples now were beginning to experience a new feeling, the feeling of joy.
Yet they needed more. They could see him, they could hear him and they could touch him, yet they needed more. And so our Lord says to them, "Have you anything here to eat?" Broiled fish, they gave him a piece of broiled fish. How many times we wonder had Jesus and his disciples enjoyed a plate full of broiled fish caught from the Sea of Galilee. No doubt they had sat around the campfire at the end of a long day, broiling fish breathing in the aroma of its sweet smell cooking upon the charcoal fire. No doubt the smell of broiled fish was a point of connection -- another way of recognition between the disciples and our Lord. There are some smells in our life that transport us back to different times. The smell of rain in the summer upon hot asphalt is one of those stirring smells for me that always captures my imagination. I know a woman who after her husband's death kept his unwashed bathrobe so she could put its arms around her and take a deep breath of his smell which was still upon it. To breathe his scent filled her with wonderful memories of their life and marriage together. There is a church in New Jersey that used to fill the front of the sanctuary with tall fresh-cut Christmas trees. The smell of the pine within the sanctuary became the smell of Christmas for most of those who attended. The smell of the pine became a vital part and reminder of the story of our Lord's Nativity for the congregation in that place. For Jesus and his disciples no doubt the smell of broiled fish elicited many good memories that allowed for a further connection between them now in this most remarkable moment of resurrection.
And then he ate the fish. Sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste, Jesus meets his disciples with all five senses. I think perhaps that eating together is what made his resurrection most real to them. The experience of eating together, when we get outside of our fast food world is another place of deep intimacy. Why is it that when we gather as family and friends in one another's homes we most often gather in the kitchen or around the grill? Why is it when we want to get to know another person we most often do so in the context of a meal or a coffee and a muffin? I once dated a girl when I was in my late teens who found it very difficult to share a meal with me, I don't think it was because I was such a messy eater but rather because she felt so vulnerable in sharing food. Eating together invites the participants to experience quality time. Time when we can explore one another's thoughts, feelings, dreams, hopes and insights. Time in the kitchen is usually the warmest time where the real stuff of life is talked about. In a sense what Jesus does in this gospel is gives his disciple’s time with him in the kitchen as they eat broiled fish, time to recognize and know and internalize and share the miracle of resurrection.
Perhaps we will see in this gospel text how much our Lord desires his disciples which includes every one of us to receive him. We can see in this text our Lord's desire to break through our five senses, using each of them to allow us to attain the absolute magnificence of sharing in his resurrection. So today we pray Lord that you will opened our eyes to see you and opened our ears to hear you. Lord we pray that we will reach out and touch you as we touch the body of Christ in brothers and sisters, and bread and wine. Lord Jesus we pray that we will breathe in the aroma of your faithfulness and smell the sweetness of your presence and we pray that we will taste your goodness, at the altar and in potluck supper's and in church picnics and in every place where there are two or three gathered in your name and you are in the midst of us. Amen