Revised Common Lectionary for the Third Sunday of Easter, Year B: Acts 3:12-19; Psalm 4; 1 John 3:1-7; and Luke 24:36b-48
From the Gospel according to Luke:
While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence. (Luke 24:41)
I have to admit that I would be hard-pressed to choose one of the many post-resurrection appearances of Christ as my favorite. Each one recorded in Scripture is so full of vivid imagery and meaning that it would be nearly impossible to put one above another … having said that, however, I also have to admit an especial fondness for the one described here by Luke.
There are two things about this one that I really like. First is Luke’s comment that the disciples “in their joy … were disbelieving.” It’s such a great description of what their amazement must have been; it calls to my mind some of the great, little-used emotional descriptors of our language: consternation, bewilderment, perplexity, astonishment, and (my favorite) stupefaction. I think that’s what Luke is saying in this delightful turn of phrase, that the disciples were stupefied! It’s also Luke’s way of describing something that is handled somewhat more harshly in Mark’s telling of the story, which just happens to be the gospel lesson for the Daily Office today.
Mark, with typical economy of expression, describes the scene this way:
Later he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were sitting at the table; and he upbraided them for their lack of faith and stubbornness, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. (Mark 16:14)
In one ancient manuscript of Mark’s gospel that is not accepted in the received version the text continues by describing the apostles’ reply:
And they excused themselves, saying, “This age of lawlessness and unbelief is under Satan, who does not allow the truth and power of God to prevail over the unclean things of the spirits. Therefore reveal your righteousness now” – thus they spoke to Christ. (Codex Washingtonensis or Freer Logion)
I like this recorded post-resurrection appearance, apocryphal though it may be, nearly as much as the one in today’s reading from Luke’s gospel. The fact that “they excused themselves” and that they demanded of Jesus “reveal your righteousness now”. It’s nearly as good as Luke’s description of “joyful disbelief”! I absolutely love this! It’s so darned modern . . . or maybe even post-modern. You can almost hear the eleven saying something like, “Well, Jesus, that resurrection stuff may be true for you, but it’s not true for us!” When we read these to texts together, Luke and Mark, describing this scene in their different ways, we get such a wonderful picture of the apostles. Astonished but still making excuses, perplexed but still making demands, stupefied but still relativizing the situation . . . these men aren’t just First Century Palestinian Jewish fisherman; they are 21st Century Americans; they are us!
The second thing I find absolutely delightful about Luke’s telling of the story is Jesus’ question: “Have you anything here to eat?” If this scene were set in a modern home, I think we could envision it happening in the kitchen, the apostles sitting around the kitchen table, Jesus showing up, saying “Hey!” then going to the refrigerator, opening the door, and looking in like a teenager getting home from school, “Anything here to eat?” They do, as this version of Luke tells us, have that broiled fish handy, and in the King James Version (supported by some ancient manuscripts) Luke also reports that they gave him a piece of honey-comb.
There is a long line of biblical scholarship that tells us that Jesus’ asking for something to eat, and then actually eating it, is his way of proving to the stupefied disciples that he’s not a phantom. The idea is that by consuming it in front of them, Jesus proves that he has not returned as a spirit, or a ghost, or some sort of apparition; a ghost, after all, could not be touched, or have an appetite, or eat things. Lutheran pastor Doug Schmirler put it this way: “It may be Luke’s way of saying: ‘Ghost? Did you ever see a ghost chew? Did you ever see a ghost swallow? Did you ever see a ghost digest? Well, did you?'” That’s certainly a good way to look at this, but this story seen from the combined perspectives of Luke and the Freer Logion addition to Mark speaks to me in a different way.
I prefer the versions that include the honey-comb because that makes Jesus’ eating much more than a mere demonstration of non-ghost-ness; it makes it a meal. Something savory, and something sweet; an entree and a dessert. This is not just a “Look; see, I’m not a spirit”. This is Jesus once again sitting down at the dinner table with his friends, just like he had done in the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus, just like he did once before in this upper room, just like he did with Cleopas and his companion in the inn on the road to Emmaus. This is the community once again sitting together at the kitchen table.
And just like every family, every community at every dinner table, they are talking and discussing and maybe even getting a little cross with one another if that additional bit to Mark’s Gospel is trustworthy.
There is a restaurant in San Francisco called Credo, which I’m sure you know is simply the Latin word for “creed”. On their walls are painted quotations from all sorts of philosophers, writers, politicians, and so forth. On their menus they have their business credo written out:
At Credo, we believe in nourishing both the body and the mind. Our walls depict the universality of ideas, the clash of conflicting viewpoints and the democratic nature of discussion and debate. We believe that good food and good company go hand-in-hand. We believe in the time-honored tradition of the dinner table debate and the value of impassioned points of view. We believe simple things can be wonderful, like authentic ingredients, genuine creativity and gracious hospitality.
This is what is happening here: dinner table debate, impassioned points of view, genuine creativity, and gracious hospitality. This is the glory and power of Christ’s Resurrection; the creation of community, a new community.
This is why I like this story that Luke and Mark tell from different perspectives so much; it is such a clear vision of the resurrected community. In the very human act eating of a meal, in very human condition perplexity and befuddlement, in the very human process of making excuses and making demands, these eleven, once a dispirited and possibly dying community, are resurrected. These are not simply individuals on a personal spiritual quest; they are joined together into a new community in Christ, crucified with him, now risen with him, given new life and new purpose and new mission because of his resurrection.
This new community is an on-going one, a growing one, a maturing one. As John says in the reading from his first letter this morning:
See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. … What we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. (1 John 3:1-2)
We do know this: that his eating the fish and the honey-comb revealed him to be a real human being and that that is what we are called to be – real human beings. Carroll Simcox, who edited the Episcopal Church magazine The Living Church for many years, put it this way:
You and I shall be our real, complete selves for the first time ever. We think of ourselves now as human beings. We really aren’t that?not yet. We are human becomings. The fetus conceived only yesterday is a human becoming. If you are living in Christ, believing in him and trying to follow and obey him as the master of your life, you are by his grace, becoming ever more and more like him. (Quoted by Guy Sayle, infra)
But John does not mean that God is making us into clones or exact replicas of Jesus of Nazareth. The wonderful paradox of the Christian faith is that the more we become like Jesus, the more we become our truest selves. The hope of the Christian faith is that we can become as truly human as the Resurrected Christ. Dr. Guy Sayles, a Cooperative Baptist preacher, put it this way:
As we discover deeper dimensions of Christ-likeness, we uncover more and more of our honest-to-God selves.
Jesus is the pattern and the power, the model and the source, of authentic human life. We are meant to have what he had and has:
- a radical and liberating faith in God;
- a childlike trust in the grace of God;
- a trembling wonder before the mystery of life;
- a durable hope that, because we are in God’s hands, death and sorrow and pain and tears are not the end, but joy and wholeness and laughter are;
- an astonishing confidence that we and the world are headed, not toward midnight, but toward sunrise; and
- an undimmed awareness that the heart of all things is unconditional and compassionate love.
Those eleven disciples sitting around that dinner table, confronted by what they at first thought was an apparition, were astonished but still making excuses, perplexed but still making demands, stupefied but still relativizing the situation. They were just like us, but as church history and the Book of Acts shows, in stories like the one we heard today, they became like him, they became their truest selves, and so shall we all. That is the power and promise of the Resurrection.
Alleluia and amen!