Touch and See The Living Christ: Rev. Judy’s Homily for 4-19-15, Third Sunday of Easter
I was traveling last Sunday to see very new and very old beings, the expressions of vibrant life at the beginning and toward the end of life as we know it. I will comment on that journey later in this homily,because of it I could not comment here on the second week of Easter readings. The Gospel last week (John 20:19-31) was about Thomas who needed to literally, physically, touch Jesus to believe in the resurrection. Those of us who believe without this additional “proof” were,and are, blessed by Jesus. We are also exhorted in I John 5:1-7 to keep God’s commandments and love God, God’s Christ, and all of God’s children. This week the series of “eye witness accounts” to the Resurrection and the living Christ continue with the Gospel of Luke ( (Luke 24: 35-48) where Jesus appeared in the midst of the disciples as they were talking about those who knew Jesus, the Christ, through the breaking of the bread after meeting him but not knowing him on the road to Emmaus. Once again here he invites them to “touch and see” that it is really him, and he eats something to show he is physically as well as spiritually present to them. Once again, as on the road to Emmaus he expounded on the meanings in the Scriptures about his living, dying and rising and gives the commission to preach the forgiveness of sins to all nations starting at Jerusalem. He sums it up saying: “You are witnesses of all this”.
The book of Acts is a “continuation” of the book of Luke (written,like the Gospel, in the last third of the first century) by the author of Luke documenting the history and emergence of the early church. (The author of Luke may be Luke, a physician and associate of the apostle Paul, or another author of that time writing to both Gentiles and Jews, or even by a woman disciple/Apostle given the feminine influence clearly evidenced in the Gospel of Luke, according to Loretta Dornisch,OP,Phd, A Woman Reads The Gospel of Luke ). ACTS is subtitled The Acts of The Apostles but could also be subtitled the Acts of the Holy Spirit in forming the early church. In Acts 3:13-19 we read that Peter is preaching that God raised Jesus from the dead and that the disciples/followers are witnesses to the “disowning” and crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. Talking to the Israelites who gathered at the Temple after the healing of a lame man by Peter and John, Peter says: “You put to death the Author of Life,whom God raised from the dead-a fact to which we are witnesses “. Indeed the crucifixion of Jesus at the hands of the Romans and the will of the Temple leaders and establishment, and the “crowd” is a fact known and documented historically in the Gospels and in other historical works of the times. It is easy to prove that someone was executed, but not so easy to prove that against all odds of rationality and nature, that he also rose from the dead in three days as predicted.
While the author of Luke is not an eyewitness to the events and initial narrative accounts, the author speaks of careful documentation of these accounts handed on to them by “eyewitnesses and servants of the word” (Luke 1: 1-4). The “longer section” of the Gospel of Mark is also concerned with eyewitness documentation of post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. In Mark 9-19 we see Mary of Magdala (also in Matthew 28:1-7) as the first eye witness to the Resurrection. The male disciples are said in Mark not to believe her (and “the other Mary”) , nor did they did later believe the accounts of the two walking on the road, but when Jesus appeared to the disciples and upbraided them for their lack of faith and stubbornness, they did overcome fear and doubt and believe in the living Christ and accept Christ’s commissioning to go and proclaim the good news to all creation.
Eye witness accounts are clearly important to the Gospel writers and they convey that the disciples had to actually, and not so metaphorically, see the risen Jesus for themselves. They had to literally “touch and see” and they did. Some scholars today( some twenty centuries later) say unequivocally that there was no physical resurrection but an appearing of Christ in visions and dreams and memory, and that the first church did not believe in actual raising from the dead. Even with some understanding of the language and culture of those times and of science as it is understood today, how can any scholar say unequivocally that there was no resurrection and people of Jesus’time(as if there were one ‘people’) did not experience a physical resurrection or believe that they would-especially in light of Gospel writings told orally, written and understood so much closer to that time-some in the same century. Would it not be better to say this is some of the current thinking, but we cannot surely know what happened so long ago-we only know that what happened then, and however the many ways it was interpreted, was strong enough to inspire the proliferation of Christ followers/Christians for over 2000 years? There is a surety based on today’s science that is a slippery slope, as if all is now known. It cannot be, and we can not know the past in this way. As we have deconstructed many of the constructions of Christianity that we have stood upon, we look now for the solid ground of faith. Faith itself is not solid ground yet once it is established, the sky is the limit! Or should I say the cosmos now? The Gospel writers and perhaps their redactors/editors were sure of the opposite: The writer of Luke says “…they thought they were seeing a ghost. Jesus said to them,”Why are you disturbed: Why do such ideas cross your mind? Look at my hands and feet, it is I, really. Touch(feel) me and see me. A ghost (spirit) does not have flesh and bones as I do….they gave him a portion of fish (and a honeycomb)…and he ate it before their eyes” (Luke 24-36-43). (For those who consider well the evidence that Jesus was a vegetarian please know that the word honeycomb is in the Aramaic translation, The Peshitta, and the word for honeycomb is similar to the word for fish perhaps causing both words to be there and resultant confusion. Also I have included “feel me” and “spirit” from the Aramaic translation). While we can perhaps touch and feel someone emotionally or spiritually without physical contact, tangible food is clearly not eaten by spirits or ghosts. The physicality of the point of total resurrection in this passage is clear. The spirituality and metaphorical level of resurrection is also clear for most believers, and assumed.
So the questions for today’s believers are: how do we know and witness to the risen Christ? We can no longer literally touch and see ,or can we? And how did a movement as small as the Jesus movement made up of the first Jewish Christ followers, a polyglot of poor folks, and later a host of non-Jewish believers, Roman endorsement notwithstanding, ever spread throughout the world if there was only metaphoric or solely spiritual reality to the resurrection? After all, the message, the Good News of Christ, contained the life ,teachings, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ, as central features of the Good News that people embraced with a passion so strong that the blood of martyrs followed the blood of Jesus in making fertile ground for the growth of the kindom of God and of Christianity. Resurrection to new life, now and forever is central to Christianity. And, it seems to me that this generation needs more than ever to embrace that which is life giving and turn away from all that deadens the soul, spirit and body.
