Sunday 15 April 2018

Not Just a Conjuring Trick

"And as he said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 
While they were still incredulous for joy and were amazed, he asked them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 
They gave him a piece of baked fish; he took it and ate it in front of them." (Luke 24:40-43)
The arguments always rage over the nature of the Resurrection. It's more than 30 years since David Jenkins said that the Resurrection wasn't just a conjuring trick with old bones. And everybody suspected what he really meant was that it wasn't even a conjuring trick with old bones. And everybody still remembers it. But the trouble is, some people insist on believing that Jesus's body was resurrected. And some - the more spiritual - think it's more spiritual.

But the Gospel writers weren't that spiritual, apparently. Three of the Gospel writers go to a lot of trouble to tell us that Jesus, after the Resurrection, was physically all there. John tells us about Jesus on the beach, cooking a fish barbecue. Matthew has the women that found Jesus outside the empty tomb grabbing onto his feet. And here Luke has him eating fish.

To a good Jew, this is really important. Jesus isn't just a ghost, a spirit, a lovely spiritual extract of Resurrection. He's the same physical Jesus that has walked the roads and hills of Galilee and Judea. Who was physically dead on the cross - dead of shock and blood loss and exhaustion. And here he is raised - with holes in his hands and side - living, and speaking, and eating.

And if it's really important to Matthew and Luke and John, then it's important to us as well. We are not made up of a spiritual and a bodily side, with one just the vehicle for the other. We are whole beings - spirit and body.

The Portugese have a great range of foods, I always think. Being a vegan in Portugal would be no fun. They just seem to eat fish and meat, and eggs. And their egg cookery is great. Their most famous dish was on the Great British Bake Off the other week - Pastéis de Nata, an egg custard tart. They had a lot of yolks to use, you see. The Portuguese are still more religious than the English, but once upon a time they were far more so than now. They had lots of nuns, and therefore they had lots of whimples. And whimples needed lots of starch - which they produced from egg white. With the result that they had lots of yolks left over - because to produce lots of egg white they needed lots of chickens. And so they specialised in cooking with yolks. The Portuguese production of eggs perfectly combined the spiritual with the body - the yolks looked after the body, and the whites looked after the spirit!

The English, of course, don't have great egg-custard tarts. We have the hymn-writing of George Herbert. One of  his more famous hymns has the remarkable line:
Who sweeps a room as for Thy laws,
         Makes that and th' action fine. 
And yes, it does tempt you to make jokes about "sweep the floor for Jesus". Well, it does me, at any rate. But the point Herbert is making is that you can't separate the spiritual and the physical. The beauty and terror of the world in which we live is shot through with the beauty and terror of God. The pains we suffer in our bodies matter to God - because our names are written in the points of nails in God's hands.

Christian religion has never been great when it's raised the spiritual above the physical. If it floats around, regarding God and ignoring the world, then it's not much use to anyone. But when we focus on the crucified, physically alive God - then we can remember our own neighbours, not just to wish them well, but physically to attend to their needs. To open up a church as a night shelter, to gather food for those that need it - these are spiritual acts just as much as physical ones. St James tells us how these things go together:
"What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead."
The combining of spirit and body builds us up as human beings as a body. So take marriage as a metaphor - in a wedding, two will be united as one. Spiritually they learn to dependent upon and support each other, and physically they are one. Humans aren't divided up - we're whole. This is an image of how we are - as human individuals, and as society. As spirit and body, we're one. As wives and husband, one. As the Church - we're one. When we see suffering across the world and people in need, we know those that suffer are one with us - made of the same flesh, bearing near-identical DNA, loving and caring and fearing and suffering like us.

Jesus, raised from the dead - not just spiritually but physically - is a promise to us all. It tells us our whole selves will be one with God. It tells us that God cares about our physical state as well as our spiritual one. It promises us a greater life in the future than one we can even imagine. The Bible describes a future world as one that is full of life, and sounds, and smell. Where there is a river running through the New Jerusalem. Where the Tree of Life has leaves that are for the healing of the nations. Where there's a feast to eat and wine to drink and we are wholly, thoroughly, fully, forever alive with God.

And it starts with just that one man. Raised to full life. Raised body and spirit. Totally human, and yet totally God. And totally alive forever.

Want to support this blog?
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