Saturday, April 21, 2012

Easter 3 B 2012

 “They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.”

          In Jesus’ time as now some people had trouble with the resurrection of Jesus’ body. Then as now some people could only see the resurrection as a spiritual event. Then as now some said that the Resurrection means only that the spirit of Jesus lives on in his disciples. And that’s true, the resurrection is a spiritual event, and the spirit of Jesus does live on in his disciples. But that’s not all. Both St. Luke and St. John affirm that the resurrected Jesus was not simply a spirit but the resurrected had flesh and bones and ate broiled fish.

          St. Luke explicitly tells of the broiled fish and sets his account on Easter Day after the report of the disciples who met Jesus on the way to Emmaus. St John implies the risen Jesus eating with his disciples in Galilee some time after Easter Day.

     These accounts explicitly deny the notion that the risen Jesus just seemed to be alive but was really simply a spirit or we might say a ghost. This notion was called Docetism from the Greek word “to seem.” Docetism was a form of Gnosticism from another Greek word gnosis translated as “knowledge” and particularly speculative or intellectual knowledge contrasted with praktikos or practical knowledge. In 1945 a number of Gnostic writings from the 3rd century (the 400’s) were found at Nag Hammadi in upper (southern) Egypt. They have been translated and studied and popularized.  Gnostic texts include “gospels” attributed to Judas, or Thomas, or Philip and other writings.
     The Bible begins with God’s creation, and from the third day on we are told “God saw what he had made, and it was good.” On the sixth day “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. The Bible teaches that God’s creation is, by God’s intention, good. Human sin and disobedience have damaged God’s good creation, and as St. Paul reminds us in Romans (8:22-23) “the whole creation . . . waits for . . . the redemption of our bodies.” Last week we read in the First Epistle of St. John that Jesus’ death and resurrection saves the whole world. When Jesus comes again the whole world will be restored as it was in God’s good and perfect creation.

     Gnosticism ancient and modern on the other hand thinks of  the creation as basically evil. It sees the limitations of time and space, the problems of age and disability, “nature red in tooth and claw,” as a prison for free spirits. Gnosticism denies God’s creation of the world. Ancient Gnosticism constructed a series of emanations from a fully spiritual God through a great chain of being gradually more and more corrupt to a demiurge that created the world we know. Modern Gnosticism prefers a theory of accident or happenstance or “statistical probability” – anything but a good and loving creator.

     Gnosticism either ignores the physical world or denies that how we treat the material world has any spiritual importance. Or alternatively, and paradoxically, it says that the world as it is is all there is. Pure materialism seeks to deny any spiritual reality. It isn’t logical because it isn’t logical.

     If the world doesn’t matter then our behavior in the world doesn’t matter, and we are under no fundamental obligation to other people. If we are kind and generous we are kind and generous because being so makes us feel good; it feeds our ego. If we are cruel and selfish it doesn’t matter because other people don’t matter anyway.

     For Jesus and his disciples other people do matter. The world matters. We treat others not only as we wish to be treated, but we treat others better than we are treated. We seek to love others not only so they may love us, but because God loves us first, and sent Jesus to die to take away our sins and rise from the dead to give us new life. We are then stewards of God’s creation.

     So it matters that Jesus rose from the dead with flesh and bones and ate broiled fish. It matters because God made the world and made it good.

          And it matters because Jesus’ resurrection is the first fruits of the resurrection of the rest of us. In the Apostles’ Creed we profess belief in the resurrection of the body – the resurrection of the body of Jesus and our sure and certain hope of our own resurrection in the last day. 

          The official  teaching of the Episcopal church is found in Article 4 of the Articles of Religion as established by the General Convention of 1801 (BCP p. 868), “Christ did truly rise again from death, and took again his body, with flesh, bones, and all things appertaining to the perfection of Man’s nature; wherewith he ascended into Heaven, and there sitteth, until he return to judge all Men at the last day.” 

          These articles of our faith reflect the truth of today’s gospel, “you see . . . that I have flesh and bones . . . They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.”

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