Sunday April 22, 2012.
He’s no Ghost
Lord, give us listening hearts
36While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37 They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”
40 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41 And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate it in their presence.
44He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.
I have never really been one for scary movies. Some of my mates at school seemed to love them. They went and saw these horror movies all the time – Poltergeist, Nightmare on Elm Street, Dracula, the Shining and etc etc! I had enough trouble watching that kids cartoon called ‘Caspar, the Friendly Ghost”!
There does seem to be lots of mysterious things we don’t understand in human life –things like ghosts or spirits – good or evil. From time-to-time we hear of ‘ghosts’; “ghosts of the past”, “ghosts that haunt” a place or a person.
I have no doubt there are spirits or ghosts. I have no doubt that there are evil spirits who do their evil work against people and especially people of Jesus church.
Ghosts or evil spirits seem beyond human flesh and blood. They are tied with the “underworld”; that mysterious part of our human existence called death that we cannot understand but experience at times in a certain kind of way; a fearful way. Ghosts are past people reaching out from past evil or suffering and death into now and causing us fear…..and so it goes.
Well, those first disciples gathered in that upper room thought they saw a ghost when the once dead Jesus turned up through locked doors! Who wouldn’t think that this was a ghost or mere spirit? How would you react if someone you loved who has already died came through your front door and just stood there?! Surely at first you could not believe it was that same person you knew and loved. This must be a trick or at least a figment of my imagination or even if you could see this “ghost” or “sprit” how could you know that it really was your dearly loved friend?
That is the problem with spirits and ghost. You can’t really trust them fully. They could be real or not. They could be friend or foe. Spirits only pretend to feel like we feel and know us the way we really are in all of our loss and grief and sorrow and joy and love.
Jesus, moves to show his dear friends that he is no ghost; that he is really himself and still the one they can know and love as they have all along.
First: Jesus shows he is no ghost by his word. He speaks a word. It’s a familiar Word; “Shalom” Peace to you”. Just like he spoke to Mary on the first morning out of the tomb when he said ‘Mary”, and she instantly knew it was really him, so now, that word of “Shalom” starts the process of these frightened, confused and unbelieving very human followers getting to the joy of certain faith in Jesus.
Second: Jesus goes further still. He needs to with our unbelief. He shows them the wounds on his flesh and the bones under the pierced skin. He is no ghost. He is still flesh and bone. He is still in some way human and he is there with them – human.
He is friend, not foe. He is with them and for them, not vague and illusive and uncommitted like a spirit or ghost. He is the same trustworthy, strong and compassionate man they love and trust.
This is a big deal. Jesus is no ghost. He is not merely a spirit who has escaped the prison of his human flesh and blood as if his humanness is now unneeded or to be escaped. He is not God squeezing into a human suit and then discarding his or our humanness as if humanness does not count. That is definitely not the biblical witness.
Many believe this. Many Christians believe this: that we are flesh and spirit and when we die the spirit finally escapes to be with Jesus who is spirit, as if our humanness is not worthwhile. This is not the full biblical picture at all! Not here.
Jesus is still human and remains so after his resurrection and even after his ascension. Even there, as he departs to be even more present in all things than he was in earthly terms, he is still Jesus – Jesus of Nazareth, resurrected and “glorified” but still flesh and bones – human bones.
What does this say to me? It tells us that our bodies are precious – temples of the Holy Spirit, no less. Our humanness is a precious gift, even though we are aging and struggling and battling with our identity, well-being and health at times. Our bodies, in some magnificent and mysterious way will be resurrected like his in glory (1Corinthians 15).
And now the crescendo…. Third: then does what he has done to two lucky blokes just prior on the road to Emmaus. He reveals more of himself than they previously knew. Even to those who still are not quite sure if Jesus is really still Jesus and is who he says he is, Jesus “open their minds” to the Word – the Scriptures. Jesus does what Mr Spock on Star Trek always did – he does a “mind meld”. Jesus opens up their view of their world, their God and their Saviour and themselves as he breaks open the Books of Moses, the Books of the prophets and the song book – the Psalms. In other words, the whole account of all God’s people and all God’s dealings with his people – the whole bible in all its parts.
If we view the Bible as a circle, then Jesus word is in the middle of the word. Everything comes from him and point to him. He is the way we understand. He is the way our hearts burn. He is the way our understanding grows, our maturity develops, our love gains commitment and depth and his humans on the faith journey.
“Oh to be in that room in that moment!” we might say. Well, hang on. We have been there in that room – many times and many times still to come. Our minds have been opened up to hear Jesus speaking in all the Scriptures. How else would you know of him and know him and serve him? How else would you trust him and know that he is the centre of our lives and our church? We have faith in him. That’s his Word working in us. We love him because he first loved us. We have been supernaturally born again in baptism. We have been re-born over and over again in the tactile, visible, very human things of the divine Jesus.
He cracks us open when we hear those words “In the name of the Father, Son and Spirit. He breathes life into us when we receive his words – “I forgive you all your sin: Peace be with you”. We bath in his power and in our belonging together at his table as he says “Do this in remembrance of me”. We walk tall when he says, ‘The Lord bless you and keep you. He has given these human gifts to repeat over and over again so that our hearts and minds stay in him, with him, for him.
Friends, Jesus Christ is no ghost. That’s the gift to trust today. He is flesh and bone and human. His gifts are for humans through human voice, hand, touch, sinful and incomplete though we be.
Because he is flesh and bone, his presence is trustworthy, his life suits us down to the bone. His Word transforms our knocking knees and trembling hearts us to the place where our bone meets our marrow and we are freed and we are loved to the core of our being. He is the centre of our frame, and the source and core of our life together in his human yet divine community.
Jesus is sending us into his human world to call other human beings to lose their doubt and fear of him as a mere ghost, and turn away from their endless searching for spirits and ghosts or a complete denial of anything spiritual. We are his sent people who are called to both go to the upper room with him but then always out again into the world where we live. He tells us to rely on the power that comes from high (the Holy Spirit) to live our human life for and with other humans praying that other human beings give up darkness and evil and doubt and place their flesh and blood and bones in the body and blood of Jesus for safe keeping, for joy, for purpose, for life.
He is opening our minds here at St Petri. He always has been. He always is. The resurrected human Jesus, Son of GO and Saviour is in our words, in our actions, in our world. He has made us missional people – people always coming and going in his presence and power for the sake of others.