Sunday, April 15, 2018

The Hinge of the Flesh

Easter 3 Reflection

Reading: Luke 24:36b-48

The resurrection stories are a fascinating field for study and exploration in our faith.  In an epistle from Paul, 1 Corinthians chapter 15, we have what is usually assumed to be the earliest of the resurrection accounts in a summarised form.  It shows what the early church believed long before the gospels came to be written.  After that come the gospels: which each tell the story in a narrative form, in the process reshaping the story with the effect that the significance of the resurrection is explained with different nuances.  Moving from one gospel to another has a confusing effect!  Which is right?  Which is wrong? Those are not the right questions.

Duccio, Apostles at table
Luke’s telling of the resurrections stories shows how in the telling of the stories the first believers came to understand the significance of what they had witnessed and to resolve the cognitive dissonance between their experience and their convictions – so on the Emmaus road the opening of their eyes to read the texts and the opening of their eyes to recognise Jesus truly are both part of the same complex process of seeking and finding meaning. 

One of the exciting things about Luke’s narrative is that we can glimpse how the process of telling and interpreting the diverse resurrection experiences begins to build a community story and to build the community  itself.  The diverse characters come together in one place with one shared story ‘The lord has truly risen’.

This morning, the gospel fragment from Luke is quite startling – the emphasis on touching the hands and feet and eating the fish – seems to over-emphasise physical sensation and definitively prove that the resurrected Jesus is not a ghost. However a closer reading shows that Luke is affirming both the reality of Jesus presence and its difference from his former earthly presence – as when he says “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you”.

Another strand to Luke’s focus on the physical reality and the difference of the resurrected Jesus is that we are nudged toward understanding our own (as yet un-resurrected) flesh differently: that in our innermost physical reality there is already the mystery of immortality. Karl Rahner quoted one of the ancient fathers of the church when he said ‘the flesh is the hinge of salvation’ and expanded the thought by saying “the reality beyond all the distress of sin and death is not up yonder; it has come down and dwells in the innermost reality of our flesh.”

Frankly I find this thought difficult to grasp.  Paul touches on it in 1 Corinthians 15 – such a key chapter in the New Testament.   And yet, I am so aware of the abuse, violence and horror of what human flesh suffers that I struggle to see how already in us are the signs and promise of transfigured life and that the reality of this risen Jesus is a token of what is to happen in us.

Yet ours is an incarnational faith.   All our sacramental life  - baptism, Eucharist – hinges on the flesh.  We speak of mystery, the mystery of Easter, the mystery of what happens in our worship, what happens in our living and our service – all hinges on the flesh.  We remember the parable of recognising Christ in the marginalised ones, and serving them – that hinges on the flesh.  So, in the gospel words, we are called to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick, care for the stranger and resist the structures and institutions that conceal injustice and perpetuate suffering.  Yes that all hinges on the flesh.

And yet I suspect that I am still missing something.  I go back to Paul and offer this curious insight from 1 Corinthians 15.

“The first humanity was from the earth, a humanity of dust; the second humanity is from heaven....Just as we have borne the image of the humanity of dust, we shall also bear the image of the humanity of heaven. (1Cor.15:47,49)”

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