Flesh, Bones, and the Risen Christ

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It’s the first day of the week after Jesus’ crucifixion. Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James have all been to the tomb where they found the stone rolled away, where two young men in dazzling white robes asked them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” Even though the disciples had trouble believing the women’s story when they returned, Peter ran off to the tomb, where he found it empty except for the linen cloths. Jesus later appeared to two disciples on the road to Emmaus, becoming known to them in the breaking of the bread. 

While Jesus’ followers are gathered and talking about all these things have happened that day, Jesus comes and stands among them. Of course, the disciples think they are seeing a ghost, a disembodied spirit, but Jesus goes to great lengths to show that he is anything but that. “Look at my hands and feet,” he says. “Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” He then asks if they have anything to eat, and when they give him a piece of broiled fish, he pops it in his mouth and swallows it down. It’s my favorite part of this whole passage. 

Often we think of Jesus as being present with us only “in spirit.” It’s as if the Word became flesh for a brief thirty-three-year period before returning to its proper place in heaven. But the resurrection is not about the Word returning to some distant heaven, or even to a spiritual space that is nearby. Because it is not just Jesus’ spirit that is raised from the dead, but his physical body, too. True, it seems in the gospels that this new body can walk through doors, suddenly both appear and vanish, and ultimately be taken up into the heavens. But Jesus’ resurrected body is a physical one – one that the disciples can see and touch, one that can down a piece of broiled fish in one fell swoop. And this changes everything.

What Easter then tells us is that the incarnation is not suddenly over. Easter and Christmas are not two completely separate events; they both point to God being fully with us. The risen Christ is found not in some separate or distant spiritual realm, but in this physical, flesh-filled world in which we now live. The Word didn’t just become flesh two thousand years ago; it continues to become flesh today, over and over again, in a million different places and a million different ways.

That’s why we find the risen Christ not by withdrawing from life and playing it safe, but by leaning into it – in all its beauty and complexity, in all its concreteness and grittiness. The risen Christ ate broiled fish, Luke tells us.  Well, there’s not much that’s grittier or more physical than gastric juices and intestinal contractions. Frederick Buechner writes: “One of the blunders religious people are particularly fond of making is the attempt to be more spiritual than God.”[1]

Even after Easter, we still find Jesus not in a faraway spiritual world that’s free from earthly desires or pain or temptations or ecstasy, but in this world. Vinita Hampton Wright, who embraces Ignatian spirituality, writes of finding Jesus right where we are:

I saw Jesus on the train today. He had worked a long shift, his coveralls a patchwork of sweat and grime; yet he joked with a coworker in the adjacent seat. I saw Jesus awhile later, as the crowd filed onto the stairs to the street below—he was a young girl with two small children in tow, her nerves clearly frayed. And then, in the grocery store, there was Jesus again, a check-out clerk who smiled and wished me a good evening. The next time I saw him, he was stuck in traffic, his business suit rumpled and his eyes weary. And when I walked by my neighbor’s house, Jesus sat on the front step, passing the time with a friend.

When Jesus came to share our human existence, he changed what it means to be ordinary people going through the day. Each one of us has a purpose and a place in the world. Each of us experiences pain, fatigue, humor, and hope. If we look more intently at the people we encounter on a typical day, we will see who they truly are—persons loved by God. Regardless of appearance or situation, the woman, man, or child before you is brimming with holy possibility. Consider that you are gazing into the eyes of God. Understand that Jesus comes to you in many faces and places.[2]

We find God not by leaning back or disengaging from life, but by leaning into it. We find the risen Christ when we see the world with unflinching eyes, just as it is, and yet are fully present to it, engaging the world and the people around us in ways that are life-giving. 

Does this come with some risks? Yes, absolutely and always. We can’t selectively numb our emotions. To embrace the world around us is to open ourselves to feel both pain and joy, to both suffer and celebrate with others, to know failure as well as success. But if Easter drives us to look for Jesus in the world around us, it also speaks a word of hope to us about the pain we will find there. 

The good news of Easter is that the grave itself is found to be the place of resurrection. Those places of life where we suffer, the places where we experience loss, the places where we struggle to become the people we are called to be – those are the very same places where new life will ultimately be found, where new life will spring up. 

At the end of the day, everything – every bit of creation, every tangible item – can be a window into the life of God; it can be where and how we experience the risen Christ. It’s a truth we glimpse every Sunday when we come to the altar rail, receive the bread, and hear “The Body of Christ, the bread of heaven.” The Word continues to be made flesh in the world over and over again, in a million ways and places and faces.  Of this, Jesus tells us, we are to be witnesses, and he gives us his peace. In other words, don’t be afraid, take heart, and simply lean in.

[1] Frederick Buechner, Beyond Words (New York:  HarperCollins, 2004) 169.

[2] Vinita Hampton Wright, “I Saw Jesus Today”. Loyola Press, https://www.loyolapress.com/catholic-resources/ignatian-spirituality/finding-god-in-all-things/i-saw-jesus-today/, accessed April 16, 2021.

Flesh, Bones, and the Risen Christ
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