3rd Sunday of Easter, April 22nd, Anno + Domini 2012
St. John and Trinity Lutheran Churches, Fairview and Sidney, Montana
Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see… And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them.
Mary Magdalene and the other women had told them. Simon Peter himself had told them. The Emmaus disciples had just finished telling their resurrection story. But still it is so hard to believe. Because Jesus’ chosen path to God opposes all that makes sense to us. That the Creator of all things would allow Himself to be tortured and killed by His creatures. That He who knew no sin would become sin for us, the righteous for the unrighteous, the Holy One for us sinners, this Great Exchange that angels could not bear to watch. That life, true, abundant, eternal life, should come through death. All this is so hard to understand.
Wouldn’t it be better, we ask, if Jesus would accommodate our ideas a little? Couldn’t He have worked into it gradually, winning His kingdom in stages? Couldn’t He have done it differently, staying around, using His impressive abilities, personally leading a movement, teaching and doing miracles to convince the world that God’s way is better? Why does the Gospel of Christ have to have so many sharp edges, so much struggle on the way to victory, so much pain on the way to joy? Why does the Gospel of Jesus have to have the Cross? It is so hard to understand, so hard to believe. Jesus Himself must open our minds to understand the Scriptures. He must overcome our doubts, our weak understanding, our sin and selfishness. His way is hard to believe, and painful to walk, but it is His way, the way of salvation of the only true God, the only Savior of sinners.
Even after several of the company of the first disciples said it was true, even after Mary Magdalene, Peter, Cleopas and others had seen and testified to Jesus’ resurrection, still it was hard to believe. So finally Jesus Himself appears to the whole group. That’ll do it. Now they finally will believe, right? Not quite. They want to believe, they are overjoyed to see the Lord, but doubts arise in their hearts. So Jesus, God in human flesh, offers Himself to them, physically. Look at my hands and feet. Touch me, and see. It is I, Myself. Joy rises in their hearts, the battle for faith is almost won.
“Do you have anything to eat?” With broiled fish, Jesus closes the deal, eating with them, proving He is not just a spirit, not just in their imagination. He is a man, flesh and blood, chewing on the fish. A Heavenly Man, oh yes, with a resurrected body, a different body, better, the eternal model, much better than our fallen bodies. But still a body, eating fish, capable of touch, God in the flesh, our Risen Lord.
This is what it takes. We who do not even understand the depth of our own sinfulness need the Lord to open the Scriptures to us. We who are trapped in dying bodies need a Savior who has died and risen. We flesh and blood sinners need a flesh and blood Savior, who comes to us, at the table.
And so last Tuesday, as I stood at Dale Hill’s bedside at Billings Clinic, clasping hands and talking to him, I asked a question. “Dale, I know you cannot eat and drink the sacrament right now, but would you like for us, for Sharon and your son and daughter-in-law, would you like for us to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, here, around your bed?” At that point, Dale could not speak, for the breathing tube, and he could not open his eyes. But he was hearing and could respond with finger raises and hand squeezes. So I asked Dale if we should celebrate communion there, around his bed in the ICU.
For a man with terminal cancer, Dale’s grip is surprisingly strong. Yes, he squeezed, yes, let me hear, and be near, and who knows, maybe even smell the cup, as my loved ones are fed with salvation. Dale squeezed yes, and so we did. And so, in Word and Sacrament, Christ came to us, Christ fed us, Christ met Dale in the midst of his suffering and dying, to strengthen his faith, even as his body fails. Renewing the promise of new life, new bodies, new and everlasting joy, for Dale, and Sharon, and their kids, God gave what we need to believe, and rejoice, even as death draws near.
Christianity has changed the world. More important, Christian faith is the only hope for us sinners. So we forgiven sinners dare not sit back and allow the world to change Christianity, to tame it and sand away the rough edges. Jesus does not offer a comfortable faith, but a radical one, a radical faith, that saves. It’s not that we are radicals. God is. God and His salvation are radical. Faith in Christ is not just a nice thing, a pleasant feature of a good life. Christ by your faith defeats Satan, the evil one, who is mightier than any of us. Christ by your faith defeats Satan, who otherwise would destroy you, moment by moment, forever. Rescuing you and me from our sinfulness, rescuing us from Satan, this is the work of God on earth.
God in this work has bound Himself to His Word. And so we are bound, to His Word, with joy. For it is wonderful to follow Christ. Not easy, but wonderful. None of us like the struggle it takes to stick to God’s Word. But in the midst of the struggle, even in the midst of our doubts, we rejoice, for Jesus is with us, even with His Body and Blood. And at the end of the struggle, we are with Jesus, our flesh and blood God, face to face with our Savior, as all our struggles fade to nothing, and God is all in all for us, forever and ever, Amen.