He asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” So they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish, and He took it and ate in their presence. (Luke 24:41b-43 HCSB)
Does the gospel reading sound familiar? A Greeting of peace. Fear and doubt in the disciples. Jesus showing them his body and giving them a mission of forgiveness. In these respects, this reading from Luke echoes themes from John 20:19-31. Both passages also mention the Holy Spirit. In John, Jesus bestows the spirit through his breath; in Luke 24:39, Jesus promises the gift that is coming at Pentecost.
Luke’s version of this story mentions a couple of additional details. Luke tells us how Jesus discussed the fulfillment of scriptures with his disciples, and he tells us that Jesus ate a piece of broiled fish.
So what’s up with the fish?
It is with that piece of fish that we begin. The coals are hot. The fish is fresh and meaty. It’s been filleted into two large pieces and it’s ready to cook. We’re going to brush the exposed meat with a little olive oil and then we’re going to set it above the coals. Listen to it sizzle. Look, you can see the little bubbles on the surface of the filets as they turn a golden brown. The fishy aroma of the raw fillets has turned into the mouth watering aroma of food on the grill. It’s ready now, so let’s take a bite. Warm. Firm and flaky. Delicious.
What’s up with the piece of broiled fish in this story? Why is this little detail important? To understand that, we need to understand what Christians mean when we talk about resurrection.
First, resurrection is not resuscitation. When medics put the electric paddles to your chest and yell, “Clear,” that’s not resurrection. If you have your body frozen and 100 years from now they thaw you out and jump start your heart and brain, that’s not resurrection. If you fall over dead here in chapel, and we pray for you, and in a modern miracle you return to life, even that is not resurrection. You are still going to get old and die. Even more importantly, the world you’ve rejoined is just as messed up as the one you left.
On the other hand, resurrection is not “going to heaven.” Resurrection is not dumping this old nasty body so that you can go live in the spiritual realm.
To understand the difference, let’s look for a moment at a document that’s been in the news, the so-called “Gospel of Judas.”
You’ve probably read or heard about this document that dates to about 300 AD. It may -repeat may – be a translation of an earlier document that dates to about 150 AD. The importance of the document, despite what you may have heard in the news, is not in providing us new information about the historical relationship between Jesus and Judas. There’s no early 1st century history here. Rather, the document gives us a fascinating glimpse of the Christian offshoot group that wrote this work of fiction. Scholars call them “Gnostics.” Near the end of the document, the author has Jesus say to Judas, “You will exceed them all, for you will sacrifice the man that clothes me.” The Gnostics valued spirit over flesh. For them, Jesus’ death is not a tragedy. He’s simply dropping his body so that he can go exist in a more pure spiritual realm. Spirits are merely on loan to bodies. There is no resurrection in the gospel of Judas. There’s no need for it.
That’s not the only strange thing about the document. The gospel of Judas also talks about creation. It doesn’t sound at all like our creation story. A god and a group of companions creates another group of divine beings that creates another group, and so it goes until some spiritual being and his angels eventually create humankind. In this so-called gospel, Christ doesn’t really belong to this world, or even to the supreme world, but to one of the intermediate realms, and to it he returns.
In this short document, we see an important connection. What you think about creation is related to what you think about Christ is related to what you think about the resurrection.
The witness of the New Testament is that Jesus didn’t drop his body, but that he was raised and glorified. Some of his friends didn’t recognize him, but then they did. He walked through walls, but his hands and side bore the scars of crucifixion. His body was glorified – transformed – what Paul called a spiritual body, but it was a body nonetheless. “Do you have anything here to eat?” And they gave him a piece of broiled fish. And he ate it.
In technical language, the disciples that saw the risen Jesus realized that he was the same, but different. That’s about as precise as we can be. If you want bigger words, my professor C. H. Talbert used to talk about continuity and discontinuity in the resurrection stories.
