"Ghost Test"

Easter 3B + April 15, 2018

1 John 3:1-7; Luke 24:36b-48


Today’s appointed Gospel reading from St. Luke is immediately preceded by “The Emmaus Road” story.  In that story, two of the followers of Jesus are traveling from Jerusalem, following the death of Jesus, to the city of Emmaus.  Along the way they encounter a stranger, and as they travel along together, they share the news of how Jesus, the one in which they had put all their future hope, had been arrested and executed by the civic and religious authorities.  And they wonder aloud about the strange news that Jesus may have risen from the dead.  As they continued traveling together the stranger tries to open the scriptures up to them concerning “all these things.”  Finally, at day’s end, they arrive in Emmaus, and the two disciples invite the stranger to stay with them.  The stranger accepts the invitation, and as they break bread, as they practice hospitality, the stranger is revealed to them as the risen Christ.  And then in a moment, he vanishes.  The story ends with these words, “That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. …  Then they told what had happened on the road, and how (Jesus) had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”


Today’s appointed Gospel begins at this point, “While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’"   Jesus shows them his hands and his feet, he eats a piece of fish, and commands them to be a witness “to these things.”


It’s been a couple of weeks since Easter Sunday, “What have you been thinking and praying about?”  And on this day, “Where do you find yourself in this story, the “Emmaus Road” story?”


Perhaps you find yourself on the road to Emmaus?  Perhaps the “fear and amazement” of it all still overwhelms you?  Perhaps “Post-Enlightenment Doubt” keeps you from being able to fully and truly understand just what might have happened on that first Easter morning?  Perhaps you are simply running away from death and resurrection, just as those two disciples did some 2,000 years ago. 


Or maybe you are on that “Road to Emmaus;” to that place where we go when things aren’t working out, that place where we go when we need to clear our heads, that place where we go when we need to start over again.  Maybe you are on that “Road to Emmaus,” but not alone, perhaps someone has come up along-side you and you have become engaged in that “holy existential conversation” about faith and life, your faith and your life, your sense of who God might be, looking for a greater meaning in things that surround you, and wondering what you might be called to do in this life, with your one great life?


We “break bread” around here all the time.  It could be that’s where you find yourself in this story.  As those two disciples practice hospitality, as they invite the stranger to stay with them, as they prepare a meal, as the meal is served, they suddenly find themselves in one of those “aha-moments.”  Suddenly the resurrected Jesus is revealed to them in “the breaking of the bread.”


And maybe, if you’re like me, you have been able to see yourself in all these parts of the story, you experienced the “fear and amazement,” you’ve been blessed with holy conversations, and in living out your faith in service to others you have experienced Christ present in “the least of these,” and now you’re on the road headed back to Jerusalem to share the good news with others!


And finally, maybe you can’t find yourself in any part of this “Emmaus Road” story?  Maybe you still see yourself with those disciples who never left Jerusalem, those who are hiding away in fear behind locked doors.  You’ve heard the rumors that Jesus is alive, but you were also there when he was arrested, condemned, crucified, and you saw his lifeless body placed in a tomb and sealed shut with a very large stone.  You’ve heard the Jesus story, but you haven’t really experienced it, not in the same way you’ve experienced the broken realities of life in this world.  And so it is, that you find yourself hiding away in fear behind locked doors, hoping for something more but unable to truly live out your life.


So, where do you find yourself in this story?  Where are you in your faith journey?  Where are you two weeks after Easter?  Where has the “fear and amazement” of “all these things” left you?


“While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’"  Hear the good news, no matter where you are in the story, Jesus appears with the gift of peace.  Not just a “passing peace,” but the kind of peace that transforms your life and gives you direction, meaning and purpose!


Jesus comes with the gift of peace, but his sudden and unexpected appearance startles the disciples.  They think they might be seeing a ghost!  According to Dr. Mark Hoffman, from United Lutheran Seminary, in antiquity there were actually “ghost tests,” some things you could check to ascertain if you were in the presence of a ghost or a real person.  Ghost don’t have bones, so you could check the extremities where bones are evident (namely the hands and the feet); you could also check to make sure that the person’s feet were “touching the ground” and that they were not “hovering” or “floating;” and finally it was important to check for teeth and “the ability to eat food.”  Interestingly enough Jesus offers them the ghost test, “Look at my hands and my feet,” Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have."  "Have you anything here to eat?"  “They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.”  However, it strikes me that Jesus does more than just pass a ghost test. 


By showing the disciples his “feet,” he reminds them of all the places they traveled together; the incredible journey of faith that they shared together, and the many conversations they shared along the way.  Those feet led them over the imposed boundaries that separate people, out and beyond the margins of life, and into the homes of those who were considered both worthy and unworthy.  They were also reminded of that night when he kneeled down and washed their feet, demonstrating what it truly means to love one another as I have loved you.  


And on those many journeys and in those many places his “hands” reached out in such love; to heal, to comfort, to hold, to wipe aside tears and to fully embrace. 


And as always, he chooses to break bread and eat with them, not so much to prove that he was real and not a ghost but rather to remind them to care for those in need, to feed people body and soul, with grace, mercy, justice, and love. 


Jesus shows the disciples his hands and his feet, he eats a piece of fish, to remind them where and how the heart of God abides.


And while the Gospel of Luke does not mention it, The Gospel of John reminds us that the resurrected Jesus’ hands and feet still bear the wounds of his crucifixion.  The disciples are reminded (in the words of Barbara Brown Taylor,) that Jesus went “through the danger and not around it.”  “Jesus humbled himself even unto death – even death on a cross.” “For God so loved the world.”  “For God so loves each one of us.”  For God so loves each and every one of our neighbors.”


Today’s Gospel concludes, “You are witnesses of these things.”  And so, we are, witnesses to the love of God, for now we are the Body and the Image of the Risen Christ in our world today.  Or, once again borrowing from Barbara Brown Taylor, "Not our pretty faces and not our sincere eyes - but our hands and feet--what we have done with them and where we have gone with them."


May God find you wherever you are, hiding away in Jerusalem, on the road to Emmaus, on the road to Emmaus in deep conversation with a stranger, in Emmaus breaking bread and practicing hospitality, back on the road leaving Emmaus to share the good news of the resurrection.


And may God continue to bless our hands and our feet, taking us places where we can make a difference, places where we can practice hospitality.


And in all these things may God bless us with that peace that passes all understanding, that peace that changes everything, the peace that guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.




1 John 3:1-7


1 See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. 3 And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. 4 Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. 5 You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. 6 No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him. 7 Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.


Luke 24:36b-48


36 While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you." 37 They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38 He said to them, "Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have." 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, "Have you anything here to eat?" 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate in their presence. 44 Then he said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled." 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and he said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.