Fr. Bill Carroll – The Third Sunday of Easter, April 18, 2021

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

“Touch me and see.”  

Jesus spoke these words to the disciples on the evening of the very first Easter.  “Touch me,” he said, “and see.”

This, more or less, is Luke’s version of the Gospel we heard last week.  It’s like the story of doubting Thomas back in the twentieth chapter of John.

Here’s how the two stories are alike.  Rumors of the resurrection have begun to spread.  Some of Jesus’ followers have already seen him, but the others haven’t seen him yet.  They are hidden in the Upper Room, huddled together in fear. Then, Jesus himself appears among them, alive.  

The stories aren’t identical, though.  Remember how Jesus concludes his appearance to Thomas? “Blessed are those who have not seen,” he says, “and yet have come to believe.”

Today, by contrast (in Luke), Jesus rubs our noses in his flesh.  He appeals to the crudest of our senses, the sense of touch, in order to show us his body.  He wants to show us that he’s no ghost.  He continues to give us grace through the flesh.  He shows us his body.  And then, he asks us to bring him a piece of fish.  And he eats it right in front of us.

“Touch me and see,” he says, “for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as I do.”  Then, he shows us his hands and his feet.  The scars of his passion still mark his body.  We know Jesus by his wounds.  He is the same Lord who suffers, dies, and is buried.  But now he is alive.  

Jesus has broken the bonds of death.  He’s come back to show us mercy after we denied him, betrayed him, and ran away.  He has come back to offer us forgiveness.  He wants to turn our hearts back to him.  He wants to fill our hearts with his Holy Spirit.  And he wants to call us back to work.  He wants to strengthen us for the mission of the Kingdom.

It is important that Jesus rises in his body. For, without the resurrection of the body, God’s desire to live in our flesh could be defeated by our sin.  But instead, Jesus keeps on living in our flesh.  He keeps on loving us in the flesh.  He comes to us to redeem our humanity—and to set us free.  He knows the joys and sorrows of our flesh.  He joins us here, where we suffer and die—and then he triumphs (he triumphs) in our flesh.

William Temple, the Archbishop of Canterbury during the Second World War, once said that Christianity is “the most materialistic of all great religions.”  We see that in the Incarnation of Jesus.  We see it in the Church, which is his Body.  We see it in the sacraments, which transform water, oil, bread, and wine into tangible means of grace.  We see it in the Creed, where we confess the “resurrection of the body.”

So much of what passes for Christianity today has too much in common with early Gnostic heresies.  Too often, we are looking for someone to show us a way out of the world rather than trying to follow Jesus here.  Hence the fascination with the rapture, on the one hand, and New Age fantasies, on the other.  Each kind of escapism is a mirror image of the other.  Christianity is not about otherworldly myths (attempts to escape the world) to be enjoyed in the privacy of our own homes.  Nor is Jesus to be locked away within the walls of the church.  God wants us to follow Jesus seven days a week—out in the world he lived and died for.

When we over-spiritualize the Gospel, we may become too passive when we encounter human suffering.  We may be more easily duped by the seductive glitter of the marketplace—endless choices but no real alternatives.  And we may, in the end, become indifferent to the Truth of Jesus—and his world-changing, death-defying love.

Real Christian faith is lived out in public.  It is lived out in the streets.  It is lived out wherever we find ourselves.  Our faith is as this-worldly as our daily bread.  It is about God’s commitment that we will live forever in the flesh.

Our relationship with Jesus is just as personal as people keep telling us it is.  It is intensely personal, but it is never private.  Jesus lives inside us, and we become one body, one flesh with him.  When he heals us, he touches us.  He embraces us.  He makes us his own forever.  He is the Second Adam.  He is the beginning of God’s new creation.  And he is bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh.  He is closer to us than we are to ourselves. 

Many Christians today, under the influence of missionaries and the Bible, as well as the Church Fathers and feminists, and those great Anglican priests, John and Charles Wesley (to say nothing of Jesus himself) are rediscovering the importance of the flesh.  We are rediscovering what it means to follow Jesus with our bodies—to worship Jesus with our bodies (with all our senses) in various practices of sacrament, and then discipleship. 

We hunger and thirst for the Word of God made flesh.  We yearn to connect our worship with discipleship.  We yearn to care for the “least of these.”  We long to be set free from everything that holds us down and divides us from each other—everything that makes us so very afraid. We want to follow in the steps of Jesus and help him change the world.

In a world with so much suffering, so much violence, so much loss and pain, a purely private relationship with Jesus doesn’t cut it.  It doesn’t help us.  In fact, it never did.  God is calling us to something deeper and meatier.  He is calling us to a living relationship with a living person.  He is calling us to follow the living Lord in the flesh, and to let our lives be changed by his love.

The Apostle John teaches us that in the fourth chapter of his first Epistle, “By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.”  And then, a little later in the same chapter, he adds that we can’t love God, whom we don’t even see, unless we love the neighbors we do see.

Jesus Christ came in the flesh.  He suffered and died in the flesh.  He rose again in the flesh for our salvation.  As the Creed puts it, “I believe in the resurrection of the body.”  And so, we follow him in the flesh.  For we have decided to follow Jesus—and we must go wherever he leads.  

Beloved, we are God’s children now.  It does not yet appear what we shall be.  But we do know this:  When he appears, we will be like him.  For we will see him as he really is.

“Touch me and see,” says Jesus.  “Touch me,” he says, “and see.”