Scarred and Hungry

Trinitarian Congregational Church

Third Sunday of Easter

Anthony S. Kill

April 15, 2018

Texts: I John 3:1-7, Luke 24:36-48

 

As I reflected on today’s Gospel and read some of the Bible commentaries, I ended up going in a different direction with my sermon than I thought I was going to. If I could, I would change my sermon title to “Scarred and Hungry”.

In this passage from Luke, Jesus finds himself struggling to convince his disciples that he’s not dead. It’s a bizarre predicament to be in, if you think about it. Imagine walking into a room and having your closest friends scream, faint, or shrink away in terror at the sight of you. Imagine having to explain to them over and over again that you’re not a ghost, a zombie, a demon, or a delusion. That you are, in fact, real — alive, approachable, and trustworthy. How would you make your case? What would you say or do to calm their fears? In this post-resurrection story, Jesus does two things to dispel the skepticism of his disciples, and I think each speaks powerfully to the kind of witness  he calls us to bear to the world. First, Jesus shows his friends his hands and feet.  Now if you think about it, this is really strange. We don’t usually identify each other by our hands and feet. If you don’t recognize someone you’re supposed to know, how often would you say “Is it really you?  Prove it!  Show me your feet.” If I’m trying to find a friend or family member in a crowd, I scan faces.  I look for the smile, the hair, or the eyes I recognize. I might mark the person’s height, build, or bearing. But hands and feet?   How many of our friends even know what our feet look like?

But we know what Jesus’ purpose is in showing his hands and his feet.  His hands and feet bear unmistakable signs of his crucifixion, his defeat, and his vulnerability. They’re not mended and manicured or pedicured; I imagine he winces when his disciples poke the jagged nailholes and mangled muscles. He has fresh wounds, still raw and gaping.

In her 1994 book, The Disabled God: Toward a Liberatory Theology of Disability, theologian and professor Nancy Eiesland warns us not to take lightly the fact that Jesus came back to life with his body visibly broken:

She writes, “The foundation of Christian theology is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Yet seldom is the resurrected Christ recognized as a deity whose hands, feet, and side bear the marks of profound physical impairment.”  “In presenting his impaired body to his startled friends,” she continues, “the resurrected Jesus is revealed as the disabled God.” End quote Jesus’ injuries remain an essential part of his resurrected identity. What would it be like for us to follow in the footsteps of a disabled God?  What would it be like to lead with our scars, our visible and invisible wounds and brokenness, instead of protecting ourselves by projecting society’s expectations of piety and prettiness? Jesus proved that he was alive and approachable by showing his brokenness, his gaping wounds.   Real presence. As in: “Here is how you can recognize me.  By my hands and my feet.  See? I have scars.  I have baggage.  I have history. I am alive to pain, just as you are.  I am not immune; I am real.”

One pastor, reflecting on this text, told of the following incident in her own life: “My husband and I found ourselves in the wrenching position of having to hospitalize our then eleven-year-old daughter, who was in danger of losing her life. I was gutted on the day we checked her into the residential facility and walked away;  even now I remember that morning as one of the worst of my life. The next day, still reeling from grief and defeat, I wandered into a Christian bookstore, hoping, I suppose, to surround myself with the symbols of a faith I could no longer muster. After a few minutes, a soft-spoken saleswoman came up to me and asked if I needed help. All I could do was cry.   She patted my back very kindly.  Then she walked over to a jewelry case, rummaged around for a minute, and came back with a crucifix on a slender silver chain. A tiny Jesus hung on his cross, his face drawn in pain. “Wear this,” she said, pressing the necklace into my hands. “Only a suffering God can help.” That line actually belongs to the German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was executed by the Nazis. Supposedly a prison guard found a piece of paper with that line scribbled on it, and smuggled it out of Bonhoeffer’s cell shortly before his death.   Only a suffering God can help.

The paradox of resurrection is that Jesus’s scarred body comforted his disciples.  His wounded hands and feet pulled them out of disbelief and into radical, life-altering faith.