Witnesses are those who see, experience and tell. Even as Mary of Magdala, the other Mary and the other disciples saw Jesus, and as Jesus opened the minds of the early disciples, all of them, to touch and see and tell, an encounter with the living Christ today will compel us to understanding and action.
How do we see the face of Christ today? We are usually eager to know and embrace small children and toddlers. It was our pleasure recently to get to know Pastor JudyB’s great nephew Sammy who was visiting from England. Pastor Judy B gave him his first Book of Prayers and he was eager to see it. There is so much hope that the young will learn love early and spread it throughout the world. Their joy is almost infectious. We can surely see Christ in faces of joy of all ages. But what of those who experience anything but joy and reflect what they feel and experience? How eager are we to seek out those who are very sick, those who are dying and grieving and those who are truly poor ,homeless, addicted, mentally ill, so depressed that everything is dark and have just plain given up?
In the last two weeks we have visited two beloved people now living in Hospice. When we went to see our sister Priest, Adele, she was in a Hospice bed in a Rehab and Nursing Facility. It was new and beautiful and the mixture of people trying to get better and those letting go was a good one. We enjoyed smiles and greetings with many residents. Our Adele, who has chosen joy throughout her life, was coming through a dark night of the soul as it faces the ending of life as we know it . She felt more than ready to meet her loving God. Yet, rather than lay down and wait and hasten death she had taken hold of life again and was sharing her ministry with all who came into contact with her. She is looking forward to her eighty-eighth birthday next week and the visit of her son. Her light is steady and clear and no one can set aside or shelve this elder who is in Hospice care. She was able to go outside with us for the first time in several months.
As we traveled through the facility together,the atmosphere did not encourage waiting to die and that was so good for her spirit. We celebrated the Eucharist outside with her friend Jane and she gave Jane the instruction that we consecrate together. Rev. Adele Jones was and is an inspiration to all whose lives she touches. If we accompany in the dark night the dawn will come.
In the hospice house where our dear church member Claire was we walked through the totally quiet halls seeking her room. We passed open doors sometimes revealing those in the last stages of dying and, on occasion, their loved ones. At some points even we needed to avert our eyes and not see. We said a prayer of blessing and guidance for all there and especially for those who see and care for the dying every day, that they do so with love and kindness and that they truly see and touch the persons before them. Some we knew had not experienced touch in a long time. We embraced our sister Claire who is so thin and almost brittle now. She indirectly asked us if we could put some cream on her feet and we were blessed to do so. The visitors she had early on in her stay were very few now. There is something in us that does not want to touch and see the very ill and dying. And so we miss the opportunity to minister to a suffering Christ. On an occasion when we had several members in hospitals I asked church members “who would go and see “so and so” for us”? A few said yes easily,but several said “I don’t do hospitals”. Eventually they did and thanked us for asking them to go. Touch and see.
In our ministry at the Church of the Good Shepherd serving the homeless and poor in Fort Myers seeing, touching, feeling and experiencing and telling about the poorest among us, and those with most stigma and assumed disability is an experience of seeing and telling about the risen Christ. There should not be homelessness or low income housing lists that have been closed for years in this generally affluent area. In 1986 the US Bishops wrote Economic Justice for All in which they said that “the example of Jesus…most radically calls for an emptying of the self, both individually AND corporately, that allows the Church to experience the power of God in the midst of poverty and powerlessness.” Pope Francis has now spoken and set examples of this type of emptying(including of the pockets of the well to do) and humility. Yet even he, and the other bishops continue to deny women and married men and openly gay priests the recognition of their calls to be priests and servant leaders in the church. Nor are a host of people welcome at the Table of Christ. In the call for justice for all, some are still left behind. This places a shadow over and obscures the face of Christ. Only welcoming the full dignity of each and every human being opens the light of Christ for all the world to see.
When we first brought our outdoor (in the local park) feeding and worship ministry inside to the house we bought and converted to both a church and a homeless housing facility in 2008 we included neighborhood residents and a range of others from varied backgrounds in one congregation. Early on, as I met with the teens in Sunday School after church they thought it perfectly acceptable to laugh about the smells and dress and behaviors of some of the homeless members. They soon learned that it was fine to share feelings about this with me or in class, but it was not acceptable to ridicule. For ridicule was their first response to people who looked unwashed and may be loud or different. Now our young people can be called upon to assist when we move homeless or mentally or physically ill people into housing. This is two of our young adults. Rashawn and Quayschaun with RC Pastor Miriam from the Palm Coast and her generous helper David as we all moved an elderly and ill woman into subsidized Senior Housing from the East Coast to our West Coast of Florida.
Ours is also one of the only fully integrated churches in the area. For many holding hands during Jesus’ prayer and touching during the sign of peace with people of different races and classes and mental and physical conditions was a new experience. Yet now, this is a cherished experience. The love that has grown and flourished is wonderful and all who come even for a visit celebrate the faces of Christ all around them. (There are some who may come once and never return, but that is unusual-the spirit of love is so strong). As we all learn to serve the “least among us” we learn to see and serve Christ who appears at each and every Mass, Service, and gathering of the faithful in so many ways. As we embrace those who are de-formed by life and society we are truly re-formed and transformed. We share the one bread and drink from the same cup, and we are one with Christ. Yes, touch and see, touch and see.
Rev. Dr. Judy Lee, RCWP
Co-Pastor, The Good shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community, Fort Myers, Florida