II. We Believe in the Resurrection of the Body
“Grandma, do you have any snacks?” We haven’t heard that question within the walls of our home for a while. We certainly look forward to hearing it again soon. The question indicates several things. First, it means that Grandma and Grandpa put up much less resistance to multiple snack times than Mom and Dad do. Second, it means that growing kids are always hungry, and we try to be well-stocked for such occasions. Third, sitting down for a snack is another time and another way to connect at the most human level with the people we love.
“Do you have anything edible in this place?” Jesus asks the quaking and incredulous disciples. It’s such a human request, such a physical, bodily request. Jesus takes us back to Luke 15:2 – “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them!” Before we get to the dinner table, however, we need to examine the request in the context of the conversation.
In his 2018 workingpreacher.org commentary, Mark Vitalis Hoffman notes that in Luke’s account, Jesus is carrying out the approved test to demonstrate that he is not an apparition, a ghost, or a mere spirit. “Among the ghost tests in antiquity, one could check extremities where bones were evident (namely, hands and feet),” he writes, “make sure that a person’s feet were touching the ground, and show one’s teeth and eat food.”
He notes that this is described explicitly, for example, in Tertullian’s writings against Marcion. Tertullian notes that showing the extremities is a way to demonstrate that the person in question has bones. Eating, similarly, is a way to show that the person in question has teeth. Ancient literature is filled with stories of appearances by ghosts, apparitions, spirits, angels, demons, and other non-corporeal entities. The tests for bodily existence were well-known. Luke includes the results of those tests in his account of the post-resurrection appearances in chapter 24.
Luke, along with the other gospel writers, knows that acceptance of the bodily resurrection of Jesus is one of the great sticking points that keeps people from embracing the Good News of Jesus. I am encouraged to know that this was a problem with the first disciples as well as with current disciples.
I am struck by Jesus’ patience and persistence in dealing with this resistant incredulity. The problem in all the gospel accounts is not a too-easy acceptance of the Resurrection. Rather, the issue is a reluctance to believe either the evidence of their senses or the witness of their colleagues. The first witnesses were more likely to doubt than to believe. That is, perhaps, still the case.
One form of this doubt lives under the cover of a “deeper” faith. That is, some theologians and preachers would suggest that the Resurrection of the body is a metaphor for the deep and abiding experience of Jesus in our hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit. I think we need to push back on that pious skepticism.
“We cannot take these stories [in Luke 24] and transform them, without remainder, into pictures of ongoing Christian experience without doing violence, in every line, to Luke’s manifest intention,” N. T. Wright argues. “Once more, this is not to say that Luke is unaware of the multiple resonances in Christian experience which the stories set up; only that these are resonances which echo out, as far as he is concerned, from the original event itself.” (Wright, Resurrection, page 657).
It’s not the case that stories of the bodily resurrection of Jesus arose as a way to give “flesh” to the real story of a more “spiritual” experience of the risen Lord and Savior. Instead, the process was that the spiritualizing of the resurrection of the body has arisen out of a rejection of the possibility that such an “actual” resurrection took place. The gospel writers, including Luke, are clear in their witness. “Every line, almost every word, in this scene [in Luke 24:36-43] demonstrates the point, “N. T. Wright notes. “For Luke, the risen Jesus is firmly and solidly embodied, able to be touched, able to eat.” (Wright Resurrection, page 657).
Some of us have lived with the Resurrection stories for so long that we have lost the shock and surprise, the wonder and amazement of the message. Or perhaps we have also adjusted the story to fit what is possible in the world as we know it and have thus “spiritualized” the resurrection of the body into a profound, but internal, experience. Can we recapture some of that shock and surprise, wonder and amazement, as we read about the stubborn resistance of the disciples in Luke’s account? They knew that dead people stay dead.
“Here’s my brief take on this vignette from Luke’s larger narrative about the resurrection appearances of Jesus,” David Lose writes, “if you don’t have serious doubts about the Easter story, you’re not paying attention.” Let’s remember where we are in Luke’s narrative. The women have reported the empty tomb, but their male colleagues considered their report “an idle tale.” The risen Jesus has appeared to Peter, although that appearance is referenced without narration. Two disciples spent half a day talking with Jesus (whom they didn’t recognize) and sat down to a meal with him.
