In today’s Gospel we read of another resurrection appearance (Luke 24:35-48). This passage follows on from Luke’s account of Jesus’ appearance to the two on the road to Emmaus, and also seems to be set on the evening of that first Easter Day.
Last Sunday I commented on John’s resurrection appearance stories, and in particular that to Thomas. The two gospels are complementary here. John seems to emphasise primarily the personal intimate encounters of two close followers with the risen Jesus. He points to these tangible encounters, so that “you [readers] may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you might have life in his name”.
Luke doesn’t neglect the physical, but he adds another dimension. He records that Jesus breaks bread – perhaps intended to evoke both the Last Supper, and the instruction to the disciples to do that in remembrance of him – with the Emmaus two, but he also opens and explains the Scriptures (“beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them all the things about himself in all the Scriptures”).
The Emmaus two rush back to Jerusalem to tell the disciples the good news. And as the disciples try to make sense of this, probably wonderful but incomprehensible news, Jesus himself appears. I’m no ghost Jesus said – “touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have”. Perhaps it is the power of the personalised narrative that Thomas’s statement that he’d only believe if he could touch Jesus is known to all Christians, but this account is less well-known. The same doubts, the same puzzlement. For some at least some of them even seeing his hands and feet isn’t enough – “while in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering”. Jesus reinforces the message – it is him, in body, not just in some hallucination – as he asks for, takes, and eats a piece of grilled fish “in their presence”.
And then Luke records that, as he did with the Emmaus two, Jesus takes them through the Scriptures to show them how prophecy is being fulfilled. It is summed up in the description “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”.
Resurrection isn’t a general category, or something the disciples were familiar with. And John and Luke presumably knew that it was going to seem hard, perhaps impossible, to believe or even to make any sense of. An executed leader doesn’t rise from the dead. Matthew and Mark give much less attention to the resurrection appearances, but Luke and John are at pains to establish the point. Both the initial sense of disbelief – this wasn’t something the disciples were looking for – but also the solid tangible reality of Jesus – whom they could touch, and who ate with them – among them.
For those of us raised in Christian families, there is perhaps a risk that we take for granted the resurrection – it is a story, a truth, we’ve always been familiar with. Worship, in this Easter season, should draw us back to wonder and astonishment. Here history turned. Here our sin is dealt with. But as we proclaim and share the gospel today in a very secular Western world, the cross and the resurrection remain as much, if not more, a stumbling block than ever. All who hear of it must confront both the improbability of what happened, but also the solid, sceptical, accounts of a risen Jesus. And of lives touched and changed by that astonishing truth.