Sunday, April 26, 2009

Luke 24:36-49; Third Sunday in Easter, April 26, 2009

34thomas As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. And he said to them, “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. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 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. Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:36-49, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Touch me and see! Jesus said to the disciples. Touch me.

They immediately touched him. They were convinced, clutching his body and his very breath. For this reason they despised death itself and proved its victors. (Ignatius of Antioch on Luke 24:36ff; b. 25AD d. 102AD).

There is something about a dead body; the coolness of it; the stillness of it; life drained away leaves only cooling flesh. To touch the dead is to feel death, first hand; to wonder at the change. To touch the dead is to touch your own life leading to your own death. To know that it will be you, still and cool soon enough. To touch the dead is to see all that you have drain away from you in to the darkness of doubt and fear. This is death as we see it and feel it and fear it. One pastor told me of a time when he was at the death bed of a woman in the hospital. After she died, her daughter touched her face to rearrange her hair. “Oh, Mother’s cold,” and pulled up the blanket over her dead mother’s shoulders as if to warm her. There really is no mistaking it by touch. The dead have the touch of death. Death doesn’t just make us feel cold, it makes us cold.

The disciples were there; cold in the locked room; huddled together having seen Jesus dead. He was dead. There can be no doubt about that. The women went with Joseph of Aramathea to the tomb, where the cold dead body of Jesus was laid, wrapped in its burial cloth; drained of life’s blood; pail and stiff; pierced hands; pierced feet; pierced heart. Cold as clay. Dead Jesus.

You can hardly blame the men for doubting the women who claimed to see him alive after he was dead. Peter and John ran to the tomb and found no Jesus, only Jesus’ neatly folded burial cloth. What Jesus had said seemed so real and true when he was alive, but when he bled to death on the cross, when the spear was shoved into his side, any words about living again after death seem as cold as the grave. They know the coldness of death is permanent.

And then two disciples came from Emmaus and said they saw Jesus, alive and walking and talking on the road. They said he told them how everything he did was written in Moses and the Prophets. And that he must suffer and die and rise again. And that they were foolish not to believe everything he had told them. But how could it be true?

And then, he is there, Jesus himself, standing among them. Even though they had just been talking about him being alive, when he is there, they can only be afraid. Even when they longed for him to be alive, Jesus alive is a threat. They had deserted him, and left him to die. They ran. They hid. They lied. They denied. What they deserve is cold death.

But Jesus brings peace. “Peace be with you! Shalom Aleichem.” There is only Good News in the Savior’s words. No threat of death. No retribution for their doubts and faithlessness, only peace. His Word is forgiveness and life. And there is more for them. “Touch me and see! I am alive. Blood flows again through my veins. See I have flesh and blood and bone. What was dead is living. What was cold is warm. Touch me and see.”

They push toward him and reach out unsteady hands. They reach out to convince themselves that he is alive and not dead, warm and not cold. They reach out to touch flesh and bone and blood. They reach out to feel the warmth of a living human body. And Jesus is all that. They come near enough hear and feel his breath. And press their fingers into the nail prints in his hands. And look into his eyes. Jesus lives. He does the impossible. He was cold in death and now warm with life.

And suddenly the disciples hate death. They despise it. They curse it. And they don’t fear it anymore. Standing among them is death defeated. This is no phantom, no ghost. This is flesh and blood that has passed through death to life. This is the Enemy vanquished, death undone. This is the sure promise of warm, physical, bodily, eternal life. They see through death to life. They long for life. They trust the Savior to do for them what he has done for himself.

We hold on to his promise, too. We face death’s coldness in sure and certain hope of our own resurrection to warm, physical, bodily eternal life. Our Lord gathers us to hear his Word of promise. He comes here for us to touch in his body and blood, bound together with bread and wine. We open our ears and mouths and hear and taste and touch Jesus. Our hunger for life through death is satisfied. Our faith in the resurrected Lord Jesus is built and strengthened by His promises. We hate death. We despise it. We curse it. And sometimes we don’t really fear it; for we go though death, just as Jesus did, to new eternal life. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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