These experiences produce nothing more than a confused and animated debate about what it all means. Jesus appears in the middle of them and says, “Hush, children. It’s alright.” At first, Jesus makes things worse, and they shift from confusion to full-on terror. Nothing makes sense any longer. They are stirred up the way a storm troubles the waters of the sea. Competing explanations fill their heads and cloud their hearts. They need an anchor to reality.
“Can we just say it, preachers?” David Lose (1) asks, “Doubt is not the opposite of faith. Doubt, in fact, is probably a necessary ingredient to faith. Faith, by definition, is trust in spite of a lack of evidence. Faith is not knowledge. Faith is more tension-filled. It is acting as if something is true even when you have no proof that it is.”
I’m not sure, however, that’s all that helpful in this text. What Jesus offers is not some sort of conviction in spite of the lack of evidence. Instead, he offers the disciples the evidence of his resurrected body. Then he opens their minds to a whole new way of seeing and understanding reality that allows for such a thing to happen in their midst. It’s not that they will believe it when they see it. Rather, it’s that they will see it when they believe it. He gives them information that leads to transformation.
This has been the problem throughout Jesus’ life and ministry. It continues to be the problem after the Resurrection. It is our problem now. I’m not with Dr. Lose on this one. It’s not the lack of evidence that’s the problem. It’s the lack of open eyes, open hearts, and open minds to take the evidence that exists. That’s at least as true of disciples “inside” the church as skeptics “outside” the church.
“All of which suggests two things to me for this week’s sermon,” Lose writes. “First, let people know it’s okay to doubt. In fact, let them know that it’s probably a requirement of faith. Because, honestly, in light of all the death and trauma and disappointment and tragedy that colors every human life, if you don’t have at least some difficulty believing the promise that God not only raised one person, Jesus, from the dead, but also promises new life and second chances and forgiveness and grace to all, then you’re probably not paying attention” (David Lose (1).
Indeed, that is true and helpful. “We believe in the resurrection of the body,” most of us confess week in and week out. I’m always glad that it’s “we” who are confessing that trust. Some Sundays I get it and embrace it. Some Sundays (and the rest of the week) I don’t get it or embrace it. When I don’t, I’m glad there’s someone else in the faith community who does. I depend on the solid faith of others when mine is shaky. And I’m glad to be that resource for others when the situation is reversed.
“Second, I would like to ask people how we might live differently if we acted like God’s promises were true,” Lose continues. “So often, I think, these promises are so familiar to us that we hold them far back in our head but don’t actually think about them and so don’t act as if they are true. But if it’s true that God raised Jesus from the dead… If it’s true that God promises to renew the whole creation and grant us new life… If it’s true that nothing – nothing we’ve done or has been done to us – can separate us from the love of God… If it’s true that God will not turn God’s back on any of us but always reaches out to us in grace, mercy, and forgiveness… If any of this – let alone all of this – is true, then how might we live our lives this week differently? How might this faith – not knowledge, but trusting, courageous faith – change how we look at our relationships, and our politics, and our work, and our resources, and our future?”
In this season of Easter, we confess as a church loud and clear that all these things are true. But we don’t root that confession in our own powers of believing. Instead, the Holy Spirit now makes Christ physically present in us by faith. We, too, are disciples who are confronted by the evidence, the testimony of witnesses, and the living presence of Jesus among us. Jesus opens our eyes in the breaking of the bread and our minds in the proclamation of God’s Word in our midst. Our hearts burn with recognition, and our vocation is to share that news with others.
Next time, more on worship and witness as the Body of Christ.
References and Resources
Behr, John . The Mystery of Christ. Saint Vladimir’s Seminary Press. Kindle Edition.
Kierkegaard, Søren. Journalen JJ:167 (1843), http://homepage.math.uiowa.edu/~jorgen/kierkegaardquotesource.html].
Lose, David (1). http://www.davidlose.net/2015/04/easter-3-b-resurrection-doubts/.
Vitalis Hoffman, Mark G. https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/third-sunday-of-easter-2/commentary-on-luke-2436-48-4.
Wright, N. T. Resurrection of the Son of God. Minneapolis, MN.: Fortress Press.