A Guy with a Body
By The Rev. Charles Hoffacker
Let’s consider the vast and often embarrassing implications of that Gospel we just heard where Jesus appears among his disciples. In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
If Jesus has a body when he comes back, this suggests that bodies count. All bodies count.
He makes the point, as strongly as he can, that he’s come back as a guy with a body.
Once a dead man, he is a dead man no longer. He’s not returned as a ghost from the haunts of the dead. He’s alive, and threatens his disciples with life.
He’s come back as a guy with a body. He invites them to count the crucifixion scars. He tells them to touch him. Once you’re resurrected, being treated as a ghost is something of an insult. His flesh is as real as theirs.
He’s in Jerusalem straight from that appearance seven miles down the Emmaus Road. He didn’t take the time to eat the bread he broke there, so it’s no surprise he’s hungry. Like an insistent kid at supper time he asks, “Have you anything here to eat?”
Broiled fish is available. He takes a piece. It’s gone in short order. Scripture says nothing of with tartar sauce or without. The thing is that he eats it.
Jesus comes back with a body. This suggests that bodies count. That all bodies count.
He threatens his disciples with life. Makes them really understand the Bible. There and everywhere they are to become carriers of resurrection, contagious with forgiveness.
All bodies count. Peter gets the point. A witness to Jesus alive again, Peter knows there’s power to heal that disabled man who begs at the gate of the temple. There are no coins to put in his cup, but by the power of Jesus the resurrected, Peter pulls him up, and off the beggar goes dancing.
Frowning authorities cannot fit this into their ideologies, and so off to court Peter is hauled. There he uses the dock as a pulpit to talk about this Jesus back from the dead with a body.
Straight-talking Peter, having himself been threatened with life, now is positively contagious with resurrection. For him all bodies count because the first one has come back alive from the whipping, the cross, and the grave.
It may seem an unreligious thing to talk about bodies. But God makes them, sustains them, and resurrects them. For him they are something holy, whether the body of Jesus, or yours, or mine–and it’s beginning to look as though God can’t quite tell the difference.
In Christianity–what is rightly called the most materialistic of all religions [In Nature, Man and God William Temple says that Christianity is “the most avowedly materialist of all the great religions.”]–there are bodies alive all over the place: bodies natural, spiritual, sacramental. Jesus shows up, complete with body, there in the Upper Room, here on our altar, as his Church, which includes you and me, and on his throne of glory in heaven.
And Jesus shows up–he tells us himself–not as a ghost, but as a body, somehow in the sick, the poor, the hungry. He still asks us that question: “Have you anything here to eat?” He shows up, not as a ghost, but as a body, in all bodies that are dishonored: the addict, the prostitute, the crime victim, the soldier or civilian killed in war. Jesus keeps showing up. We may threaten him with death, but he threatens us with life. To him all bodies count, for all are his.
It may seem unreligious to deal so much with bodies. Some people prefer their religion like a vapor: nothing down to earth. For them what’s spiritual is not what’s most alive, but what is least real. They haven’t forgiven God for shaping us from the mud of the earth, nor forgiven Jesus for overcoming death as a guy with a body.
On the other hand, there is much dealing with bodies that is utterly unreligious, a blasphemy to the One who makes all bodies good, and calls his own the Church.
The utterly unreligious dealing with bodies includes more than the awkwardness of lust and internet porn. It includes glossy ads that show bodies but not souls, and reams of statistics that ignore our embodiment and turn us into numbers. Bodies are dealt with unreligiously when medicine becomes industry more than compassion, and the richest nation on earth lacks health care for all, and the Jesus of the Five Wounds is left waiting outside the hospital door.
Over against all this, the Gospel gets in our face with Jesus as a guy who’s back from the dead with a body, shows his wounds, munches on fish, and threatens his disciples–and everybody else as well–with life. That he shows up, complete with flesh, shouts out that bodies count, all bodies count.
Give him credit for this: he’s consistent. What he ropes those startled disciples into being is not his spirit, his mind, or his good thoughts. What they become instead is his body. Flesh as real as his. Back alive from death. Contagious with forgiveness. Carriers of resurrection.
In a world full of bodies, used and abused, sanctified and desecrated, where sight and touch and other senses help us get around, it seems only right that God have a body. This body, like ours, is tangible and wounded. Yet it’s alive, and threatens all comers with life. We call it Christ’s Body, his organs and limbs, his Church.
Like other bodies, this one is beautiful yet often embarrassing. It doesn’t always function right. It can be its own worst enemy.
Even at its best, it is persistently local, and places demands upon us. Christ’s Body allows no one to have an “at large” status, belonging everywhere but nowhere.
We all find our place somewhere, in a particular local fellowship, in this place and not that, or that place and not this, surrounded by people who are odd because they are bodies not statistics, yet these odd ones have their gifts to give, and gifts to receive.
Jesus returns from the dead and meets his disciples in different places: the garden, the Emmaus Road, the seashore, the Upper Room. He witnesses to them that he is alive, this guy back from the dead with a body. He isn’t content to send them a postcard from heaven: HAVING A GREAT TIME. WISH YOU WERE HERE. No. He shows up among them as his own witness.
And he recruits as witnesses those other people with bodies. He wants them to move out and tell everyone who will listen and everyone who won’t that bodies count, that he’s back from the dead with a body, threatening them with life.
Those who recognize his witness become witnesses themselves. They put their bodies on the line. They become contagious with the forgiveness they’ve caught, carriers of resurrection.
That’s what this back-to-life Jesus wants of us: not names on a list, or what our bishop calls “pew potatoes.” Jesus wants us as witnesses. Not airy spirits or pious ghosts, but bodies like his own with wounds to show, bodies that witness to resurrection, threatening the world with life. For the only Easter some people may ever see is the Easter they see in us.
I have spoken to you in the name of the One who makes all bodies, redeems them, and sanctifies them: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.
Copyright 2003 The Rev. Charles Hoffacker. Used by permission.