This is all about what scholars call the doctrine of bodily resurrection. Why does this matter?
Luke says, “Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures” (Luke 24:45), and he talked to them about the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms. That’s pretty much the whole Bible of Jesus’ day. The Hebrew Bible is sometimes called the TANAKH, Hebrew shorthand for Law, Prophets and Writings (which include the Psalms).
Jesus’ resurrection is not just about a dead man coming to life – even about him coming to life in a new and glorious body. It’s about God fulfilling the promises that he had been making for thousands of years – about the promise that was implicit in creation itself.
God saw all that He had made, and it was very good (Genesis 1:31). Of course, it’s pretty screwed up now. That’s why God called Abram and Sarai, and told Abram that “all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:3). The story of Abraham and the patriarchs, Moses and Joshua, the judges, prophets, kings, priests and sages of ancient Judah and Israel are all part of the story of God setting his creation right.
If you’ve ever been awestruck by the beauty and goodness of creation, touched by the power of love, taken satisfaction in the work of your hands, felt the closeness of God in this world, and then realized how tragically broken this world is, then you can begin to understand what the resurrection is all about.
The resurrection is God giving us the world he intended for us to have all along. Jesus, risen and glorified. Paul calls his resurrection the first fruits (1 Corinthians 15:20).The harvest has begun.
So where is it? If Jesus’ resurrection is about reclaiming and transforming the created world, why do things look so ordinary? Why are things still so messed up?
Let me tell you about my trip last summer.
Last summer, my family visited Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. Yellowstone is a beautiful place for nature lovers. We saw wolves, fox, deer, elk, moose, several bald eagles, even a grizzly bear. Thousands of bison roam free in the lush green mountain landscape.
All is not what it seems, however. Yellowstone sits atop a geological hotspot. A large chamber of magma heated by the earth’s core has risen to the surface and is pressing its way through the earth’s crust. The craters from at least three ancient super-volcano explosions can be discerned in the park, the latest being approximately 1500 square miles in extent and 640,000 years in age. Yellowstone continues to be a very active geological site, and some day the hidden super-volcano will explode again.
Throughout the park, you can see geothermal evidence of the hidden world beneath. Geysers, steam vents, mud-pots and colorful hot springs come shooting from the ground as living testimony to the power that is waiting to be unleashed.
Even more powerfully, the power of God’s kingdom displayed in Jesus’ resurrection hides beneath the surface of our everyday world. It shook the world 2000 years ago, and someday it will explode on the scene transforming everything in its path. Even now, however, we can see its power as it breaks through to the surface of our world.
The power of the kingdom bubbles into this world in many different ways. You will find it in acts of forgiveness, reconciliation, fellowship, witness, and sacrificial service. You will find it in acts of radical love and obedience. You’ll find it in experiences of joy, love, beauty and the goodness of creation. It sometimes even bubbles up in events most would call miracles, but we know that its just the power of our hidden future breaking into this world. One could (or should) expect to find that power bubbling strongly and consistently throughout the church of Jesus Christ.
In this resurrection appearance, Jesus said to his disciples, “This is what is written: the Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead the third day, and repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And look, I am sending you what My Father promised. As for you, stay in the city until you are empowered from on high.” (Luke 24:46-49)
In fulfillment of Jesus’ 2000 year old word, I proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name to you. You are invited to be a part of the story, a recipient of God’s transforming and redeeming power in Jesus, and a sign of God’s power and life in this world in the life of the church.
Events in the life of the church, empowered by the spirit, on mission in the world, sent in Jesus’ name, are like the geysers and steam vents of Yellowstone. They are evidence – we are evidence – of the power that lies beneath, the power that will someday explode upon the scene transforming all creation into the city of God.
What’s up with the fish? It’s evidence that the risen Jesus is still connected with this world – the good but tragically marred world that God created and loves, the world that God will one day redeem, and the world in which signs of that redemption are already visible in the life of the church.