Luke here is very keen to accentuate the physicality of the resurrection of Jesus even to the point of writing that Jesus ate a piece of broiled fish. Having said that, Luke has only just recounted the story of the road to Emmaus where Jesus de-materialised in front of the strangers eyes at the breaking of the bread, an incident that paints a very different picture.
As we recounted at the Winston post-Lent group that talked about the resurrection there is no way you can harmonise the different accounts of the resurrection because they all contradict each other so it is futile to try. In fact, in direct contradiction to the physicality of the resurrection, St. Paul writing before any of the gospels were written says quite pointedly in 1 Corinthians 15 that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” and also speaking of resurrection says “It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body”
So what does in fact bind all the conflicting accounts together?
Well, each in their own way are trying to convey the notion of presence. A presence that is not bound by the body of a particular person, a presence that is available to all. A continuing and continual divine presence, available to us now.
The gospel writer who conveys this the best I think is Matthew. It is in Matthew’s gospel right at the start that calls Jesus Emmanuel – which translates as “God is with us” and the very last words of Matthew’s gospel are Jesus saying “I am with you always to the end of the age”.
Matthew has framed his gospel with the notion of the divine presence that travels with his people. Turning to Mark, the first statement Jesus makes, which constitutes the content of his preaching and ministry is “Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand (near)”. Again the content of Jesus’ own preaching was about divine presence. Repent from the Greek word Metanoia means literally to go beyond one’s mind – to perceive differently, that there is a depth to life that is eternally present to us. In Luke’s gospel Jesus is reportedly even more explicit when he says “The Kingdom of God is within you”
And that divine presence is a gift to all people. So while the resurrection can be thought of as a new start, the promise of a renewed life, of good being able to grow from evil, or even some kind of guarantee of the continuation of life beyond physical death, or in a political sense, God’s yes to Jesus and God’s no to the people who made sure he was executed, it is also something more. It signifies the abiding presence of the divine within us. It Christian terminology we talk of the risen Christ being within us. St. Paul talked of living “in Christ” and we almost routinely say (after Jesus) that “when two or three are gathered together in my name there I am in the midst of you”
So the resurrection is about the divine presence being present to us in our lives now as much as it is about any of the other things we may believe about the resurrection.
It would be a little perverse for God to be eternally present to all his children without us being able to relate to the presence in some way. This Eucharistic service is designed to be a way of relating to, or encountering the divine presence. But you can equally encounter the divine in beauty, in nature, in the circumstances of your life, in prayer and meditation or indeed in other people.
When those encounters happen you are experiencing the truth of the resurrection, which is the truth of God’s abiding presence with all of creation.
Our understanding of God changes from being an entity totally separate from ourselves to a perception of God, pure “being” itself, lying not somewhere else, but being at the heart of all living things who we can commune with.
Communing with a living presence, “the one in whom we live and move and have our being” as Paul confirms in his preaching in Athens lies at the heart of what we are about.
Eating bread and drinking wine and calling them the body and blood of Jesus is a visual and carnal way of acting out the truth that we believe that God is present in all things, represented by the bread and wine and also in each of us because we eat it together. We commune with God and each other, making explicit what is true at a very deep level.
The power of the resurrection lies in each person being enabled to apprehend the truth that God is with us – Emmanuel – and will be with us to the end of the age. Therein lies true peace and fullness of life. And who doesn’t want peace?