See my hands and my feet

Author: 
Fr Alec
Date: 
Sunday, April 15, 2018 - 9:30am

Where do we go when we die? It is a solemn and a serious question, and one that matters to all of us, and which cuts right to the heart of just what it is that we believe about the Christian hope of life everlasting.

 

It is a question to which there are two possible answers. The first, I suppose, is that we go to heaven (I will leave hell out of this for the time being). The second is that we go into the ground.

 

And both of these answers are, to be honest, fair enough. But neither of them seems really satisfactory on its own. The first simply raises the question of what kind of a place heaven is (if it is a place), and the second doesn’t seem to do justice to the promise of eternal life that we receive from Jesus Christ.  Nor, I would suggest, is it good enough simply to say that our soul goes to heaven, and we leave our body behind here on earth, or in the earth.

 

I was listening to a radio programme not long ago that was talking about the growth in popularity of Transhumanism – the belief that humanity can overcome the limitations of the human body and, ultimately, mortality itself through the use of advanced technology. That we can transfer, somehow, our minds into machines and thus continue to exist even when our frail flesh has withered away.

 

Yet the more I thought about this, the more nightmarish a prospect it sounded. To be a disembodied mind, or, worse still, to be a mind encased in some sort of machine seems to me a kind of living hell. Imagine being able to think, but not to see, or feel, or smell or touch. Could we describe that as life at all? Isn’t our whole sense of ourselves tied up with all of these means by which we experience the world? Aren’t these the source of our thoughts and emotions and relationships? Surely we sell ourselves short if we imagine that our minds and our bodies are two entirely separate things, because the thinking that we do with our minds is unavoidably concerned with the world around us and our connexion with it, and our bodies are the way we make that connection.

 

Human beings are creatures of relationship. We don’t make sense except in relation to others, and our bodies are how we establish those relationships – through speech, through embrace, through smiles and gestures.

 

Yet, essential as our bodies are, we know instinctively that we are not circumscribed by them. That they aren’t all that we are. That we are more than just fleshy machines. When we talk of having a soul, it is because we sense that our selves extend beyond our physical processes, that our needs extend beyond physical necessities or pleasures, and our mind reach out towards a spiritual reality that is beyond the world of sight and sense.

 

And these two realities, This sense that being human is about being embodied, but reaching beyond the boundaries of what that body can experience, is the subject of our encounter with the risen Jesus today in Luke. Here is Jesus made present for his disciples in a way that they cannot understand. They are ‘surprised and troubled’ we are told (which sounds like a very mild way of describing how they must have responded). They thought they were seeing a ghost. What else was there to think? But Jesus is quick to reassure them.

 

First of all he shows them his hands and his feet, still wounded by the nails with which he was crucified. The risen Christ is still the crucified Jesus. The violence of his life, the cruelty of his experience is still a part of who he is. Indeed it is the way that he can prove that he is indisputably himself. Here is New Life that doesn’t represent a break in continuity with the past. The wounds have not gone away, but they have been overcome.

 

 

Next he asks for something to eat. And in asking to share their fish he shows two things. First of all that that he can interact with the world around him, that he is not just some ethereal vision, but second that he has human needs. That he needs something from them. He is hungry and they can feed him. There is a relationship still between them that he can show by doing this simple everyday thing of coming and sharing their meal. He remains a man, and he remains a friend.

 

Its telling that this episode comes between two, perhaps more memorable stories from the gospel of Luke. Jesus makes his appearance just as his disciples are digesting the news from their companions on the road to Emmaus. The truth that was revealed to them as they sat down with the stranger and broke bread is made manifest to them as the story is passed on.

 

And Jesus appearance here leads immediately on to Luke’s description of the Ascension. He leads them immediately outside, where he is raised up out of their sight, blessing them as he ascends into heaven.

 

In both of these stories it matters profoundly that Jesus is there with them physically. That by rising bodily from the dead, Jesus says to us

‘The whole of who you are, body and soul, is redeemed by this act.’

‘This physical world that we inhabit, full of pain and anguish and hardship though it may be, is not something to be escaped, but something to be transformed by the love of God. Our bodies are not shells to be cast off so that our real selves can move on to some better place, they have the dignity of being an essential part of God’s plan for the whole of creation.’

 

As Christians we are not playing a waiting game. We are not prisoners awaiting release. We are, because of God’s unimaginable loving generosity, heirs, heirs by grace of a kingdom that is coming to us. And, as such, we have a role, a purpose. It is for us to reveal that kingdom as it is revealed to us in the here and now.

 

That is why we are here. As we come to the altar today, the kingdom of God breaks through as we encounter the risen Jesus in flesh and blood. As we reach out our hands and receive our Saviour, who comes to us saying ‘Take, eat, this is my body.’