Fr. Bill Carroll – The Third Sunday of Easter, April 14, 2024

Jesus said, “Touch me and see.”

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  

This week, we witnessed a total eclipse of the sun.   Tracey and I were in Tyler with Danny.  And so, we were in the “zone of totality.”   It was very cloudy, and we pulled into a parking lot.  And we didn’t have any of those special glasses, so we didn’t look up.   But still, for a couple of minutes, we witnessed darkness covering the earth.

That made a lot of people wonder if Jesus would come back.  It seems misguided to me.  After all, there’s a perfectly ordinary, scientific explanation for what happened.  Some of the speculation among believers ignored warnings from Jesus himself that no one can predict the hour.  Moreover, it was all bound up with questionable ideas about the so-called “rapture,” which the vast majority of the world’s Christians, including most Anglicans, reject.

Bishop Matt Gunter, of the Episcopal Diocese of Fond du Lac, issued a solemn warning on Facebook, which I also shared:  

Be wary (he wrote) of those who interpret natural phenomena as signs of God’s judgment.  Wonder about their fitness and authority to discern God’s judgment.  Ignore them if their interpretation of God’s judgment is aimed simply and only at those they do not like.

The eclipse may have been interesting.  (And it was.)  But it was not  in any way a sign of the apocalypse.  

Jesus says, “Touch me and see.”  In today’s Gospel, he rubs our noses in his flesh.  He appeals to the crudest of our senses, our sense of touch, to show us his body.  He shows us he’s not a ghost.  He even asks us to bring him a piece of fish.  And then he eats it right in front of us.

Jesus shows us his hands and his feet.  The scars of his passion still mark his body.  We know Jesus by these wounds.  He is the same Lord who suffered under Pontius Pilate.  He is the same Lord who died on the Cross and was sealed in the Tomb.  But now he is alive.  That is the point of the story.  Jesus has broken the bonds of death.  He is risen from the dead to offer us forgiveness and a new life.  

Today’s Gospel is all about the resurrection of the body.   Like the Incarnation itself, the resurrection affirms the goodness of God’s creation.   In the Epistle, we read the following: “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.”   There is sin in the world (it is true), but God has broken its power, forever.  God is making all things new.  “We are God’s children now.   What we will be has not yet been revealed.  But when he appears (the Apostle continues), we will be like him.” 

Archbishop William Temple once said that Christianity is “the most materialistic of all great religions.”  In Jesus, the Word becomes flesh.  And it is our calling, as his Body in the world, to continue his mission of love.   

And so, at the heart of our worship, we experience the sacraments.   God takes the ordinary stuff of material reality (water, oil, bread and wine) and transforms it into means of grace.    God uses the things of this world to reach out and touch us—to change us in his love.

In our worship, we offer tangible signs of our faithful response, such as the promises we make–whether in baptism, in marriage, or in ordination.   At a more basic level, we respond by word, as well as bodily posture and gesture, to the prayers and actions of the liturgy.

Sometimes, for example, we find ourselves bowing our heads, or standing, or kneeling, or crossing ourselves.   Other times, we find ourselves turning our bodies to face the place where they are reading from the Gospel.  Still other times, we find ourselves speaking or singing as a united Body.   

Above all, we respond with the ancient Hebrew word “Amen.”   Amen means something like, “So be it, Lord.   Yes, Lord.  We want this to happen.”    With the bread and the wine, we offer “ourselves, our souls and bodies” to become “a living sacrifice” to God.

Likewise, at the heart of our discipleship, we perform what are known as the “corporal works of mercy.”  These are ways that we care for our neighbors’ bodies–based more or less on the great judgment scene in Matthew 25, where Jesus separates the sheep from the goats.  As his followers, we are to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, house the homeless, visit those who are sick or in prison, welcome strangers and refugees, and bury the dead.  For, when we do these things for the least of these, we are doing them for Jesus himself.  Jesus gives us his body.  He gives himself to us in our neighbor.

So much of what passes for Christianity today has much in common with ancient heresies.  We are looking for someone to show us a way out of the world, when we should be following Jesus here.  Hence the fascination with the rapture, on the one hand, and New Age fantasies, on the other.  

Each is a mirror image of the other.  Each is a form of escapist denial–and an evasion of our mission.  Real Christianity is not  about otherworldly myths to be enjoyed only  in our solitude and private lives.  Real Christianity is always something meatier.  It is about someone that we can touch and taste and see.  It is about Jesus.  It is about the neighbors he gives us.  God wants us to follow Jesus, to serve our neighbors, and to share the Good News.   

God wants us to turn from sin and embrace righteousness.

And so, we pray

Our Father, who art in heaven

hallowed be thy Name

Thy kingdom come

Thy will be done.

On earth as it is in heaven.

Jesus has come to us in the flesh.

“Touch me (he says).  Touch me and see.”