what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him
Today’s easter story is an odd one. It’s one thing the risen Jesus appearing mysteriously to the disciples after the resurrection – and it’s quite another thing him asking them for a cooked fish sandwich just to make the point that his digestive system is still working .
A ghost does not have flesh and blood as you see I have …. he says!
Most people I think – if they believe in life after death at all – tend to imagine whispy, light and airy souls floating upwards to heaven while our earthly bodies rot away : dust to dust and ashes to ashes. We say..
But Jesus seems to be making a different point:
A ghost does not have flesh and blood as you see I have …. he says!
So what’s going on? What is this story trying to teach us?
Thankfully – I don’t think it’s teaching us that we are all going to have to eat fish paste sandwiches for all eternity when we die.
Now it would be lovely to think that the Bible has got it all stictched up and the gospel writers understood exactly what was going on – but I think the reality is that they hadn’t got a clue.
Up until then each one of them – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – had been faithfully writing down the story of Jesus as well as they could from their own particular viewpoints and with their own sources, memories and bits of information. For Mark Jesus is the obedient and suffering servant who saves us all, for Matthew Jesus is the Jewish Messiah the one who was to come with a new covenant, For Luke Jesus is the one who will set us and all people free, and for John – Jesus is the presence of God’s glory on earth ……. but what then? after the resurrection – the Gospel writers seem to fall apart – we get a disconnected collection of stories about seeing the risen Jesus that don’t fit together and sometimes just don’t make sense.
He is a ghostly spirit who is able to walk through closed doors and appear suddenly in locked rooms. and he is so physical that Thomas can put his hand into his wounded side and today he can eat a cooked piece of fish.
Sometimes he looks so different that even his best friends don’t recognise who he is, and sometimes people know exactly who he is.
What is going on?
The answer – I think – is that nobody knows!
… because – as St John writes. – what we will be has not yet been revealed.
So what can we make of it all?
what do we know?
First: This is the same Jesus … No-one at any point in any of the gospel stories ever think that any of the appearances of the risen Jesus is actually someone else.
Mary Magdalene knows that it is the same Jesus. The disciples on the Emmaus road know that it is the same Jesus. St Thomas knows that it is the same Jesus – all the disciples know that this is the same Jesus come back to life – and Jesus knows that he is the same Jesus :
When he is revealed we will be like him….. and so – since he was the same person before and after resurrection – then that is our first hope for ourseves – that whatever death and resurrection will mean for us … and none of us know what it will really look like, neverthless we believe that we shall be the same person too. – just as he was …. we will be like him.
Secondly: This is not reincarnation. Reincarnation is the belief that people come back to life in a new body and start up a new life on this earth as a completely new person with a new name and a whole new identity.
That’s not what happened to Jesus.
Because … – thirdly – Jesus doesnt’ really come back permanently into this world at all …. there’s a sense in which he’s only temporarily here for a few weeks while he spreads the message. On Ascension day he will finally go away to the new place where he really belongs.
So – since – when he is revealed, we will be like him –
we too will go off and belong somewhere else as well.
BUt here’s the fourth one when it starts to get a bit tricky …- what about the flesh and bones and the fish sandwich? What is all that about?
Well of course it’s not about what we eat in heaven. But it is about us and our immortal souls – or should I say about our immortal bodies?
to put it plainly – it means that God – who made the sea and the dry land, the earth and everything that is in it, the stars and all the suns of outerspace … out of nothng – is really only really interested in saving everything – sea, stars, suns and outerspace – and would find just saving whispy bits of human beings a bit of half-finished job.
Let me put it a different way.
In the beginning we human beings thought that we were the centre of the whole universe. Some people still do!
The world was flat – and the Garden of Eden sat in the centre of this flat world – the sun and moon and stars all circled around the flat world – and there right in the very middle of it all are Adam and Eve. – Men and women. Like little children who haven’t quite grown up yet – we imagined that the whole world centred around us!
But several thousand years later people realised that the earth isn’t flat – it’s round – and that the Garden of Eden, if it ever existed at all – was just one paradise gardens in a whole world full of paradise gardens. There is no country that is the centre of the world if the world is round somehow we’re all equal.
. And then centuries later – really clever people like Galileo realised that the earth is not the centre of the universe either…. our earth moves round the sun – and there are millions, billions of other planets each moving around millions and billions of other suns…… whatever we are, here on earth – we are not the centre of the world….. were not the centre of anything ! We are microscopically insignificant in a universe which is so unimaginably enormous that we cannot even begin to understand it.
And then … or is it But then – we began to realise that each microscopically insignificant creature and organism in this enormous universe – each infinitesimally small change has the potential to change everything – that nothing – however small – is insignificant – everything matters … and so as our scientific knowledge progresses, as we learn more and more about the macrocosmos and about the the microcosmos so we realise how very little we know .. how wonderful are all these works.
And God – who is one and who is the God of all things – loves and saves the entire cosmos. God loves humans and animals, trees and rocks, weather systems and cloud formations …. and if there is alien life out there on some other planet millions and millions of light years away, then God is their God too – God loves and saves them too …. and that’s what salvation is. ANd so … JEsus eats a boiled fish for breakfast – because the atoms which make up a boiled fish must be saved by the creator who made them in the first place every bit as much as our floaty imortal souls.
And if that is more than you can take in on a normal Sunday morning in April – then breathe a sigh of relief and shout alleluia. If you can just about get your head round the idea of our souls leaving our human bodies and going to heaven when we die, but the idea of meeting up with a bunch of three eyed aliens is just a bit too much like Star Trek – then breathe another sigh of relief and shout an even louder alleluia.
Alleluia that your God – our God – is so very much bigger than our small human imaginations can bear. That we cannot hold God, contain God, or explain God – even less understand the mystery of God.
Alleluia that our faith gives us no easy answers to our difficult questions or small solutions about things we just do not understand – alleluia instead that we have put our faith and trust in Jesus – – who died and rose again – and who bizarely ate boiled fish by the side of the Sea of Galilee with his friends. Alleluia that our faith is all about what an infinite God can do and not at all about how little we are able to understand.
The Very Rev’d Paul Kennington