Readings: Luke 24:36-53, True Christianity 695:5-6 (see below)
See also on Youtube at https://youtu.be/4SlOL1uDz3M
Photo by Luis Dalvan from Pexels
The resurrection, as a theological event, touches on some of the fundamental tensions of spirituality: we exist in this world we are in, yet we believe there is something more beyond what we see; we have earthly bodies but an eternal spiritual soul; Jesus was a person walking on the earth and then did something miraculous and other-worldly. How are we to navigate, to inhabit, this in-between space of being both earthly and spiritual, natural and heavenly?
A consideration of this inbetween-ness permeates every aspect of our lives, in one way or another, but in a very particular way relates to how we interpret and approach our relationship to our planet, to the verdant and amazing life-filled rock that is our home. With Earth day coming up, I thought we might explore some of these themes through the lens of the resurrection.
Our text today is a post-resurrection appearance from the gospel of Luke. The disciples were meeting together when suddenly Jesus was in their midst. Can you imagine? Having Jesus appear so suddenly would have been super disconcerting, so of course they were startled and frightened as the text says they were.
But what does Jesus say to calm them down? I find it really interesting that he brings their attention to the realness, the earthliness of his body. “Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”
I mean, what would have been wrong with Jesus being a ghost? The bible is full of spiritual visitations, of angels appearing to people and imparting information and/or blessing. Certainly it would have been comforting for the disciples to see such a vision, to know that Jesus’ spirit continued to be with them. But that is not what the resurrection was supposed to be or communicate. Jesus is not just coming back to them, even to comfort them or inspire them, from the spiritual realm as angels often do. The point of the resurrection was that the wholeness, the realness of his actual body had been enlivened and was returned to them, to dwell in their midst.
Why was this important? Well, it certainly was miraculous, much more so than a simple vision. It collapsed the usual boundaries around what we understand to be possible. It was a complete and total repudiation of human ambition, avarice and cruelty. And so, the resurrection is often called a victory. A victory over death, a victory over sin, a victory over the limitations of our natural world.
And while I do think the resurrection was indeed a victory over the worst tendencies of humankind, I’m not sure we can extend it as a victory over anything else though, most particularly because of the way that Jesus invited people to see and interact with his risen self. What we see in our text today, is the resurrected Jesus circling back around to enfold, bless and re-enliven that which is earthly. The revelation of the transcendent and alive Jesus is anchored in the realness, the fleshliness of Jesus’ hands and feet, in a stomach that was hungry and ready to eat, that could eat, and did so.
Our bodies are powerfully connected to our earth. We are made out of the same carbon-based molecules as all the life around us. In order to function, our bodies need nutrients, elements, that exist in the soil, but we can’t just ingest the soil. We also need energy provided from our sun but we can’t absorb that energy directly either. So, our needs are provided for by entering into a relationship, a cycle, with the other living organisms of this world. We rely on plants (and animals that eat plants) to reorder and reorganize those soil nutrients and that sun energy into forms that will support our life once we consume them. Our bodies are irrevocably intertwined with the natural processes that surround us.
Jesus, in this post-resurrection appearance in Luke, draws our attention and the disciples attention, to his body. Look at my hands and feet. They are real. My body is showing up here, in your midst, in the midst of this natural world, as part of this natural world and not separate from it. Carbon-based molecules, the same as you, the same as all around you. And then, to drive the point home, he eats something. He enters into the cycle of need and survival and inter-dependence that all human bodies share.
And perhaps to some, this might taint the resurrection, to have the resurrected Jesus indulge in something so commonplace, so earthly, to be anchored so fully to the same things we are, to be so human, still. But, I believe that the true power of the resurrection is in the embrace of what is human, or in Swedenborgian terms, the union of the human and the divine.
Swedenborg writes: The Lord made his human divine from the divine in himself, and he thus became one with the Father…from this it follows that the Divine cannot be separated from the Human, nor the Human from the Divine; for, to separate them would be like separating the soul and body. (1) Through this process God became human and a human became God in one person. (2)
Union is why the Lord came, not to claim a victory. Winning and losing is not the construct that guides Divine Love. Certainly, many human flaws, evils, weaknesses, need to be cleared away before union can be fully effected, and yes, the clearing process is hard and long work sometimes. There is nothing wrong with declaring victory when something hard won is achieved. But union is the endgame, union with a creation and with creatures (us) who God loves. And so God returns to us in a way that sanctifies that creation and those creatures, drawing our eyes away from the bright shiny gone-from-the-tomb miracle and refocusing on the everyday miracles, and everyday bodies, that Jesus always sought to make holy.
Swedenborg, as a scientist, was always in awe of creation, bowled over by its beauty and complexity. And as you heard in our reading today, he regarded the processes of the natural world to be just as miraculous as anything related in our sacred texts. He wrote:
But because these things are always to be seen and have become familiar, usual and commonplace by constant repetition, they are not looked on as amazing, but as simply the effects of nature.
If we focus on the resurrection as victory over, rather than union with, our natural world, then if we are not careful, the next step is to feel superior to the natural world, for how else does a battle construct invite us to view that which is vanquished? If we focus on the resurrection as a relinquishment or transcendence of the natural world, and we forget to notice how the resurrection circles back to embrace the natural world, if we are not careful, the next step is to despise the natural world, for how else does a super-cession construct invite us to view that which will be left behind?
Our text today instead invites us to be witnesses. There was important work that the disciples were about to begin. But first it was to be anchored in a realization, a witnessing, of the smaller miracle of the resurrection. “They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence.” The final texts of the gospels all end with some version of commissioning, they all end with an invitation to further the story in our own way. The church has for a long time focused on helping people know and understand the story of Jesus, to appreciate that the divine became a person and how that communicates love to all of us. It is still perhaps the most worthy and moving story ever told. But let us not forget how the story also shows us that the divine became a body and how that communicates a love of creation. We are commissioned to spread the love; let us make sure that includes *all* the things God loves: our world, everything in it, and the way it is intentionally inter-connected.
36 While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37 They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39 Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” 40 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41 And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate it in their presence. 44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” 45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
50 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. 52 Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53 And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.
True Christianity 695:5-6
 Afterwards I talked with those angels about the amazing effects caused by the inflow from the spiritual world into the natural one. For instance, we talked about the way caterpillars turn into butterflies, about bees and drones, and the astonishing things the silkworm does, and also spiders…
 After this I related the amazing facts about plants, how they all progress from the seed in due sequence until they produce new seeds, exactly as if the earth knew how to provide and adapt its elements to the reproductive principle of the seed; and from this to bring forth a shoot, to broaden this to form a stem, to send forth branches from this, to clothe these with leaves, and later to embellish them with flowers, and beginning from their interiors to produce fruits, and by means of these produce as offspring seeds from which the plant can be born again. But because these things are always to be seen and have become familiar, usual and commonplace by constant repetition, they are not looked on as amazing, but as simply the effects of nature. People hold this view solely because they are ignorant of the existence of a spiritual world, working from within on and actuating every single thing which comes into existence and is formed in the world of nature and upon the natural earth, activating sensation and movement as the human mind does in the body. Nor do they know that every detail of nature is as it were a tunic, sheath or clothing enclosing spiritual things and serving at the lowest level to bring about the effects corresponding to the purpose of God the Creator.