Apr 18, 2015

3rd Sunday of Easter: Body and Spirit

Several months ago on a dark, rainy Oregon evening, I was meeting some folks at a restaurant for dinner.  I reached the parking lot of the restaurant but quickly discovered that what I thought was the entrance led me suddenly over the curb directly into a mud pit on the other side where the front end of the car was now stuck! 

Once I got over my bruised male ego and admitted to myself how embarrassed I felt, I tried unsuccessfully to rock the car back and forth between forward and reverse but the car refused to move out of the mud.  So, after a run into the restaurant, in the pouring rain, out came three big guys who did all they could to push the car out as I put it into reverse.  Low and behold, with their help, I was “un stuck” from this pit and though the car was coated with mud, there was thankfully no damage.  Without the help of others, I’d still be stuck in that mud pit.

We’ve all had experiences of being stuck and not all of them were due to poor driving. Maybe our block is financial, mental, physical, or a painful relationship.  What we all learn is that the power of others to move us forward and with the power of our faith even more, we break down a wall that may prevent us from a healthy progress.

Our resurrection stories we hear this season and in particular the one this Sunday, is the indelible memory of a small community who found themselves temporarily paralyzed but then released with a power they may have never imagined. 

The Gospel this Sunday (Lk 24: 35-48) opens with a wonderful account by two thrilled disciples of their recent encounter with the risen Lord.  They had found themselves stuck, confused, and alone with their grief and unanswered questions as to the recent events of Jesus’ arrest and brutal death on the cross.  We had hoped that he would be the one to set Israel free” they stated.  But now, it all seems to have come to a tragic end.

On this hike to the little town of Emmaus, (Lk 24: 13-35) the risen Lord walks with them but in their confusion, they find themselves unable to now move forward until the moment when they find themselves released and recognize the risen Lord right before them as they break bread with him.  Filled with zeal they run back to Jerusalem and as our Gospel opens this Sunday, they are relating these events.

But, the Apostles in the upper room are themselves very much paralyzed in fear.  We hear of this event in another place and how they were isolated with the doors barred and locked tight in fear for their own safety. 

In the midst of the two other disciples account, that same risen Jesus appears before them. “Startled and terrified” are likely understatements of their reaction.  Could it be him or a hallucination or maybe even a ghost? 

Jesus addresses these men with a wish of peace to calm their fears. Furthermore, Luke relates the near desperate attempt Jesus now makes to prove to his startled company that not only is he alive but he is alive with flesh, bone, and the very marks of his passion.  The Jesus they knew just days before and had journeyed with, heard his teachings, witnessed his miracles, and shared in his confrontations with religious leaders, then experienced the agony of dreams and hopes dashed as he was brutally executed, now stood before them risen and alive to die no more.  It is undeniable proof of the early Christian community and our inherited conviction today that the resurrection of Jesus was and remains a flesh and bone person in whom spirit and body are united. This all makes our present day challenge to the dignity of every human being far more problematic.

In our first reading from (Acts 3: 13-15, 17-19) Peter, bold and on fire with the Holy Spirit, speaks out courageously: “The author of life you put to death, but God raised him from the dead; of this we are witnesses.” Indeed they were witnesses in that room, along the Sea of Galilee, on the road to Emmaus, and other places implied in the Gospels.  The bodily resurrection of Jesus now n a state of alternate reality and his appearance to these foundational men is the rock our Church is built upon.

This leaves us confronted with the minimalistic attitude towards human life today.  In favor of pragmatic solutions, a fragile economy, prejudice, and freedom of choice, all assumed to be of higher value, the human person has been sacrificed.  However, there is likely no better place to understand the Church’s stance on the dignity of the human person than the Catholic funeral rite.

We are the only Christian religion which has a developed theology and ritual around the body of the deceased.  The increasing number of cremations that sadly are becoming the norm rather than the exception for Catholic funerals is troubling.  Yes, funerals are expensive but provisions can be made long before and with insurance policies that can cover a large portion of funeral costs.

But, in the end, the funeral rite is a beautiful expression not of death but of life.  Rather than the popular term as a “celebration of life” which tends to look back on the life of the deceased our Christian perspective pushes us forward at the time of death.  It’s not in essence that we give thanks for a life now ended so much as a new life begun.  While we treasure and honor a life well lived, now in the face of death we bring hope and life.

Jesus’ bodily resurrection was not a singular event but a reminder to us of who we are: spirit and body united.  Once the body dies, the person has died but that part of us, our soul, now leaves and goes on to eternity, only to at some time in the future be reunited with the body.  Yes, we too will rise and be reunited body and soul in resurrection existence for eternity.  Jesus rising in the body was a foreshadow and a reminder of what it means to be human; how we were created. Since ancient pre-Christian times philosophers and later theologians have written and pondered the deeper meaning of death and the value of the body and soul united.    

Our Christian ritual reminds us of this with the sprinkling of water and white pall of baptism placed over the deceased, the book of the Gospels and a cross with the Easter candle lit.  All to show that this body, though now dead, is sacred and not to be discarded as if it is now meaningless.  It will one day rise again.

As our risen Lord commissioned the Apostles now set free from fear and doubt: “. . . repentance for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations . . . you are witnesses of these things.”

We too have seen and heard in word and sacrament each time we gather at the Eucharist.  Go now, and announce the Gospel of the Lord.

May your people exult for ever, O God,
in renewed youthfulness of spirit,
so that, rejoicing now in the restored glory of our adoption,
we may look forward in confident hope
to the rejoicing on the day of resurrection.

(Collect for Sunday)