We dare not treat this fact lightly, because it testifies to a great mystery. If even at the height of his resurrection victory, Jesus’ witness was a witness of scars, then maybe we should take heed.

Maybe when the world looks at us to see if we are real, to see if the Jesus we claim to serve  and the faith we profess is truly approachable and trustworthy, they need to see our scars more than our piety. Our vulnerability, not our triumphalism. Wounds aren’t pretty, and no, they don’t tell the whole story of the Christian journey.  But the stories they do tell are holy. Jesus didn’t hide the bloody and the broken.  Neither should we.

The second thing Jesus does in this week’s Gospel reading is as unlikely as the first.  He expresses hunger.  “Have you got anything to eat?” he asks his bewildered disciples,  and when they hand him a piece of broiled fish, he eats it in their presence. Such a simple act, but something shifts as a result of it. Something becomes possible that was impossible before. As Jesus eats, the disciples lose enough of their fear to draw close and actually listen to what he’s saying, and their receptivity allows Jesus to “open their minds to understand.” By the end of the encounter, they are no longer frightened men and women — they are “witnesses of these things,” emboldened for life and ministry. Simply by expressing hunger, inviting hospitality,  and accepting nourishment, Jesus turns table fellowship into communion.

Likewise, I believe something powerful happens when we give and receive hospitality as an intentional spiritual practice. In some ethnic communities and cultural traditions, hospitality is both compulsory and central. People learn early on the magic of a shared table, a generous spread, an open hand.

It doesn’t matter if a meal was elaborate or simple — all that matters is the willingness of hosts and guests to gather around a common table and share whatever is available.  This might mean a scrumptious multi-course dinner around an elaborately decorated table. At other times, it might mean microwaving leftover chicken soup and passing it around with Wonder bread.  It doesn’t matter. Eating together breaks down barriers, eases awkwardness, and fosters intimacy. Somehow, as long as the table is kept open and inviting, nourishment happens.

Perhaps the best way in which to read Jesus’s question (“Have you got anything here to eat?”) is as a gentle reminder. In their fear and confusion, the disciples forgot the most basic rules of hospitality. Instead of offering Jesus food, water, shelter, or comfort, they pulled away, keeping themselves aloof because they were suspicious and afraid of this stranger. So Jesus reminded them of their most fundamental calling — once again, by leading with vulnerability: “Friends, I’m hungry.  Would you please feed me?” The author Sara Miles describes herself as a “blue-state, secular intellectual; a lesbian; a left-wing journalist with a habit of skepticism.”.  In her memoire Take This Bread, she relates what happened to her when she wandered into a church one day and “ate Jesus.” She was hungering and thirsting for righteousness, she writes, and she “found it at the eternal and material core of Christianity: body, blood, bread, wine, poured out freely, shared by all. I discovered a religion rooted in the most ordinary yet subversive practice: a dinner table where everyone is welcome, where the despised and outcasts are honored.”

For Sara Miles, this conversion at the communion table eventually led her to start a ministry centered on real food, real hunger, and real bodies. She opened food pantries all over San Francisco,      feeding hundreds of people each week — people from all walks of life.  As she describes it, her work led her to meet “thieves, child abusers, millionaires, day laborers, politicians, schizophrenics, gangsters, and bishops,” widening what she considered her community  in ways both scary and exhilarating. Do we need Jesus’s gentle reminder as urgently as his disciples did?  What if pushing past fear — fear of the stranger, fear of our inadequate culinary skills, fear of our messy kitchens, fear of wasting time or money, fear of experiencing rejection or failure, fear of not having enough left over for ourselves What if pushing past those fears is the best way to reveal Jesus to the world?

What if practicing hospitality is practicing resurrection? What if more is at stake in a piece of fish (or a cup of tea, or a loaf of bread) than we have yet imagined?

When the disciples fed Jesus, he fed them in return. When they chose generosity over suspicion, their eyes were opened, death fled the room, and the resurrected Jesus came alive in them.  Belief didn’t come first.  Food did. Scarred and hungry.

This is our God.  This is resurrection.

This is the Word made Flesh.  May we be witnesses of these things.