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  • Rev. Dan Gates

More than a Ghost: Resurrection Encounters with Jesus

Luke 24:36-49

A protester holding up a sign which reads 'No Justice, No Peace'

These stories of people encountering the Risen Jesus are all a bit strange when you think about it. Our last post was about Jesus showing up at the shore, giving some amazing fishing advice, then offering to cook the disciples some breakfast. Along the way, they discovered that into their ordinary life a new quality of extraordinary and abundant life was breaking in. This next story too has some unusual features. Jesus appears again unannounced to his disciples, and they're quite afraid of what they are seeing. In fact, they assume he is a ghost. Maybe that's understandable; you don't expect to see people who have died show up suddenly in your room. Jesus' response? Peace be with you. And then comes the strange bit: 'Do you have anything to eat?' He's a hungry ghost? Maybe he skipped breakfast that day, who knows! So many threads are left dangling from these stories, and yet somehow they offer us something really profound and exciting too.

A painting by A.N. Mironov, of Jesus showing his disciples his wounds.

Jesus seems quite keen on showing them that he's so much more than a ghost. Touch me and see, he says. Then he shows them his hands and his feet. And then there's more fish, food that he eats in their presence Luke tells us. All of this is to show them that he really is with them, not a ghost version of him, but actual him, the one who has kept the marks of his trauma, who now somehow lives and is in their company again.

Christians have had lots of debates about what the resurrection of Jesus meant. Paul seems to hint at some very early discussions in 1 Corinthians 15, a whole chapter where he talks about the resurrection of Jesus and our own resurrection. Was he raised with a body like ours or something different? Or maybe he appeared as a vision, not really flesh and blood like us. Lots of arguments, lots of reasons for thinking differently! For me, though, there's a very good reason for pondering the resurrection and what kind of body Jesus had.

There's a question that runs throughout the Bible, from the beginning to the end. It emerges in lots of places, particularly the Psalms. And here it is: When will justice be done? Given all the trauma of history, all those dead and gone before us who didn't know justice in their time, all the innocent ones killed or lost to sickness, when will they see justice? It is a problem for those of us who believe in the goodness of God. When will justice be done? Not an easy question, but one, I think, that finds the beginning of an answer in the resurrection. Here, with Jesus among them, these disciples are witnessing the goodness of God, the God who is just, who cannot let his holy one be left in the grave, who must give an answer to the generations of sufferers. With Jesus alive, still carrying his wounds, God is answering the cry of all those who long for justice. God is bringing life from death, and from injustice, God is bringing justice and peace.

A page of Hebrew text, with someone reading it with a magnifying glass

Jesus takes the disciples back in time. He interprets their scriptures, reminding them that this had to happen, that Messiah was always going to suffer and die. But why? Because if he didn't, there would be lots of people left behind. The Church Father Gregory of Nazianzus put it this way: For that which He has not assumed He has not healed. In other words, if Jesus didn't experience all of what he did, there would be left-overs, things that would remain broken and hurt and lost. But in facing death, even death on a cross, he has gone to the lowest place so that however low we fall, he is always there with us. That is why Messiah had to suffer, and that is why his resurrection, him being there with those disciples, is such good news. God has brought him from the lowest place and lifted him to new life. And so, too, God will do the same for us.

The challenge for us, then, is to see clearly all the pain of our world, the injustice that is left to answer, and hold all of that next to these strange stories from the New Testament. That is where our faith comes in. We trust that God who raised Jesus from the dead is at work bringing the whole world to newness of life. And so when Jesus speaks to his friends in that room he says 'Peace be with you.' More than just a customary greeting, he meant these words. Peace to your suffering hearts, peace to a suffering world, peace for all those things that have been broken and taken from you, peace. Protesters might cry out 'No justice, no peace'; in Jesus we are given both.

What are the cries of your heart for justice? And where are you hurting the most? Hold these out to the Risen Jesus and hear his words 'Peace be with you.' Find faith to believe in this ancient story and meet that Jesus today. He is so much more than a ghost; he is with us, offering us abundant life here and now. Peace be with you!

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