Sunday, 18 April 2021

Not a Ghost

While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, ‘Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’ And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.

Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.( Luke 24.36b-48)

I grew up in a ghost-ridden place, in the eastern fringes of the Chilterns. We had a headless horseman. The "Gray Lady" who haunted our Victorian school building. And the ghost in the village of Markyate was always the one that outshone all the others. Allegedly a former lady of the manor who moonlighted as a highwaywoman, she wandered the grounds of Markyate Cell at night, screaming for help and generally terrifying the locals.  We also had the Black Shucks - the fearsome ghostly dogs of Eastern England - to contend with. And that was to say nothing of dealing with people from Luton.

The belief in and fear of ghosts seems to be a commonplace thing, transcending religion and culture. 20 years ago it was suggested - on the basis of nothing obvious - that the growth in mobile phones was killing ghostly phenomena. And yet, "Most Haunted" kept going till 2019, and is probably re-running on some golden oldies channel even as I type.

Yew tree in Husborne Crawley churchyard
Waiting for what comes next

So Jesus appears to the disciples. This reading describes the evening of the first Easter Sunday. So - remember from last week - this is the day Thomas has gone AWOL. Luke doesn't mention that. Luke's writing down someone else's description of the events - probably not John's. But it does fit in nicely with John's. And Jesus's telling them that he's not a ghost, is backed up by him telling them to touch him, see he's physically real, and him eating the fish.

I'm just imagining Thomas. The first edition of Luke's Gospel comes out. Thomas goes "oh, I was there. Let's have a look." Reads the bit about the first appearance of Jesus to all the disciples. Goes, "Hang on. He ate fish? Nobody told me about the fish. All this time you've called me 'doubting Thomas' and they got to see him eating fish? Had they only told me about the fish."

Because there is something so physical about Jesus after the Resurrection. Yes he can just appear and disappear. But he can build beachside BBQs. He can offer to let Thomas put his hand in his side. and he can eat fish.

God, it seems, is a very big fan of the physical world. After all, at the Creation, God made so much of it. God realised it's good for people not to be alone - they need human contact. And don't we all know that after the last 12 months. God clearly loves colour, and life, and massive explosions in deep space. It was sad to hear that John Polkinghorne died recently - a physics professor before he became a priest and theologian. He was a living statement that if we only pursue a spiritual, wafty religion and want to escape from the earth, then we're missing out one whole side of God's wonder. And if we try to reduce all things to science - which Science doesn't, because Science knows what it is for - we are looking at the world with only half our faculties. 

So I don't believe God is going to give up on this world, anymore than he gives up on us. God's Son is now made of the stuff we are made. The stuff the earth is made of. His Resurrection is a promise to us for our future, that we will be raised with him - but also one for the world. God does not give up on this beautiful, damaged, glorious world. He will make all things new. So give thanks for this world - God made it, God loves it, God's Son died for it, and God expects us to care for it. And when God's Son comes again, all things will be made anew.

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